“Dad, what is that?”
I stared at the orange beak, I checked for feathers, I traced back through my tele-visual history and within literal seconds I replied. “That is a Duck”. The Goose looked at me with the kind of disdain that suggested if this was the sixties and he was my wife I would not be getting my dinner tonight. That was fine by me. Ever since the break up I’d become pretty attuned to preparing my own dinners. To my good fortune my favourite meal was cheese. Nothing says “I’m a successful independent being” than placing a brick of cheese on a plate, a knife and fork only exaggerates the point.
“Look Dad! Rowing boats! Let’s get one?” It was clear to me my child had no respect for life. In my thirty four years I had not died once.A small part of that I would credit to avoiding paying eight pounds to spend half an hour in a plastic tank balancing on top of a world which did not accommodate my preferred means of breathing. Where had we gone wrong in raising him that at five he would be so keen to risk throwing it all away? “Me, mum and Jim got one of these last week, it was epic” he said.
I paid the boat man the eight pounds.
“I’m a good father”, I thought to myself. Well, I thought I thought it to myself, it turned out I thought it out loud for the boat man replied with a defensive “ok”. As if I thought he thought I thought I was underachieving as a parent and trying to convince myself I wasn’t. By getting on a boat I didn’t want to get on for the sake of my child so that he would think I was just as good as Jim. Perhaps this was all true except for the bit where I thought I was failing. I’m not failing. Though in the near distance I could see that Duck behind a shrub giving me evils, I don’t know what it’s problem is with me but I bet he thinks I’m failing…
This is what it’s all about, making memories, doing things we don’t want to do together. The boy’s going to remember this in years gone by. I’m doing well I thought, this time in my head as I ran my fingers through my beard. I had a pretty good beard. I put it down to my mum having taught me to shave. I also have pretty smooth legs. I put this down to the same reason. It’s not that my dad was unattentive, it’s just that he was never around. And when he was he needed his private time. However if we passed in the corridors he always made a point of saying “hello” and I respected him for that.
I picked up the two Boat sticks that help the boat move. Arthur told me that Jim told him they were called Oars. It’s a humbling experience when you realise your child will know things that you don’t. It’s worse when you realise your five year old already knows things you don’t. Although I’d got this far not knowing that these sticks were called oars and I still managed to get a Fine Arts Degree.I congratulated Arthur on his knowledge, but told him it’s ultimately not the kind of information that will be of any consequence in the real world. Why clog the brain with Trivia?
Like riding a bicycle I understood the motions required to move us, but like riding a bicycle gravity got in the way. The boat sticks had a life of their own, and the water seemed like mud. Once I’d force them out of it, it would come as such a surprise there was no composure to do anything other than throw them back in. We didn’t move much. A bit to the left, a little to the right. If you looked in the direction of that contemptuous duck and the clear expanse of water we could pretend we were gliding slowly to a new world. A very small turn of the head and the Boat man’s shoe in the corner of my eye would rudely remind us, we were on shore.
Arthur who was sat opposite on his own sighed. I shall treasure these moments, disappointing this cute button nosed child. It won’t get better than this. One day he will be a stubbly youth to disappoint,asking to borrow money, and my reply will be “I was hoping I could borrow some from you”. These were good times. I took comfort in some words a drunk man had once said to me “however bad you think things are, they are only ever going to get worse”. He was a smart drunk guy. I pretended my phone was ringing and answered it. How could I move a boat when there was a business call to take?
The Phone Call
“Yes it’s me”
“This is a really bad time, I’m rowing a boat”
“What do you mean they want a new draft of the manuscript”
I liked the fact that I used the word manuscript, Arthur may only be five, but I could tell he perked up when he heard the word too. Neither of us really know what it means. His smile collided with what must have been a passing cloud as a darkness came over us. Still there was a smile on the boys face so I continued with the show.
“They want to publish it as a novel?...But I’m not writing a novel”…
The boat began to gently rock as somebody seemed to clamber on. Arthur seemed happy. I turned around. Bloody hell it’s Jim. What is he doing on the boat? I thought with the phone strapped to my face. Jim gave a gentle smile and nod.
“They’re talking Movie rights, that’s crazy!”
I moved over to Arthur’s side of the boat. I was going to stay on the phone to my agent for as long as it took for me to work out what to do next. I made an I’m listening noise.
Jim picked up the boat sticks and started moving them in a cyclical flowing motion. That’s how you do it I noted to myself. We were off. Gently gliding towards that obnoxious Duck. I bet Jim is taking me to him on purpose. I realised I’d not been talking to my agent who wasn’t on the phone for a while.
“Listen I have to go, I’m rowing a boat, this all sounds good, let’s do lunch”.
I knew I had done my stint on the phone but I had not thought of how I was to address the situation I was in. Should I ask Jim to split the eight pound hire charge of the boat. Technically he has both the sticks so he owes the full amount. We’re just sitting here, bored. I should be the bigger man and let him have his fun.
Arthur leaned his head out the side of the boat, he skimmed his fingers on the top of the water so lightly it barely made an impression. I wished he didn’t find it so interesting as it just left me staring at Jim. I had nothing to say to Jim. Well I had so much to say it all cancelled itself out. We just sat there facing each other, like two of the shittest mirrors in the business. All my failings were projected onto his face and as he rode I’m sure all my failings were projected on my face too . I looked at Arthur and hoped he’d do something that would require parenting but he was fine skimming the water with his fingertips. I considered pushing him in, just to save him, then I remembered swimming isn’t my strong point. Again Jim would probably come out of this the hero.
“Look dad I can see us all in the water” our three distorted reflections gently gliding together and in the corner the beak of a duck who refused to butt out of this sensitive situation. “It’s like we are all in a giant bath together” Arthur remarked. The last place I wanted to be was in a bath with Jim. I did not want to think about that scenario.
“It could be a soup” I replied. I don’t know why this was better. I guess as ingredients we would become individuals. Sure maybe we would still be working together for the same cause, but at least that wouldn’t be getting clean together.
“But if it would be a soup, it would be hot and it we would all be burning and our skin would slowly come off”
The duck quacked.