Some bars I’ll walk into and just walk right out, pretending I’m looking for someone. The bar, “Lochavulgin” or some other name that gets stuck in your throat: I throw the door open right on cue to a Foreigner song: I wanna know what love is…I want you to show me…and all the old men turn to regard me, faces like candle stubs that won’t light…doesn’t look like it’s changed since the song first came out…and on the street the rain is back, which makes me feel alive as I turn into it, revived.
Some of the barmaids kind of coo and blush when they say I like your accent, and I say I like yours, and they call me darling and don’t think anything of it. Some of the bars don’t have ladies’ rooms on the main level, they make them walk upstairs with a hand on a sign pointing “up.”
Nearly four weeks on the road now since we left Germany, counting the apartments, hotels, lofts where we’ve laid our things: this is our eighth, not counting the night we spent crossing the North Sea.
Our flat in Oban reminds us of the first apartments we lived in after college — Dawn, in San Francisco, me in Allentown, PA — and there’s something in the high ceilings and ornate trim that inspires the young artist in us, poking the coals, and I recall my first Christmas after my parents divorced wallowing in self-pity, enjoying it, going to a party with a couple lesbians from the kitchen in the bar where I worked, the gay bartender Randy there too, that kind of ponytail/balding combination where it’s always coming undone, looks like hell, remarking my apartment looks like a gay lives there or a Republican, not meaning it nicely.
Another waitress Moira who went by ‘Mo,’ how we slept together a lot but not in the sexual sense, more just holding each other; she carried a lot in her eyes but had room for me still, how we saw kin in each other in the same down-on-your-luck attitude we found fashionable, and not the first.
The alcoholic landlord jeweller from the Czech Republic upstairs and his wiry frame, the magnifying lens contraption he wore on his head, the sense he beat his wife Mabel and next door, the neighbours were slapping each other around too and no one said anything.
Across the street, scene sketches behind the windows of the ones lit up, some steamed-over, one with just a sliver of red leaking out through the drapes, a sick dog’s eye — figures below on the street walking in and out of paintings, behind the glass entering, exiting the stage.
It’s hard moving around every few days, especially hard on the kids, more than we thought, hauling dirty laundry and remains from the refrigerator: yesterday I was commenting how perfect everything’s been in the car, right as Charlotte announced she felt sick, and missed her barf bag completely though it was right there at her feet, and we had to pull over on some rocky shoulder while Dawn untangled the mess and I rinsed it out in a mountain stream, and the rain turned to hail, and we had to laugh when we got back in the car and turned up the defogger, and got back on the road.
There’s a sign in the kitchen in Oban that says “Family: Today’s Special: Moments Become Tomorrow’s Wonderful Memories.” So much of it is starting to blend and blur; the kitchen feels like we’re on the set of a Pottery Barn display, with the muted tones and the tea canisters perfectly aligned, calligraphic fonts, everything just so. A handwritten note from the cleaner Rossyln apologising the freezer’s frosted over, It is quite difficult to clean out when the change overs are so concurrent.
Dawn goes to our bedroom with her laptop and headset for a conference call, the kids watch YouTube on the TV in the living room, I’m not sure how, and I close the door in the kitchen to write, to establish some space. The TV is a billiard table that’s slanted so all the balls roll into one corner and disappear down a hole, it’s like the floor dips and everything slides in one direction.
There are no pets to clean up after, no yard, no gutters to clean: an over-sized clock with Roman numerals the kids don’t understand, it’s an ancient language, analogue time, and the bay windows have drawstrings with weights. Bad dreams of losing my toes like leaves falling off a tree.
Charlotte needs to use her hands to quiet her mind I think, mumbles and talks to herself while twisting, fitting the Lego pieces, constructing different voices to punctuate the conflict, always conflict — and we stop at a castle along the loch they blew to kingdom come the last time it was besieged, just filled it with barrels of gunpowder and lit the fuse on their way out.
I remark how beautiful it all is from the driver’s seat, as if to reassure us, even though the kids are making detailed plans for what they’ll do when we’re first back, drafting invitations for sleepovers and parties, all planned the first week of May — and I’ve started reading the weather forecast for Seattle on my smartphone, for some reason.
We read about the red squirrels, how the grey ones from America started squeezing them out 130 years ago, and the Norway spruce, a tree the city of Oslo donates each year at Christmastime to cities that helped them out during World War II: New York, Washington, D.C., London, Edinburgh…and they’ll host a tree-lighting ceremony for it here, this Saturday.
I work on teaching the kids about not being wasteful, and take the remains of their fish, the brown underlayment that’s oily and salty, the skin, and eat it all.