Sunday 2 November 2014

Chapter One

Love and fear are one

The same, pride turns to shame

And all is never well

I am seven years old and my brother Joe is five. We have a tin of Quality Street between us on the carpet, in the corner of the room Aled Jones is walking in the air with a snowman, and one of our grannies dozes on the sofa while the other clatters around the kitchen. All of us are full of roast potatoes and trifle.

Joe is playing with his new pirate ship and eating the gold Quality Streets. I am eating the purple ones and trying not to cry.

“How long have they been gone now?” I ask.

“About half an hour. They’ll be home soon, I’m sure they’re fine” soothes a granny.

“I’m not going to bed until they’re home.”

We are talking about my parents, who have gone to check on granny’s house and switch some lights on; despite living only a mile away, Dad’s mum stays the night at our house every Christmas and our parents walk off the excesses of the day by ‘checking’ hers in the evening. Years later they will laughingly tell us how they’d often ‘had a quickie’ in Dad’s old bedroom and popped in for a drink with the neighbours. If only I had known at the time that they were having so much fun, my Quality Street wouldn’t have been washed down with quite so many swallowed tears.

At the tender age of seven I am already Mummy’s little worrier. Her evenings have been filled with such topics as, “nobody at school likes me”, “where will we live if you and Daddy die?”, “what if some of us are good enough to go to heaven and some of us aren’t? Will we never see each other again?” and “if you, me or Joe gets ill will Daddy pray?” (Daddy’s  atheism troubles me.) In the midst of one of my existential crises she reassured me “if you worry about it, it will never happen”. This to me was a revelation. That all my worrying was saving us from the very things which it focused on was wonderful news; I didn’t need to worry after all! No, wait, I did...

And so that’s what I’m doing on Christmas night in 1993. I am channelling my sugar high into being the most disciplined worrier there ever was. I am conjuring up every possibility of my parents’ demise and willing each of them not to happen. I start with them being murdered; the streets, in my view, are a dangerous place after 4pm. Then I think about them being electrocuted; I imagine that in her Christmas morning excitement Granny could have left a tap on – one flick of a switch could mean instant death for one of my parents and the other will be stood, devastated, over their spouse’s electrocuted corpse. Next I picture them bring run over; other people are probably a lot more relaxed about drink driving at Christmas...

After each gruesome scenario has forced its way, uninvited, into my childish mind and I have worried fervently to stop it happening, I seal the deal: hoping nobody notices what I am doing, I clasp my chocolatey hands together and move my lips in silence, “Dear God, please please please don’t let them die.”

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