Some people meet in the ether, no? People who, on the face of it, seem to have nothing obvious in common. You feel it though; there’s something about them.. a scent you pick up in their presence.. a glint in their eyes or the note at the end of their laugh. The effect is the same. They’re similar. I love finding these people, especially when they’re people you’d never normally line up together for symmetry.
Jack’s dad and Linda are like this for me. Jack’s dad, bless him, was never into airs and graces. He hated anything that smelled like middle-class twee and on occasion seemed to enjoy being compared to a psychopath. A psychopath? Was he really? Well, I know that he liked to get what he wanted. But admittedly I didn’t know him in his ‘prime’ psychopath days. My time with him was during the last twenty years of his life, when I’m pretty sure he’d mellowed. Everyone said he had.
He still had an impressive ability to shock though. It usually came in the form of a phrase. Once it was delivered you knew it because these were words that took your breath away. He seemed to have infused them with extra power. I still wonder how he did it. It was impressive. Sure a few choicely-delivered expletives may have helped, but they weren’t the focus words. They were the supports. No, for me his most powerful comments were the more powerful without the swearing. These were the supremely distilled ones.
For example: ‘We don’t call him Jack anymore. We call him Dodi.’ As in Dodi Al-Fayed. It was 1997 and I’d only been to his dad’s house a couple of times before. The car crash had just happened. Jack’s face flinched painfully before the rest of us collapsed into laughter.
Not long afterwards, Jack and I were housesitting for his dad and his dad’s partner, Veronica. They’d gone on holiday for almost a month. The day they were set to return, I set upon cleaning the house. At some point that morning, I went to the bathroom and the flushing didn’t go so well. It happens right? I made a mental note to return to the endeavour but got lost scrubbing the kitchen and making the beds and well, kind of forgot about it.
Later, after his dad and partner Veronica returned home, he approached me. ‘I see the little present you left in the toilet.’ My eyes opened wide. Oh crap. Literally. He saw the horrified look on my face and smiled. ‘With a turd like that, I can see how you make my son happy.’
Though painful, I got over that moment. It took a while but it thankfully no longer came to the forefront of my mind when we visited. For sure I flushed extra-hard. For all his dad’s shocking moments, I have to give it to him; he balanced with self-deprecation. His words were always accompanied by a sort of one-half-collapsing face. Both comments and expressions got more pronounced over time. I found these moments unexpected, poignant and often hilarious. At the end he spent a lot of time reminding us that he wasn’t going to be here much longer. ‘I like to take the trip to the crem, especially when it’s smoking,’ he’d say with special relish. Veronica accompanied him on these trips. She always rolled her eyes at this point.
So how can these comments be compared to Delphine’s tutor, Linda? In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting in Linda’s living room. Everything around me is clean and proper and frankly a little cold (wouldn’t hurt to twiddle the thermostat a little, Linda). I wont say it though. This is because Linda is taking her precious Saturday morning time to painstakingly tutor Delphine. It’s pretty amazing listening to them next door, since Delph isn’t even her kid. This is higher-end, specialist-learning love.
I’ll stay cold and tell you how Jack and Linda are similar. It occurred to me when Linda was asking me if I ever did ANY reading with Delph. Despite her dusty thermostat, I felt myself start to boil. Two years, I thought through the red mist in my mind. Two years of schooling and straining and suffering. Forgotten words the very next day and literary concepts that would not sink in no matter how much you try. I’m not sure how much these thoughts were showing up on my face at that moment. Perhaps I looked like the tornado I felt inside. Then, as if Zeus had shot a thunderbolt into my head, it occurred to me that Linda was smiling at me.. in just the same way as my father-in-law.
It’s a test. To see how I’ll respond. Shock and stand back, then let the dust settle.