Llew thought he remembered knocking the door and the reverb. Stinging nettle knuckles, he remembered those; but why no bell. The bass kicked in, the drums followed its lead.
“One day you was dreadlocks, well dread, next day you was ballhead, clean shave. One step forwards two steps backwards, Jah in a Babylon.” It soundtracked every summer journey in the battered car with the ice cream stains on the scalding leatherette.
Llew put the marker, the outward ticket with the square-torn corners, between the pages, looked up, and heard the heavy dub echoing around the space he gave it. Had he said something? To him? Llew groped for the answer to a question. Had he heard him or was this just some deeper resonance as the bass beat his chest?
‘How…um…are you ok? Been up to anything lately? Are you…?’
Llew wanted to tell him about the low water mark and the wave breaking… Why not?
‘What you chatting about!’ The rasp of sucking teeth. Stewps.
Llew heard him say, this time, ‘Did you know that spectre is an anagram of respect?’
Patterns everywhere, they liked it that way, they always had. Llew had never liked crochet.
‘How are your kids?’ he asks.
‘Your Grandchildren. They have names.’
Nothing. Silence skips and bounces between the walls; break it, or watch the fragile peace shatter. He could sense the rain casting shadows on the dividing wall, reflected by the only mirror into half-formed opacity.
‘They miss you, you know. You can come and see them any time.’
He turned, as if to look at him, but sought safety in the carpet. Llew knew the rhythm. Keep dancing.
The floor was his; his honour. Tony Harrison lay open on the low central table, the middle pages proud. Dust wrapped the VHS collection, next to the DVD player he will never know how to use. Someone else can do it.
‘Cricket,’ Llew said. He had given that to him, on his birthday, a treat that second heady summer. Cricket and C.L.R. James always worked. They defined the ends of the wicket’s twenty-two yards. Llew couldn’t see the boundary rope from the middle. ‘Shall we go?’
The bus is taking him back again. Front row at the Charlotte, he could taste the words, feel with calloused fingertips every chord.
Those three words remained unsaid, stuck in their throats like the shells of prawns.
‘Cheer up,’ he spits into the dregs of his glass, drains it, and looks to Llew’s right, turns, he knows what is there, but cannot see beyond the reflection. Llew wanted to say something, but reopened the book. He wanted to rise, but he’s pinned like in those shared days in that Oxford back room.
His mam walks in, two cappuccinos, a double espresso, saltfish, yam, and dasheen. The lights, always on, rebound off her best china and the room opens. A bead of sweat runs down a stray titian lock, and falls to the ground between them.