My younger brother, Alistair, always followed my grandfather around sheepishly whenever we stayed with him. His house was grandeur and too large for a man who lived alone. He built it himself, brick by brick, and prided himself on that fact, slipping it into conversations with strangers whenever he had the chance. Alistair prided himself on the fact that he skipped school once to watch a house be torn down. It was the derelict house two streets down, where I used to hide with my friends. We would go there and pretend that we were older. Sometimes, we were living in Paris, and we would buy croissants from the nearby bakery and talk about how we had to walk our poodles before we modeled for Chanel. Other times, we were roommates in Madrid, and we would talk in the limited Spanish we had learnt in primary school and complained about our problems with our boyfriends, Pablo and Carlos. Sometimes bricks would fall out of place and the building would sway dangerously for a few minutes, but we would never return to reality until it was dark.
Our grandfather greeted us, like always, waving around a cup of tea and wearing an oversized woolen jumper. This one, he said, was the colour Atomic Tangerine. Our mother stood at the car, like always, and her and our grandfather went through the motions of two people conflicted by love. He would ask, “Are you sure you don’t want a cup of tea?” And she would ask, “Are you sure you’re going to be alright with the kids?” And he would ask, “Are you going to see your mother?” And she would ask, “What do you care?”
The house had many large rooms, connected by archways instead of doors. However, our grandfather hung beaded dividers on our bedroom archways, so that we felt like we had some privacy. Being exactly five years older than Alistair, we were born on the same day, I easily won the fight for the better room. The room was small and had an exposed brick wall, covered by vintage film posters, with movie stars with faded smiles. The bed was a mattress on the floor and the room was filled with my grandfather’s old books. I made a pact with him to read a new one every time I visited. When I had finished one, we would stay up late and discuss it whilst my brother watched Cops in the other room. Our grandfather’s house was like a museum. It was filled with artifacts from different countries across the globe. Alistair and I liked to pretend that he was a cat burglar, stealing from rich people who didn’t appreciate and therefore deserve what they owned. “Do you like my painting?” “Where did you get it?” “The Prince of Italy needs to improve his security”. He would raise his index finger to his lips and Alistair and I would giggle in excitement.
Every morning, I would wake to the back door slamming shut and my grandfather swearing at his clumsiness. I would butter myself a piece of toast and watch him through the window as he tiptoed, shoeless, in a Jade Green wool jumper, to water his vegetable garden before it got too hot. When he was done, he would smoke a cigarette and stare at the sky. Some days, I would go out and talk to him, because Alistair would either be watching cartoons or trying to set something on fire using just the toaster. “Can I have one?” “Why would you want to smoke a cigarette?” “Holly Golightly does it.” “If you want to be like Holly Golightly so bad you should run off to Texas and marry an animal doctor”.
If the summer was a bad one, sometimes our grandfather would have to do extra maintenance on the house. He refused to hire anyone to help him, arguing that he built the house and he was the only one who knew how to love it and take care of it properly. He and Alistair would wear matching overalls, and travel from one side of the house to the other, fixing any problem they could find. Alistair would pass our grandfather tools and ask every single question that he could think of and our grandfather would answer each one of them. “How many bricks did you use?” “For what?” “When you built the house!” “18, 432” “Wow.” “I wrote little notes on some of them.” “What kind of notes?” “Thoughts, memories, grocery lists. If the house is ever knocked down, which it won’t be, but if for some awful reason it is, you should wade through all of the rubble and collect all my notes and make a book out of them. It can be my memoir.” After that conversation, Alistair tore down the posters in my room in the hope that one of the exposed bricks would have a note for him on them. I didn’t talk to him for nine days.
On the second last day of summer, Alistair would fall into a deep silence, refusing to talk to anyone. Our grandfather called it the autumn blues and he only knew one cure for it. He and I would buy all of Alistair’s favourite foods from the supermarket and cook it all and shout and roar and yell in order to get Alistair’s attention. “All of this food looks so yummy!” I would yell. “I would hate to be moping around in my bedroom right now!” Our grandfather would shout. And eventually Alistair would come running from his bedroom. “Don’t have all the fun without me!” He would roar.
When our mother did finally arrive to pick us up, our grandfather would carry our bags to the car and stand at the window on the drivers’ side, whispering something to our mother. He wore an oversized woolen jumper in Egyptian Blue. He would never hug us goodbye, but instead place the palms of his hands on top of each of our heads and remind us not to forget our swimmers next time we visited. “Next summer, I’m building a swimming pool” “Don’t forget to write a message on each of the bricks you use!” We would hang out of the car windows and wave to him and he would wave, but he wouldn’t look in our eyes, and we imagined the things that he would be getting up to over the year that he would tell us next summer. Escapades to Portugal to steal ceramic items, another order of exotically named woolen sweaters and building a swimming pool in between his beloved house and his beloved vegetable garden. And we imagined the things that we would be getting up to over the year that we wouldn’t tell him next summer. How I had tried smoking with my friends in the empty lot around the corner from my house as we pretended to be Holly Golightly or how Alistair had finished over fifteen diaries filled with his thoughts, memories and grocery lists that would one day be the contents of his memoir. Once I read one and he didn’t speak to me for nine days. It said, “All in all, we’re just another brick in the wall”. I don’t think he’s ever heard the song.
The house had many large rooms, connected by archways instead of doors. However, our grandfather hung beaded dividers on our bedroom archways, so that we felt like we had some privacy. Being exactly five years older than Alistair, we were born on the same day, I easily won the fight for the better room. The room was small and had an exposed brick wall, covered by vintage film posters, with movie stars with faded smiles.
Cathy rolled her eyes, glancing at the clock. She wondered how much longer she needed to do this before she could complain to her boss about having to get back home. She lived on the other side of the reserve and it wasn’t a short drive. Especially after this. He winced as she began to scrub his skin with lotion. His name was Jerry. Or Jeremy. Or Jacob.
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