The radio kept playing. As I hung there, suspended upside down in the darkness, dripping blood into the stillness with that bastard running towards me, the radio kept playing.
And why shouldn’t it, in the midst of that twisted agony of contorted metal and broken bones and an emptied bladder and irreparable damage. Let the last thing I hear be some eighteen year-old girl snivelling about her lost love as my guts drip to the floor, or rather the car roof. Because life was always an absurdity, and in case you haven’t noticed the bitch likes to mock. Like the time my obese ex boss donned his best expression of remorse and told me he was going to have to let me go, and as I sat there all I could see were his flies, which were wide open, and his pants, which were slightly stained, and the way his eyes kept stealing glances at his mobile phone ringing silently even as he assured me that it was killing him to have to do this. Or even better when the doctor came out wringing his hands and exactly when his mouth was preparing to form the I’m of I’m sorry somewhere down the hallway someone started laughing, a huge tsunami roar of a laugh which crashed over everything and meant that I ended up having to hear that my son was dead twice.
Because life likes to remind you on a regular basis that your mountain of aching sadness is trifling and meaningless, and will make you listen to adverts for fridges as you lie dying to prove this.
But ask me why I’m telling you this, and more to the point ask me who the hell I am and who the handsome bastard reaching through the window trying to switch off the engine is.
Let’s start with him because as tragic as it might sound he’s the only thing which gives my life – and death – any meaning and without him I wouldn’t be here and neither, after all, would you. First time I see him, he has his hand up my wife’s top while he attempts to insert his head in her ear, or at least that’s what it looked like from where I stood. She had her eyes closed and her legs open and her head was slightly tilted to one side as if she was trying to itch her ear with her shoulder. And her face…her face had a look I last saw perhaps ten years ago when we were just engaged. In a silent lift full of people I read the Braille of her spine with my finger from the base of her skull to the no entry sign at the top of her jeans, and as we and my finger descended she closed her eyes and smiled an encrypted smile only I could decipher and balled the fingers of her left hand into a fist, and I felt unassailable because of this force field of hope we were generating.
My wife closed her eyes many times after that, but strictly whilst asleep or whenever I reminded her not to rest things against the newly painted hallway wall because they leave marks. And the secret smile and the force field disappeared altogether, gradually.
I see no conflict in having a dead son and caring about marks on a newly painted wall. I might not be able to protect the walls of my soul but I’ll be damned if I let the bastards stain my hallway.
And while my wife smiled that faraway smile the back of that fella’s gorgeous head gnawed away at her ear and his hand strayed underneath her top moving like a cat in a collapsed tent. And the worst thing was that my wife’s shoe-shod left foot was flat on the hallway wall, and meanwhile the other (sweaty) hand of that prince of a man, the one that was not in the tent, rested above her head on the wall, and it was as if they wanted to bear testimony, to testify to the fact that they had sullied a man’s walls as he watched from outside his own front door.
I could give you my vital statistics, I suppose. Age, name, place of birth, time of death (not long) but it’s remarkable how little that information will distinguish me and will in fact sweep me further out into the sea of anonymity. Consider this: my father God rest his soul was a man whose mind was a small abandoned waste ground of original thought bordered on all sides by a barbed wire fence of convention. At the birth of his oldest son it never occurred to him to give me anything other than his own name, as his own father had done before him. Ignoring my mother’s entreaties he sneaked out while she was still incapacitated by the Caesarean and had me officially named Roger.
It’s an ugly name: Roger. Rodj-ah. Devoid of any kind of mystery or romance, and the double entendre only making everything worse. But worse things have happened at sea as they say and I could have plodded through life unnoticed if it wasn’t for the fact that for the first and last time in his life my father stuck to his guns during negotiations about my name. When the local paper announced the joyous occasion of my birth to the indifferent world searching for the TV section it was to proud parents ‘Mr and Mrs Roger.’
Roger Roger. And you will understand when I say that I am rarely pleased to meet you.
Rebellion against parents is all part of the growing process, and fathers – the poor sods – are the emery board upon which their hormonally-charged sons shape out their identities. The instinct is magnified when you share the same first name as your father. I suppose because of the feeling that not only must you engage in the normal teenage quest to discover who are you, but that you are handicapped by the fact that your own identity is lost somehow within that of exactly the person you want to free yourself from the most. And more specifically it was bloody annoying to have to spend the first eighteen years of my life asking people on the phone which Roger Roger they wanted.
This is aside from the fact that it’s a stupid name and proved to be a blank cheque to school comedians wishing to purchase hilarity at my expense. ‘Do you Roger Roger?’ became something of a school motto and drew laughs for five years, things only easing off when Simon Le Bon hit the big time and Duran Duran made it acceptable and almost trendy for things to be repeated twice.
I tried inserting my initial briefly on the front covers of exercise books to give my name some kind of dignity but succeeded only in providing the little sadists with further ammunition: ‘Would you Roger A Roger..?’
When me and the wife were discussing marriage she made it clear that she would not marry me unless I promised that I wouldn’t insist on naming our first child Roger, nor pull a trick like my father and name the kid behind her back. Things looked extremely shaky at one point when she almost forced me to put this promise in writing.
I tried to reassure her by pointing to the mental torment the names had caused me all my life and asked her why in God’s name I would wish to inflict the same on my infant son. She then clarified that when she said child, she meant either a son or a daughter and that as ridiculous as it might seem, she was not taking any chances with our kids, Roger Roger darling. I knew she wasn’t joking because while she was saying all this she was repeatedly smoothing down her skirt with the palms of both hands, which is one of my wife’s indicators that she means business.
She had also come to the restaurant equipped with a pen and pre-written statement ready for me to sign.
I tried to laugh it off and then attempted to distract her by throwing peas down her top, a method which, while it generally induced anger and guaranteed no sexual activity for two days (when such activity did still take place), at least made her change the subject. I used to call it Appeasement, which whenever I said it made me laugh like a drain, but oddly enough she never saw the humour in it.
Even Appeasement didn’t stop her and so finally I asked her what she would do in the event that I temporarily left my senses, gagged her, and went and named our baby daughter Roger Rogerina Ha Ha! Roger on the birth certificate. She replied that once sufficiently recovered from the trauma of childbirth she would castrate me, kill me and then divorce me, and did I Roger, Roger? She knows bloody well that that quip enrages me and there followed a period of tense silence during which she smoothed down her skirt, tight-lipped, and I silently cursed my father.
I wonder if she ever gave him the tight-lipped look.
I negotiated myself out of having to sign the pledge by asking her if she remembered the first time we met, and I introduced myself to her. She did of course. Not because I was the man she would go on to marry but because we spent approximately five minutes establishing my name.
I asked her how many people a person meets in a lifetime, how many persons ordinary people like us meet. She said she didn’t know and what was I getting at, but I persisted, let’s say two a month minimum, which makes 24 new people per year. She closed her eyes, yeah yeah what’s your point, and I said okay let’s multiply 24 by five which is the length of time in minutes I spend explaining my name to people. That’s two hours per year, multiplied by fifteen years for the length of time I had been in the world outside school actively getting to know people, makes a total of at least (and probably more) thirty hours. Thirty hours. That’s more than a day that I have spent speaking to people not telling them who I am, not sharing with them what team I support or how I like my eggs done or what my favourite film is, thirty hours just spent explaining my bloody name badge.
She countered that it makes me memorable, makes me stand out. I said so does severe dermatitis, and I tried to tell her that sometimes a name can engulf you, that you can become lost in it, to which she responded, aren’t you getting mixed up with the DIY warehouse we went to last weekend? and fancied herself a great wit.
She relented, she put away the pen and paper and stroked my ankle with her foot under the table, but I don’t think she ever realised just how anonymous I have always been, was fated to be.
I can’t say that our wedding was the happiest day of my life for several reasons, not least of which is that my shoes were too tight and made a sort of farting noise which echoed round the church when I walked down the aisle. And beyond that, for all that I loved my wife when I married her, a particular moment of the day’s proceedings sticks in my mind. We left the wedding disco while it was still in full swing and stepped out into the evening air – it was April and yet that particular night was icy almost for some reason. I’d got quite pissed of course but by the time we got home the combination of the cold air and the pain my shoes inflicted on the way meant that I’d sobered up considerably. She insisted that I carry her over the bloody threshold – which I obligingly did despite the state of my feet – and then I put her down and we were both smacked in the gob by the most terrifying silence.
It was that ringing in your ears kind of silence, the kind where you can hear the blood coursing through your veins, and we stood there for the briefest of moments and I knew she felt it too, crushing her head like it was crushing mine – though she would deny it if you asked her. I looked at this woman and in that instant I experienced sheer terror, the terror you feel when you wake up at 2 a.m. and think you can hear a burglar downstairs. It wasn’t that I thought that I’d chosen the wrong person, or that I suddenly decided marriage wasn’t for me or that I fully appreciated the risk of our unborn children inheriting her slightly bulbous nose. It was the realisation that we, two ordinary people, had all this endless silence to fill, years of it. And as I looked at her I thought to myself if it wasn’t her, it could have been someone – anyone – else and she in her turn could have chosen someone else. And she was undoubtedly thinking the same thing – if she wasn’t thinking what the hell have I done marrying a man called Roger Roger.
One of life’s few compensations is parenthood, nothing beats it, it’s like a second chance. I’ll admit that when my wife told me she was pregnant I wasn’t enthusiastic at first, I was working a dead-end office job in a company you’ve never heard of, money was tight but I at least had few responsibilities other than putting the toilet seat back down after I’d finished.
She was ecstatic of course and this little unborn being took over her life and by default my life right away, what with morning sickness and swollen ankles and swollen boobs and the thorny business of choosing a name – which I left to her entirely rather than have the tight lipped treatment.
Her labour lasted for what seemed like years, I remember stepping out for a breather half way through and it was the same feeling as when you go to the cinema in the mid-afternoon sunshine and by the time the film’s finished it’s dark and the world seems to have aged in your absence.
But bloody hell it was worth it, every minute of it, because it doesn’t get better than holding your kid for the first time and having the past just melt away in that very instant.