Thursday, 5 May 2011

Skin Deep

For one reason or another I have done a lot of crying lately, the latest bout brought on my bloody son.
“But we raised you to be such a nice, middle class young man. Hell, your father and I paid for every type of class that little boys who are on the way up could possibly need to further their social connections. Look at the forthcoming nuptials, with the modest background you have, well, you could have easily married a Princess. No bloody luck now is there?”
“Ma, get things in perspective will you? I am not going to prison, I am not on drugs, I am…”
“It can only be a matter of time!”, I yelled back, ferocious tears flying onto every surface. Hubby was attempting a there, there dear approach and keeping quiet, but I knew that even he was upset.
“How can you equate a tattoo with prison and dugs mum, I mean, come on”.
“Oh don’t me so naïve”, I continued to bawl and wail, “You’ve seen Jeremy Kyle. All you need now is the debt, a dodgy dog and a baby and you’ll be sorted”.
“It’s a tattoo”, my son repeated, bored with having this conversation, because, “Everyone else who’s seen it likes it and thinks it’s tasteful”.
“Tattoos tasteful? Well that’s an oxymoron in itself, and you”, I added with a flourish, “are the moron”.
“It’s just a tattoo”, he opined.
“Can’t you understand”, said, blowing my nose into a tissue, “that when you were a baby, my first born precious boy, I dreamt of you growing up illustrious not illustrated?”
I felt Hubby wince behind me. This was hurting him as much. I couldn’t bear it a moment longer. It was very late; our daughter should have been home from her waitressing job by now. I’d go and meet her and escort her home. Sobbing I left the two men to discuss the ‘design’.
I picked up the dog’s lead and, as he looked back at me puzzled to be taken out at such a time, clipped it onto his collar and walked down the road to the pub. I tied the dog up outside and went in. It was completely empty except for the bar-man who stood at the bar, like some latter day Shylock, counting the takings for the night.
“Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen…”
I threw myself on a bar stool and howled anew, “My beautiful baby boy has gone and got a tattoo”, I howled.
The bar-man paused and lines of deep concentration ploughed themselves across his forehead, “..eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one”. He bagged the pennies.
“Alice”, he said, as patiently as was possible given that the poor chap genuinely just wanted to cash up and shut up shop for the night, “It’s what they do these days”. That was all the solace I was getting.
It’s at this point that I felt like some old timer in some run down bar, somewhere south of ‘Frisco and I almost felt compelled to demand, “Scotch, straight up”, as though my life and my marriage depended on it. This isn’t California though, it’s Cornwall. We do things differently and you sure as hell don’t demand hard liquor once the bar man has balanced the till and cashed up. Besides, my bar-man may not have seen the same movies as me and then we’d have been in a right pickle.
My daughter, it slowly dawned on me, was not in the building. She must have taken a different route to mine. I peeled myself off the bar stool, said goodnight to the bar-man, who had now turned his attention to the bank notes and was counting those. Without pausing in his addition, he nodded his head to acknowledge my departure and carried on as though it were nothing unusual to have weeping, middle aged women in his bar, late at night, even on a Wednesday.
I untied the dog, who slowly and sympathetically walked next to me. He seemed to sense that I was in no mood to be pulled along the waterfront. It was a beautiful night, utterly still and warm. The tide was in and the moon was reflected on the inky blackness of St John’s lake. I sat on one of the benches and looked upriver. Little boat lights twinkled mesmerizingly. It should have been perfect.
“May I join you?”. Luckily I recognised the voice to be my husband’s and not some drunken nutter so tapped the space on the bench next to me. Hubby sat down and put his arm around me. We sat in silence, both recalling periods of our son’s charmed boyhood.
“Beautiful, golden ringlets framed his gorgeous face” said Hubby wistfully. It’s now raven black.
“I sat for hours on village hall floors when he could barley sit up, with other mothers, who had also been sold the lie that circle time and musical instruments and running under a parachute canopy whilst simultaneously breastfeeding and singing five little speckled frogs was going to ensure an education at Oxbridge and a career in medicine”.
“He doesn’t want to go to Uni and doesn’t want a career in anything. The only chance of working in medicine will be a part-time job in Boots”.
“He’s had drama lessons, swimming, tap and ballet, guitar and driving lessons”.
“The guitar lessons paid off I suppose”, said Hubby.
“That was classical; he plays bass”.
“Good point”.
“It’s only a tattoo”, I said but we both knew that I didn’t really mean that. For 18 years we have tried our damndest to ensure that nothing hurts him. When he cut himself we picked him up and soothed him. We have applied ointments and balms, plasters and bandages. It is unsurprising therefore that we feel the pain that our baby’s skin has been branded, acutely.

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