He took the photos and the postcards from the mantelpiece – the palm-sized slate that he used as an incense holder; the dead flower he’d saved from his birthday: he scooped a scatter of low denomination coins and the glass jar tea light holders and scraps of paper with his hand on them – and he put them in a shoebox with a load of other little things. He named the box ephemera and sealed it with a clasp of sticky tape.
He slept that week in a sleeping bag in the kitchen because the tiled floor was cooler than the carpet in the bedroom and he dreamt of caves and empty shelves and when he woke he showered, dressed in his overalls, and walked to work.
The following Friday as he left the warehouse Wayne pulled up beside him and said, “Hey.” Wayne had horse money, so they went and drank beer and short glasses of vodka in several pubs around the rundown town centre.
Wayne explained again his abstruse punting theories in his glassy voice, flipping back and forth the pages of an annotated pocket notebook that he kept, it seemed, always at hand in his jacket, and referred to, without cracking a smile, as The Rockefeller Diaries. Gideon nodded and said uh-huh and uh-huh and watched Hester teach the new barmaid how to pull pints.
Talk of betting bored him hollow, and he avoided, when he was out with Wayne, the punt shops that seemed to draw the other man – the TV screens, the shouting, boxed his senses. The strip lights dealt him headaches. So, while Wayne dropped in to place a bet he would wait outside and roll cigarettes and take account of any number of things that were unfolding around him. He noticed that certain canvas bags were popular, that the shop doorways had darkened further, and now red men and bony women exercised their sharp elbows and their voices in not-quite semi-circles with scrappy mutts and bright red sleeping bags at their feet, passing round a box of cheap house white, and laughing with much gusto. One of them was sifting through a carrier bag from where he pulled, like some rubbish street magician, torn out glossy jazz mag pictures. The faces in the photographs made mockery of his filthy fingers.
Gideon pinched a second cigarette from the tip of the first and erased that one into the brickwork and after a while Wayne came out and flicking a screwed up slip out into the street, took a cigarette from a packet and asked for a light.
The room began to fill with memories the more he took away the realities. He took the pictures from the walls and stacked them in a box like crockery. He packed the books into a box that once sold oranges. He concealed, one evening after dinner, the holes with putty. He laid in the bag and reimagined the room around him in the darkness. He filled his head with memories and he became, he felt, somehow lighter.
Now the attic flat was almost empty. He leaned into the door frame, wheezing jesus, rattling his keys. Everything he owned – all his shit, the stuff he carried from home to home, year to year, was packed in laundry bags, stacked on top of one other, with some skill, in the basement waiting on Wayne and his white van to take it all along the coast to another set of empty rooms.