Get Your Laugh­ing Tackle Around this

The Victoria Standard - - OBITUARIES / ANNOUNCEMENTS - GE­ORGE SMITH

On the main road head­ing north out of Nor­wich was a newly built block of flats. They were close to shops and a stone’s throw from the lo­cal pub. Be­ing just ten min­utes from where I worked, I de­cided to pay the de­posit and move in.

It was all a bit of a shock and ev­ery­thing was be­ing done in a hurry. My mar­riage was end­ing, and al­though it had been com­ing for some time it was still a jar­ring col­li­sion. Now ev­ery­thing felt strange as I un­packed fa­mil­iar bed linen, tow­els, and pots and pans in an un­fa­mil­iar set­ting.

I walked the three steps to the kitchen, then the two steps to the liv­ing room. I felt as if I was liv­ing some­one else’s life as I turned on the tele­vi­sion. Gone was the house and fam­ily, the noise and ac­tiv­ity, Hol­lie and Robyn run­ning from the gar­den through the kitchen to the liv­ing room, al­ways for­get­ting to take off their shoes at the door.

I needed noise, and what­ever was on the tele­vi­sion was re­as­sur­ing in a world where I felt un­sure of ev­ery­thing. I hung a clock on the kitchen wall, the same clock that now hangs on my kitchen wall in Mid­dle River.

As I lis­tened to the com­fort­ing back­ground noise, I set up a stu­dio space in the liv­ing room and looked out at the road and the con­stant streams of traf­fic. My wife had met some­one on the in­ter­net and was plan­ning to move to Florida with my daugh­ters to be with him. It was hap­pen­ing, and I was a by­stander, watch­ing my life run through all these changes and un­cer­tain­ties.

Later that evening I put my sup­per plate in the sink and turned off the light. I stood in the dark and lis­tened as some­one came up the stairs. They put a key into the lock of their door and went in­side. The door slammed, some­one on the street shouted, and a car horn sounded. A siren wailed. I got into bed lis­ten­ing to the un­fa­mil­iar sounds of the city and the dark soli­tude of that first night alone.

The next day was Satur­day and my two daugh­ters were com­ing to stay for the week­end. They ar­rived mid­morn­ing. Hol­lie had her pet rat with her in its wire cage. “Will you look af­ter him for me dad?” I could not refuse, even though the flat did not per­mit pets. She had brought its food and a bag of toys. She didn’t un­der­stand that the toys she brought were meant for a cat.they seemed re­luc­tant to take off their coats, so I sug­gested a walk, some shop­ping, and a place to eat.

Af­ter lunch we shopped for sup­per and then bought sweets. As they ac­cu­mu­lated a small pile of sug­ary treats, I hes­i­tated in say­ing, “That’s enough”. They were look­ing at me as they reached for just one more. They, like me, no doubt re­al­ized the awk­ward­ness of the sit­u­a­tion. I was torn be­tween a fa­therly in­stinct to cur­tail the stock­ing up on sweets, know­ing that they had sup­per to eat and I needed them to sleep later that evening, and the knowl­edge that this could pos­si­bly be the last time I would see them for a long while.

They did eat sup­per, and later I pulled the sofa out into a bed and put two very sleepy girls un­der the cov­ers and kissed them good night.

The next morn­ing we de­cided that the kitchen was the best place to keep the rat since the floor was linoleum and there­fore easy to sweep up. The morn­ing went too quickly, and the knock on the door sig­naled the end of their time with me. Af­ter many hugs and many tears they were gone. I went back into the liv­ing room and pushed the sofa bed back up against the wall. I sat on the chair and looked at the floor. Where the sofa had been was a pile of empty sweet wrap­pers.

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