Sunday 3 August 2003

The Almost Apologetic Beauty of the Everyday

I'm sitting here thinking about that cup of tea I had today: it was during that lazy gap you get in mid-afternoon between lunch and dinner: kinda like the Witching Hour, except in daylight: that time on a Sunday afternoon when your dad would doze off in front of the second test at Lord's, or the golf, or whatever else was on Grandstand. I, on this occasion, had just woken up from a snooze myself - one of those violent, breathless punctures in your day, from which you wake with aching eyes and a hot, shining face. Mother had just offered to make me a cuppa as I was still coming round. I had gladly assented in a clear voice that surprised my drowsy-mindedness. An attempt, perhaps, to seem more cheerful than I felt after my second bed-head of the day.

The mug was now sitting, watching me from the coffee table, just above my eyeline from the recline of the couch. The waning late-afternoon summer shot in through the window. I knew the sky was a mirror of the sea, but I could only see the upper reflection. Yet it was still a comfort to know that the cool waves were licking the playdough of sand only a mile down the hill. The mug had been twiddling its thumbs for a couple of minutes now, humming inaudibly under its rasping breath. The whispy vapour-trails of steam were silkily floating above the mug's lips, gyrating for just a few gorgeous seconds before sneaking off into that behind-the-scenes curtain above a heat-haze in the Mid-West. The steam curled with the Parisian languor of cigarette smoke in a café, but with a thinner, paler, more ghostly face. It reminded me of a view that I had had of my brother from a similar aspect just a few nights before.

I was lying low in my make-shift bed on the floor of the dining room, still awake, but not long after going to bed. The hair at the back of my neck and behind my temples was still damp from when I washed my face, cooling as it dried, like outdoor winter sweat. My brother was also going to bed in the other room, but was a little later than me in performing his goodnight rituals. First I hear the front door hitch on its latch, and then the faint click of the security light tripping over the motion of my brother on the doorstep, throwing his fresh cigarette smoke into brilliant relief between the deep dark navy sky and the condensated window pane which was filtering and focusing my view of this midnight cameo. I could hear my brother exhale with the same clarity as if I was standing next to him on the bare-footed doorstep. The smoke rushed from unseen mouth to exit top-left in the manner of dry-ice. The warm tobacco vapour dipped slightly, half-way through its incline, before it merged with the condensation of the window pane in the foreground, simplifying the image of itself back into two dimensions. Occasionally, a dash of bright colour would tease my tired eyes - first swallow-diving on the right, then upwards on the left - a flicker on my late-night movie screen. My brother probably didn't know he was being watched, but was thinking that the light would be shining upon my face through the glass. Soon, the dreamy theatre was over, the remnants of the cigarette a mere fading glow among the pebbles of the drive, and my brother's mind soothed by the yellow nicotine, unwinding like the smoky vapour as it drifted off into the sleep of night sky.

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