Waking up, one foot on the winter floor. Somewhat cold. Not overly, the slippers a little too far for toe tips to grasp. A lovely tweed, she said when we bought them, years ago. We’d gone for a walk down the Boulevard Voltaire, for I don’t know why, it’s not a particularly nice stretch of road, but Ben used to live at number four where I would stay whenever Hélène had dudes over, as I lived on her sofa, which incidentally I put together, and then when she moved to Barcelona, four years later – that is, four years after I lived with her, four years after I’d stayed with Ben, one year after I’d bought my slippers, one year before my foot lunges out across space to bring them to me, but slipping my grasp I look to J. next to me but she doesn’t shift and I accept my cold-footed fate with not a soul to complain to. The horror, and they did roar, the cars that day in summer. Down the boulevard, with the old vidya shops still peddling monthly subscriptions for a tape club, fucking, VHS, y’know, I don’t know, how they keep the business going and M. – it was two years ago, and as my timeline of relationship success dictates, that is enough space for a she to encourage me to buy tweed slippers, fig. M., and a she to not respond to my willing her to wake up as I place two feet on the lino floor and inch towards said tweed slippers, fig. J.. The slippers in this process are something of an eternal. And it was an infernal annoyance, when Hélène came to borrow the filler to hide all the holes she’d drilled in the wall for cabinets of shit she found at thrift stores, and I’d hinted about that fucking sofa, and she’d said – it was just that attitude of hers that would have me laid up side by side with Ben in that grotty bedsit, where you go through the doors at four, and through a great gleaming golden hallway. Past the BMWs, past three or four grand doorways, and to a broken cellar entrance in that courtyard full of cars, and as I walked past with M. and caught sight of ‘4’ out the corner of my eye I wondered how they ever got those cars in and out. I asked, how’d they even get them in and out? And she said nowt, as she did. Berlin Airlift.
It was two years ago, and as my timeline of relationship success dictates, that is enough space for a she to encourage me to buy tweed slippers, fig. M., and a she to not respond to my willing her to wake up as I place two feet on the lino floor and inch towards said tweed slippers, fig. J.. The slippers in this process are something of an eternal.
But I wasn’t in Berlin for that, and am not in this digression, but I did read the wikipedia on it, but when escapes me. I digress, and M. pointed to the shop fronts there between the stream of VHS sellers and there in the middle a vitrine of single slippers thrown about artily or maybe angrily, or without a thought maybe. And in amongst it all a single slipper half-buried and M. went, ‘that’s a lovely tweed’ – a kind of wheatish colour, greenish, brownish, and I’d said, that lino is cold, but back then it was – tile? And been colder even in July, so must have said ‘that tile is really cold’, perhaps with exclamation, ‘+!’. And now an old woman taps me on the shoulder and points to the ether and says, ‘bonne continuation’, and then with a frail index to her forehead, ‘bonne inspiration’, and I realise I’ve been writing all this down in public and better pack it all up sharpish before I’m mistaken for a fop, and I say, red in the cheeks, I say, ‘merci bien, au revoir’, and turn back to this paper to hide my shame. And I see again now those slippers as she leaves the Place Verte for home and assuredly her own as she potters off amongst the tables and chairs at the corner of my eye and out into a thronged Oberkampf where her hair melts into the crowd of elbows and I quickly forget all about it – and we’d got them, the one out from the vitrine pile and the other some back room – the shop guy doddering from box of one left slipper to box of one left slipper, and I’d given him like €3, and wanted to head home for pyjamas and slippers to, after those two years of finally having my own apartment, teach that tile a lesson. As it had not been my first rodeo with tile: when first I laid my head to rest at Ben’s it had been on a pile of towels, on those browny-red tiles that seem everywhere often, under a window. Clagged up greeny-brown from years of ephemera, the window, it looked out into the void of the building dropping eight floors of stairwell panes. Across a few feet expanse a matching window stuck ajar, from which one might incessantly make awkward eye contact, sometimes convo, with whatever inhabitant of the 8th floor needed a shit at that moment, and I’d gone ‘for crying out loud, Ben, I can’t take these shits anymore!’, and pushed his lifeless husk over against the far wall and, taking his pillow and an ample 2/3 of duvet laid myself to rest – which is exactly what I dragged myself from when, swung out of bed, leaving J. far behind, at least four feet, I hooked each slipper by its corresponding big toe and made for the doorway where in the dark in the comfy chair by the window an elbow, shoulder, head of hair stood out in the starlight and I reached for the light switch with not little consternation. Where my finger pressed against the pressure seesaw and as the copper pressed copper I thought about the horrible racket my piss-poor DIY skills had resulted in when folding out that sofa bed, and how I’d never really wanted it anyway.
He’d said, ‘best it happen now than too too late, know what I mean?’ and I’d gone to bed after where the other pillow still smelt of M., and not yet J., and I’d starfished the fuck out of the mattress because I do what I like
In fact, it slips my mind, though catches every now and again for a moment, how I had spent most nights in Hélène’s bed on account of the bloody racket it made unfolding and would go off to her room and heave her over and lay down without a thought for how, in four years, she would throw that bloody sofa in bits in the street for the Mairie without a thought of whether I’d want its rickety joints terrorising my neighbours, and something far off reasserts itself as twenty years ago my Father goes, ‘ah me knees’ as he folds himself small enough to lay beside me in what was a king size bed to me, but miniature to him, to tell me Three Bears as I press my forehead against the cold wall, exterior facing out to the moors, and fall off to sleep before the overture has even begun, and it’s he who there must lightly swing out of bed in search of slippers to toe on and slink in darkness out the door – and the light comes on finally and there he is, but not how I remember, but as he was in that now, not sick at all. Sat in that yellow comfy chair by the window where he’d come all the way three or four times to read the paper and hang, and on the phone a year before where I’d sat talking with him he a long way off, and he’d said, ‘best it happen now than too too late, know what I mean?’ and I’d gone to bed after where the other pillow still smelt of M., and not yet J., and I’d starfished the fuck out of the mattress because I do what I like, though the slippers around then I oft forgot to leave by the bed for late night patrols, and now in this, the only strand of time left I gulped – I did – in that comedic way and said, ‘Dad, what you doing here?’ and he said, ‘I don’t rightly know…’, before grabbing for the newspaper and settling down with the Sports section, and though I knew he laid right then dying comatose in a bed in Castle Hill, I said, ‘alright’ and went to the loo. And passing back through I said, ‘on or off?’ and he said, ‘off please, lad’. And I said ‘night’, and he said, ‘night, boy’, before I pushed the seesaw back to darkness, now much darker than before, and kicked my slippers off and climbed into bed, and looked across at the lifeless shape under duvet next to me and wondered who perhaps it was, and, before long, I too was laid to rest.
Andrew Robert Hodgson is author of the novel Reperfusion (2012), and a number of shorter prose texts.