All letters that I receive go into a folder, a black lever-arch job filled with see through plastic wallets and opaque memories. Crumpled papers, letters, birth certificates, death certificates, notes, and any random scrap of memory that I could fit into such a small compact space. When you can hold everything that has happened in life in one hand, you know that yours was a miserably ineffectual existence.
Simon is having a sleep in the other room; after a morning of being hypnotised by the flickering television. When he sleeps, I see the old Simon, perfectly preserved in time, peaceful and child-like. It doesn’t matter that his skin has wrinkled like the papers in my folder; he is asleep and in no turmoil for a change. I have just checked on him, his head turned away from the glare of the outside world, through the nets of the large back window. He looks comfortable, sat on the sofa, almost in the fetal position with his legs pulled to one side, an auburn blanket draped over him, dribbling over his body on to the burgundy carpet.
He probably needs the sleep, bless him. He read the letter, and for a long time he stared at the swirling words of my son, squinting for some recognition, perhaps for some memory to leap out of the pages at him. So I let him sleep bathing in the white light of the world outside our windows, breathing in a comfortable metronome of silence.
The one room I find comfortable in our bungalow is the bedroom. It has deep purple painted walls, just like the ones from mine and Simon’s house back in Corby. The window is large, but rarely do we open the indigo curtains; our own perpetual twilight floods the room. We had always enjoyed the darkness together, holding many of our late night conversations by dim lamplight (on the rare occasion that we had no candles). Above the bed hung the painting created by Simon’s daughter Grace. A large gothic angel crying in a wilting purple and blue forest, two big silver wings coming from behind her sat immortalised on canvas, staring into the serendipitous house. From her frail hands drooped a scroll:
On broken wings I’m falling
And it won’t be long
The Skin on me is burning
By the fires of the sun
On skinned knees
And it won’t be long
I’ve got to find that meaning
I’ll search for so long
Grace had always loved these words, she once told me they reminded her of Simon; it was from the song he used to sing her to sleep to at night as far back as she could remember. It always made me smile to hear him singing from the spare bedroom of our old house; rocking her to sleep with a soft rock bedroom. Sometimes Cameron and I would sit on the top stair outside the room and listen, softly mouthing the words. The words were for her father, but the angel was for me. You could stare at the picture and recognise the resemblance between the angel in the painting, and my face in the portrait that used to sit on Simon’s desk in the study.
Grace often referred to me as her father’s angel. We were close as she grew up, she clung to me in times of terror, laughed with me in times of joy, empathised with me when the men of the house became boys again, and helped me understand her father in the later years. The first time I ever met Grace, she gravitated immediately towards me (much to Simon’s surprise). Apparently she was such a shy girl when she was very little. But I met her when she was two years old, and she had such a beautiful smile on her face. She looked very much like Nikki, the wide smile and the luscious, thick and beautiful African Sunset hair, cascading down to the small of her back.
I have pictures of her here in this folder that I am clutching. She was never ugly, even in the pictures of chocolate smeared faces, tearful goodbyes, and moments of loud discipline. Every time I file a copy of another letter into the folder (before I take the original to Michael) I look at the pictures of all of the kids that illuminated my life. There are so many moments and memories held in this black file, whilst Simon is asleep I often sit here on the satin midnight blue covers of our large king sized bed and peruse the paper and acrylic flashbacks.
I think of Grace, Cameron, Henry and Joey, where they are now, what they are doing, and what would they say if they saw me reliving all our moments together. I have been here for three hours now, in the pacific light of a dim haven. Whilst Britain dies outside our windows and doors, whilst the streets burn and forests wilt, I lie here with my memories and my angel. I can hear Simon stirring in the other room, duty calls. When he awakes, Simon is accompanied by complete disorientation and nauseous vertigo; it takes me some time to settle him, just so he can trust me again. I put my folder back in the bottom drawer of my bedside table and walk back to the present.