[Image Credit: “Domestic Scene,” David Hockney]
“You don’t want to wear that hat,” Sil says, lifting the needle from the vinyl, not looking at Charly. The music seems too loud, a provocation somehow.
Charly turns round and takes Sil’s hands up to dance while picking up the song where Sil interrupted it “And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like…”
“It’s red, darling.”
Charly continues to sing, changing his tune. “You say tomato, and I say tomato…”
Sil looks at him, into his bright eyes, and smiles.
“As you wish.”
“Really?” Charly stops in his steps. “We get a baby? Because I found this place where they organize adoptions from Brazil!”
Sil frees himself of Charly’s embrace. They’ve talked and talked and Charly has stuffed his Inbox with How, Where, How much. And now: Brazil. Charly has replaced his daily pack of cigarettes with carrot sticks and started to go to the gym, preparing to be a healthy and long-living parent.
Sil steps away, aware of his upright posture and serious face, hoping his expression will somehow reflect on Charly. It does work sometimes – Sil refusing to respond and Charly quietening down like a child at bedtime.
Charly’s sister had once told Sil how Charly, when he was five, would still sing lying in his bed, and fall asleep mid-tune. Sil imagines their home to have been like the March family’s in “Little Women,” a place where they played instruments for the pleasure of it and not, like he had, for a father who looked up from his newspaper at a spoilt chord.
Both their fathers are dead now. And while Charly carries in him a glow of childhood love, Sil carries the ghost of Lord Harrington on his right shoulder. The pale little figure flinches every time his son is being called Sil, and regards the source of this nickname with dismay. He never met Charly when he was alive, or anyone before him. Sil keeps his relationships private, carefully dividing his London life from that in Sussex.
He got to know the London side of himself when he was sixteen, after he had been introduced to another Lord’s son – someone who knew David Hockney, who could charm women of a certain age and made out with boys in public parks. He taught Sil the game and Sil defined his roles: He was Harold Sinclair Lewis Alistair Harrington in Sussex, and Harry or Leo, and – since he met Charly, – Sil in London. He distinguishes between these roles so carefully that he never wears the same clothes to both places.
Charly influenced most of his city wardrobe. He loves shopping, on occasion even shop-lifting, something of which Sil disapproves but which shows a side of Charly he needs: Charly the unabashed free spirit, the bad kid that he never allowed himself to be even for the minute it takes to steal a slip.
When Charly and Sil fight, Sil doesn’t feel like he is the other party in the fight but a kind of jury who has to find the truth between the stories of every person in the room, whether they are dead or alive, made of flesh or figments of memory.
Charly is staring at him, singing “What’s going on… I’m trying to talk to you. Let’s love, Baby–”
He kisses Sil. “Please. Let’s get a kid – or two!” Charly flaps his arms while putting on his jacket. “Let’s get siblings!”
“No,” Sil says and opens the door, “Let’s go and get Soho’s best sushi.”
He walks very upright, forcing the little Lord Harrington to duck when they pass through the porch. The house is old. Parts of it were constructed in the sixteenth century. The low ceilings are one side of that, one they weren’t fond of at first but which turned out to be an asset as the place warms up within minutes. They moved in here because of the fireplace in front of which they spend winter evenings, watching films, reading or listening to Wagner in the presence of dancing flames. On cold nights like this one that’s what they’ll do when they get home from the restaurant.
Charly follows Sil onto the pavement, letting out a cloud of air.
“Turkey,” Sil says, looking at Charly’s red hat and brushing his hand.
Lord Harrington stuffs his pipe.
Ceci n’est pas une pipe, Sil thinks, glancing at the ghost pipe and walking very close to Charly imagining how they’ll make up tonight. The expression on his father’s face shows that ghosts can penetrate thoughts, and Sil lowers his eyes.
When Charly says “key-hole”, picking up the game they often play when they’re on their way somewhere, Sil growls.
“No, you! You really do look like a… turkey.”
“Well,” Charly says, pushing his hands deep inside his pockets. “There are fights going on inside of me.”
“Not the country, the animal.”
Charly stops and takes off his hat to bow. “You say I look like something delicious? I’ll wear this headgear every night and nothing else. Watch this one!”
He climbs onto a white van. Its shell shines in the dark. Charly’s body, on the other hand, blends into the night, his hat a velvety dot in the sky.
“Charly, please, can you stop behaving like a child?”
Sil’s voice vibrates in his throat, coming out sounding deeper than usual, and for a moment he can feel the approval of his father.
“No danger of that!” Charly shouts, balancing along the edge of the roof.
Sil rolls his eyes and walks on. Lord Harrington offers him a mint. He accepts it. Sucking the peppermint his nose and lungs open up to the cold in the air, as if his body, too, was turning into that of a ghost. But no, no danger of thahat! He can feel his feet. He is walking. His soles crunch the salt on the ground, leftovers of the first wave of snow.
It was a white Christmas, the first one in years, and they celebrated it at home, just the two of them. Charly bought a tree and Sil prepared turkey. He loved it – the simplicity, the style, the intimacy.
Charly is his family, all the family he needs really. His liveliness and love provide a feeling of home Sil didn’t know before. So why put something between them? Would Charly cling to the baby and Sil stand by and comment on his care? He sees himself in the big armchair, interrupted in his reading by laughter and something breaking on the kitchen floor.
Charly’s shout makes him turn. He runs back, not noticing the little man falling from his shoulder, and stands still, looking down onto Charly, who is lying on the sidewalk, his leg stuck in an odd angle away from him. “Is it…”
“Broken,” Charly grimaces.
Moaning, he pulls himself up by grabbing hold of Sil’s hip. Sil lets him climb and takes out his phone.
“What are you doing?” Charly asks.
“I just remembered I had to make a call.”
“They’ll take me to hospital.”
“Yes they will.”
“We’re on our way to dinner.”
“Do you remember what hospital food is like? It tastes the same entering and exiting your… ”
“Thank you,” Sil says after having given the ambulance directions.
“Why on earth did you do that to yourself?” he asks when they sit alone in a green hospital room.
“Break a leg?” Charly looks at the plaster case stretched out on the bed. “Break a leg,” he whispers.
“I can’t just break somebody’s leg just so I get lucky – and tonight, I really needed to change the tone this conversation kept going in. You not liking a million things I say and do, and I want to make sure that there is a chance that we…”
“That we spend the night together with a nurse and a doctor?”
“To do it in a virgin white hospital bed.”
“Do you think we can have–?”
Sil laughs. Their sexual history includes a bus stop during a tempest, a book shop on a hangover day and, once, a frozen lake after he had sprained his ankle ice-skating…
“A family?” Charly says.
The doctor comes in, holding a clipboard. The wrinkles on his forehead lead towards his receding hairline. They are fine and show a face prone to laughter and showing surprise. Maybe he has got grandchildren who draw pictures for him – of him and themselves, and their family, the dog, the house, a tree.
“Mr. Charles Levage?” he asks, pushing up his eyebrows and glancing over the edge of his glasses.
Charly does not react. The doctor, a questioning look in his eyes, turns to Sil, who feels a weight on him, a child climbing onto his lap, asking if daddy was going to be okay.
He clears his throat.
“Yes,” he says in a hoarse voice, trying to reassure the little one. “Yes,” he says again, looking from the doctor to Charly, whose face lights up in a grin.
Mimi Kunz is an artist-writer based in Brussels. Her drawings, installations and sculptures are shown in galleries, museums and off spaces in Europe. Her short stories and poems have been published in magazines and shared in exhibitions and performances. She grew up in Germany, and moved to Belgium after a post-MA at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe. She has recently been awarded a grant to make art in Ireland and starts her days writing a utopian novel that follows a time jumper from Scotland to Seoul. More works, upcoming exhibitions and publications on www.mimikunz.com