A tall unmarried house-buyer

Between the ages of 17 and 21 he was devout, and considered taking holy orders.  Before that were several years of recreational drugs, “Grass mainly”, and afterwards, the steep decline of devotion into the present.  He says there is a theory in psychology that the image of ourselves is moulded slowly by the way in which other people treat us and react to us; and also that he always thinks of himself as ordinary.  But he looks down on everyone, talks slowly, because no one can look him straight in the eye.  Taking no notice of his family, except to telephone every now and then to keep in touch, he is a little surprised and frightened that his lover finds them so disagreeable.  The step-father sells sun-glasses.  The mother is a social worker.  The step-father can spend hours giving instruction in the new technology of his product and the vagaries of the sales market; there is no division between the life of his work and his private life.  During business hours mother discusses the horrible details of a child’s abuse, knowing that the world is painful and dirty and, for some people, without hope, and after hours switches on a Pentecostal fervour in which she imagines her son surrounded by religious ornament.  She writes a letter saying what she would like for her birthday: “a cassette recording of you reading the book of Isaiah.”  The son refuses, with a knowing laugh his mother cannot hear.  “They’re all weird.”  “You’re the only normal one, are you?”  “Yep.”  There are very few people he does not like, finding something likeable in all of his fellow workers except one.  His politics and hobbies are social.  Hard-working member of the local branch of a democratic and socialist party, he brews beer at home.  Examples of it turn up at parties, restaurants, the homes of friends, anywhere it is acceptable to be seen with a bottle, and sometimes places where it is not.  Hobby, politics, and the local cricket team, define him as a social being.  Three thousand miles from his parents’ home, even further from most of what he remembers, he has fitted comfortably into an unknown city, as if no place would be alien so long as there were people in it.  Distance and change should have made him wary.  He remains unmarried, but lives with a small and quirky woman.  In their bedroom is a framed reproduction of a painting by Bonard.  It shows a girl inelegantly lumped, face down, in a messy bed, sleeping.  The painter must have known her very well, and must have loved her, less in the way some artists love each last painting than how, for others, there could be no limit of attention, or paint, lavished on unguarded poses.  The girl isn’t always tired, but she does enjoy her sleep.  They will buy a house, a study of desuetude, the only kind they can afford; and take the bed with them, and re-paint it.

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