A Discernible Pattern by Lloyd Rees

I was born at an early age to a woman who eventually turned out to be my mother. I didn’t speak to her for about a year, then later on not for several years. Mainly I cried, which was something she was rather partial to as well. She did influence me in my clothing and diet though, at least until I could buy stuff for myself.

My early influences were Dan Leno, who unfortunately died before I was born, and then later Peter and Spike. These were dogs I knew, not people, but coincidentally I was very fond of Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. I wasn’t so keen on Harry Secombe but apparently he loathed me, so that’s alright. 

The best thing about being alive was breathing. I did it all the time, and sometimes quite heavily. Occasionally when I forgot to do it I would faint, so I’ve now made it part of my daily regime. It’s about the only exercise I do actually, because I can’t afford gym membership or an exercise bike. Or shoes.

When I was about sixteen or seventeen I discovered another Peter – again a human being – and I was transfixed with love and a sort of giggling that I can only compare to the ecstasy of St Bernadette. This Peter was a Cook and he created wonderful confections of lunacy and drollery, along with another man whose name I disremember. 

I also discovered a group of young men who were determined to dress up as middle aged women called Mrs Cardigan and Mrs Git and speak in falsetto East London accents. They were all very clever Oxbridge graduates who studied philosophy and such. I couldn’t relate to the philosophy side of things but I did like their headscarves and macs. 

I had to go to school, because apparently IT WAS THE LAW but I didn’t learn very much. Neither did anyone else, which was encouraging because it made me feel part of a community of utter ignorance. Men in black gowns moved about unheroically eating sticks of chalk and wiping off strands of tobacco. They had mysterious powers which they didn’t use.  

Still later I discovered females (they had been hidden from me since I was eight) and also the universal truth that a single woman is a strong and independent creature, but as soon as she gets married she NEEDS SUPPORT. A corollary of this is that men are rarely strong, almost never independent and never ask for any support because that would be too girly.

I needed to get a job because IT’S THE LAW so I went to the council Highways Department. There I was asked if I could handle a pick and shovel. I didn’t know what a pick was but I said yes in case it was a trick. They let me stand at the side of a road for six weeks and listen to dirty jokes by other men who could actually handle picks and shovels. They paid me too. Not much though.

I wanted to write a great work of fiction, but every time I tried I found I couldn’t get further than four lines before I ran out of things to say. I always got to four lines though, so it was good practice for this current piece – a work of fiction composed of four line paragraphs with no colour, atmosphere or suspense.

When I switched my literary ambitions to poetry I was made up! There was a thing called a quatrain, which was a bunch of words written in shortish lines, sometimes with rhymes at the end. Initially though, I was attracted to the haiku form because it was even shorter – just three lines, some of them with only two words in them. But it was too short, even for me.

So I tried this quatrain business. It was alright, as long as you could get the bumpety bumpety bumpety BANG thing right, but it was difficult. Some words just aren’t bumpety enough, it seems. Pity.  Well, bum pity, in fact. You try and get ‘I’m a hexagon with just two sides to me’ or ‘If only I could climb a hawthorn hedge’ into a bumpety quatrain!

So I gave up on the verse malarkey and tried DIY. Not a great success. I think that’s enough said on that matter. I thought I’d start by making my own tools but I got stuck after my rudimentary mallet. So I grew flowers. Well, I say I grew them, actually they did all the hard work themselves. I mainly watched. I was very successful at growing bright yellow ones in the middle of the lawn.

People used to knock on my door and ask if I’d heard the good news. I always replied that good news had been a singularly absent feature of my life thus far but then I realised they didn’t actually want to know, they just wanted to smile beatifically and drink my tea. Eventually I’d ask anyone who knocked to come right on in, I was just finishing making their coffin. I still had my mallet, you see.

When a strong independent woman came into my life needing support I said okay, though I was unsure what help I could possibly be. We stood in front of somebody in the council offices (back again, but no pick this time) and they said ‘Here’s a piece of paper. Good luck. Off you go.’ So off we went, though it took a few years, if I’m honest.

But we had some kids. Two, as I recall. Interesting creatures. Smaller than real people but a lot louder. You soon find out that they’re a lot heavier than you’d think too. Sometimes I would read stories out loud in front of them. Not very successful, this. They invariably fell asleep and I’d never find out what happened in the end.  

After a few decades I got a better job than standing by the side of the road listening to dirty jokes. It was indoors. It was a bit like school – people moving around aimlessly wiping stuff off their clothes, but mainly food now. No one knew what anybody was supposed to do but everybody was afraid of someone finding out that this was the case. I fitted in very well. 

My first brush with the law was over a car I’d bought for £100. Not much, you’d think, but it wasn’t much of a car. The police stopped me on three separate occasions in the space of a single week. Apparently the man who’d sold it to me was some sort of villain who’d used the car ‘in the commission of various crimes’. I could have told them myself he was a villain. £100! Robbery!

Now I was earning a bit of money I thought I’d give this shopping business a go. So I went to Marks & Spencer, Primark, Tesco, everywhere I could think of. It didn’t turn out well. I’ve got a suit but it doesn’t fit, and apparently the lapels are too wide. I’ve got some ties, but it seems no one wears them anymore. I only buy black socks though so I’ll always be in fashion and I’ll always have a pair.

I even tried going on holiday. Never again! What’s with this sun they’ve got going on out in these foreign countries? It’ll burn you to a crisp in the time it takes for you to queue for a beer. You come back red or orange and people say, ‘You look well.’ You actually feel awful. And they’re lying. You look terrible. 

I bought some cookery books. You know, very colourful, very expensive hardback books with picture of delicious meals with ingredients you’ve never heard of. ‘Take a pinch of sacremento and grind it to a pulp with the juice of an organtilla.’ And ‘Let your spinozas stew for eight hours.’ That sort of thing. I put the books on the kitchen windowsill to go damp.

I bought a different car. A saloon. I always thought that was a place you went to drink, but you’re not allowed to in this type. It’s like people saying ‘I own an estate’ when in fact they just live on one and they drive a car without a proper boot. The car I bought is a Ford. That’s actually where you cross a river. Better than Qashcai though. That sounds like you’ve run over your nephew Kai.

I don’t really have friends. They’re too expensive. ‘Shall we go to Romero’s for dinner?’ ‘What would you like for Christmas? Meaning they want something bought back. I had one friend but he got boring. Or maybe it was me who got boring. In all probability we both bored the living crap out of each other so we called it a day.

Then one day I stumbled on politics. This is the business of pretending that you care for people you actually despise and where people ask you to go out into the cold and rain every five years to guess who’d be the least damaging to your precarious existence. I thought, ‘I could do this!’ But it turns out you have to have a deposit, so I never bothered.

I got ill and had to go and see the doctor. He said he suffered from what I had too. That was encouraging. At least I was part of a community, of sorts. Another time I got ill again and he sent me for tests. This is what GPs do when they don’t have a Scooby what’s wrong with you. They say they’ll tell you when they’ve got the results. They never do though.

Nature. Ah, nature! What can you say? For a good chunk of my time I’d thought it was a bit overrated. Some water moving about aimlessly, like a teacher, or an office worker. Some trees blowing in the wind. Some flowers of different hues. But when I got a bit ill in the head I spent more time having a proper look at it. They said,’ Take your time.’ So I did. In front of nature. It was good. 

Now I’m on my own. Kids grown and gone. Women getting supported elsewhere. I watch TV but it’s not much cop, is it? Presenters smiling beatifically and talking about stuff that’s nothing to do with me. At least they’re not drinking my tea though. They have shows set in the East End or Manchester, where everyone’s on about their community, as if that’s a real thing.  

I’ve taken to looking at things. I don’t mean the mantelpiece or the picture rail. I mean stuff like clouds, because they’re always on the move. I also like neighbours’ pets because they’re funny and they look back at me. Passers-by too. I took down the net curtains so we could accidentally catch each other’s eye. They look embarrassed but I don’t care. It’s a community of strangers, isn’t it?

And lately I’ve been going on the internet. This is a device created by teenagers in California to make you think that life is all people saving animals from tricky situations  and appeals for £5 donations to someone who’s going to run somewhere for no real reason. I skip past the videos and the appeals straight to the ‘epic fails’. I can identify, you see. I’m not so sure about epic though.

I’ve got a grandchild who’s allowed to visit sometimes. I like it when he comes. He loves stories more than anything. Even food! The trouble is, he’s got more stamina than me and it’s me who drops off as I’m reading them. He prods me awake though. And we stare at each other. Obviously there wouldn’t be a net curtain anyway, but it feels like one’s been removed when he looks at me. 

I’m going to sleep now, as a matter of fact. Perchance to dream! Not likely. I’ve never dreamed. Seems like a waste of effort to me. Creating stories that no one will ever hear? What’s the point? I can look at some things before I drop off. Stars and stuff. Maybe patterns in the wallpaper, though that’s not really my scene.

I’ll see you in the morning. I’ll be the one wiping off the night’s detritus. I might even be smiling beatifically, whatever that’s supposed to mean. I may even be the one spinning some yarn filled with drollery and lunacy, though since I can never manage more than four lines it’s unlikely. I think I’ll look up a definition of the word ‘community’ on the internet tomorrow. There should be one.

If by some chance I don’t wake, that’s alright. I’ve already put the bins out and the goldfish should be good for a few days. It’s been a hell of a ride. It hasn’t, of course, that’s just something people say, isn’t it? When they know it’s all been something of a drab affair in fact. I might give the wallpaper a go tonight though. See if there is any discernible pattern.

About the contributor

Lloyd Rees has published three novels and five books of poetry. His first novel, Don’t Stand So Close, was shortlisted for BBC Wales Book of the Year. His most recent publications are Voices Without Parts: a Novel in 13 Stories and The Two of Us (both Cambria Publishing).

Lloyd Rees
Lloyd Rees has published three novels and five books of poetry. His first novel, Don’t Stand So Close, was shortlisted for BBC Wales Book of the Year. His most recent publications are Voices Without Parts: a Novel in 13 Stories and The Two of Us (both Cambria Publishing).

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