The smeared sights, the bright lights – Felling, Hebburn, Pelaw – rushed the windscreen and nearly disappeared into the rear view. Dave passed the patchwork allotment in Jarrow. Sad flags, a surprising number – a Jack, a George, a rainbow, an A in a circle – hung there over wet sheds and plots from plum trees and broomsticks. A horse face, morose, flashed by at a fence.
Then the same kids as ever, still pulling wheelies the length of the darkening Viking Centre; the fluorescent come-on of the cheap booze shop, the blurred fish and chip shop, the menhirs of tower block. The crave messages daubed everywhere. And, in a series of side street glances, the moon greased the river and the dead shipyards where the last cranes held up the sky.
He was alright. It was the Pot Noodle generation had better watch out. The old folk were long damned – best forgotten. Least we got our memories, they say. But the way Dave saw it memories didn’t add up to shit. They made it all the worse if anything. Just knowing that there had been a better time. Everyone’s sold down the river. Everyone’s gone to the moon. Nearly everyone. He had his rock and roll to protect him.
His old man had been Dave, too. But known lifelong as Davey. Fifteen years this March. Still dead. Thirty dirties a day, count the cost. It’s the cough that carries you off and the coffin they carry you off in. Davey had been a street sweeper when Maureen – Moe – a teenager then, crossed his path. Inchmery Road through to Commercial. These streets were Davey’s. Everyone knew Davey and Davey knew nearly everyone. His were the eyes of the neighbourhood; in the same way that the bobby and the postie and the milkman’s were. Dave could be found occasionally on his knees, digging the dirt and the weeds from the paving with a beautiful, deer-antler handled, clasp knife that was kept at his hip in a sheath. A different world.
There was, among the many photographs tucked between the glass and frame of the mirror that stood on the mantelpiece, leaning into the chimney breast, an only very slightly faded Polaroid of a young brunette up against the curve of a car, a shoe on the bonnet (where is the other?), her hand palming her slight belly. Her face is thrown with laughter toward something or someone, said or stood somewhere beyond the confines of the snapshot. A scarf, an autograph, signed above her overexposed shoulder, draws the eye toward a dog, caught in the background; a blurred dog, a smudge on a beach dog and, beyond, further still, the sand diminishing to suggestion, a sun capped littoral suggestion, always in the distance. This is how he remembered her; from a time before he even knew her. On the back someone has written, Lyme Bay Whitsun 69.
“She was a looker back then, your mother. Before the moon landing. After that …well, she was still a looker, but I’d been there by then. Been and come back.” He heard his dad say this, quite clearly, from the back of the car but the mirror only reflected.
Him. Sat in the red light, the windscreen wipers wiping, the headlights bleaching the street. Cleaning nearly everything. Waiting for the lights to change.
The digital eyes surveilled him, watched over him. And nearly everyone.