A Hill of Beans

“Extinct?”

“No, distinct!”

“Oh. I thought you meant they no longer existed. But that wouldn’t make sense.” She smiled and looked back at her magazine.

Harry had a simple choice. He could either force the discussion back to his point or get up and go make them both some coffee. He threw back the covers, rolled his stomach so that his legs were flung to the floor, and got up.

Her smile broadened. It was Sunday morning and she’d stayed in bed just to see this spectacle. He was up and she’d have coffee in bed and pay for it. He’d grumble down the stairs and grumble about the kitchen. He’d smoke a cigarette out the back door and become human. He might even get the papers from up the road.

Harry grumbled down stairs. She would always be awake long before him. She was a morning person after all. Would it be so much to expect coffee in bed at the weekends? After all he got coffee in bed all week. The children were fast asleep. The house was cold, English. He grabbed the kettle and filled it from the tap over the sink. He turned on the gas, blowing it to help it alight. He put the bird whistle into the spout and turned to the back door. The dew was still frosting the corners of the glass. A haze lay over the back garden. The leaves were turning. The sun shone in noticeable rays. Harry rolled a cigarette. Harry coughed.

She came up behind him and ran her arms around his stomach. “You really are the most disgusting person to wake up to. Why don’t you go back to bed and I’ll make some breakfast.”

“No, I’ll throw on some laundry and get the papers.” He walked to the bathroom and climbed into yesterday’s clothes. Shuffled on his dreadful old shoes and picking some keys off the sideboard, left for the shop.

It wasn’t any better out here. The sun was reflecting brightly off any shiny surface. The cars glistened. Others were shuffling behind dogs or coming back with arms full of misery in print. A neighbour passed with acknowledgements. Cars passed with all to well-dressed believers. The lady behind the newsagent’s counter was her usual soft smiling self. They went through their silent gestures of tobacco, papers and a Sunday stack full. He passed her a bill and she passed him some change. He turned and side stepped past another customer along the row of essentials to the door. He was out, free to breath. Was it looking like a beautiful day? Vapour trails crossed the sky saying someone was having an adventure. Someone was flying to Peru.

She’d forgotten the bacon under the grill. She was on the phone to a relative. Harry rushed in and rescued the American crispy from the oven. The house now smelt out children in search of food. Their faces were larger for sleep, their eyes unfocussed. They’d be fighting before the meal was done.

“I’m sorry. My mother phoned. I haven’t spoken to her all week. I had to listen.”

“It’s OK. They’re just a little crispy. That’s all!”

“But I don’t like it burned.” Chimed the eldest.

“Daddy? You know that game?” Asked the youngest.

“No. What game would that be? Good morning.” He smiled into the child’s face. “Did you sleep well?”

“Daddy?”

“Yes.” Harry placed plates before them all. She was already leafing the sections of the paper, seeking a commentary, an opinion, someone to listen to. He slid her plate beside the paper.

“You know? That game that Charlie has?” The youngest’s fists ground into the sockets of his eyes. That must hurt. He’d need to brush his teeth again.

“Yes. Now are you asking for another game? Don’t you think it would be better to just play that one at Charlie’s?” Harry spooned eggs and leafed crispy bacon on to each plate. The toast popped. He retrieved the butter from the fridge.

“Syrup!” The eldest was gesticulating. She was sitting on a stool not three feet from the syrup. Her long arms waved. She pouted. She blinked.

Harry handed her the syrup, not smiling.

“Daddy?”

“Look. I’ll think about it. Maybe for Christmas.” He turned to the eldest. “You could say thank-you.”

“Thank-you” It was said with more insincerity than a sorry for hitting her brother. It was said with a “Geeze, I only asked for the syrup! Parents!”

There was no point going there. She was reading and picking up the bacon between fingers. The youngest was formulating his next question. The eldest was deciding who to call first and what to do and how to get some more pocket money. There was one missing, the middle child. He’d be under his covers still. Harry prepared a plate and fetched a tray from the cupboard. He poured some orange juice and left the room with the tray resting on the raised fingers of one hand.

Their middle child was a head of hair pocking from beneath a downy cover. The dog had spent most of the night on his bed. “Morning, chap.”

Harry drew the curtains and laid the tray beside his son on the bed. A simple smile crossed the child’s face.

Harry went to the bathroom and ran a bath. He chose a coloured bottle and poured some of its contents into the running water. He then went up stairs to fetch some towels. On his return to the bathroom he looked in the mirror.

She came through the door with her papers cradled in her arms and began to remove her clothes. She made sure he was watching. He made a pile of his in economic movements. For example his thumbs caught his socks as he lowered his underpants and trousers. His t-shirt came off with his fleece. The sloughed remains held a shape echo on the floor.

The water was too hot for him, but she slipped into the bath. He took the cover section of the lefty liberal paper and waited for the cold water to bring the bath back from scolding. Her face was red.

This was going to be depressing. America! How could you give up all that was so noble? How could you be so shammed? The papers were full of false bi-partisan appeals. The papers were to spend the next four years decrying hypocrisy, as if no other crimes were being...

“Daddy?” She stood in the bathroom door wearing an angelic smile accompanied with a green jacket, yellow corduroys, a t-shirt that screamed death to all boys and their odours, a pair of pink plastic high-heeled pumps and a bag. The bag was something synthetic, dead and fluffy in matching pink.

“My wallet is in that heap.” He said pointing a dripping figure at his discarded clothes.

“I don’t want money.” Her face dropped two octaves. “ I was hoping you might give me a lift to Catherine’s.”

“I’m in the bath!”

“I can see that. But when you get out. When are you getting out? It will be soon, won’t it?”

“He says I have to get him more orange juice if I want to play on the console.” The youngest had barged past his sister to spay indignation that follows frustration.

“It’s alright.” Came from across the landing. “You can play it anyway.” The middle one was so reasonable. His appeal dragged the younger back through the door, knocking his sister in his hurry to the console. She swiped at him, missed and threw her fist down to her side in frustration.

“I know how we can get some peace,” she said leaning over to Harry, her lips pursed.

“Yuk. Stop that. There are children present. You know.”

“That’s why there are children present, don’t you mean.”

“Well, you should get out soon. I said I’d be there in fifteen minutes. And it is too late to walk now. And the bus is not an option. I don’t want to have that talk again.”

The door slammed behind the eldest. He kissed back.

“You don’t have to.”

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Harry stood in the kitchen before the calendar on the wall. He had paused and with a sigh took the daily armful of time bombs with their malicious cartoon grimaces and fizzing fuses from the day’s square, to start juggling. There was always laundry, washing-up, cleaning, vacuuming. To Harry they were time bombs, to Georgia they were the structure of a day, the shape of a week and the counting down of a term in halves, thirds and there a year has gone bye, it was summer again and time for a holiday. Since it did not say “Harry” anywhere on the calendar, he was the unscheduled, the squeezed-in, the interruption, the un-expected demand.

Georgia had run the house for the children’s childhoods and then decided to become a teacher. In his best supportive mood Harry had taken to working from home and become a househusband, but that had not been a gift with no strings – a token of co-existence. For he had hoped that as his juggling circle had grown and spun faster that she would have found more time to be with him, together.

She had said that he was always there - a voice that grated at the state of the house, the smells of loading laundry and pairing socks. He was ‘What shall we have for diner tonight?’ ‘When is the tax return due?’ ‘The car – it needs fixing.’ He was with her washing herself in the shower as he slept next door, the getting ready for bed, her choice of clothes, the ‘Will this make an impression?’ - the ‘It makes me feel sexy’ in the mirror in the shop on the high street. He was each and every one of those times and appointments for a group of five, plus a dog, a cat, two guinea pigs and a car, all ticking on a calendar on the kitchen wall. Harry’s face stared back from beneath the hair of a sulking child, the rush and bother of another with tennis shoes lost and racket to find. Her world echoed with Harry, many different Harrys.

He had felt these were the neuroses with which he had helped imprison her. So Harry tried to clean the house; it engendered guilt and sadness – should she have done it to this standard all these years? It did not help. Harry cooked, planned the meals, washed up, did the washing and organized the children. These too, made no difference. For as each time bomb moved to his juggling circle, her’s became filled with the plights of children from school, the demands of her boss, the problems of her colleagues. And so there he stood, juggling his work, family and their lives and still he was the interruption.

It was as if a wall had grown between them and like Penelope’s tapestry, it would grow by day only to be unravelled by night, but so many nights Harry had forgotten to draw its fine threads in conversation and so the tapestry of habits, and a whole world had begun to sway between them. It was not the world that Harry objected to, its people and experiences, but rather that he should live with a representation of it – of lives not shared but lived in separate excitement.

He’d laughed when she’d said that the worst thing was figuring out what to have for dinner that night. As he stood there, he smiled – it was bloody impossible. They’ll just have to have salad and pasta again.

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It was hard to know where Harry began and Georgia left off. He’d spent so much time being understanding, and always caring about what meant Georgia, that Harry had forgotten his own heart. Heart is a terrible term, one of those words locked in clichés, whose surface when sliced exposed the dark infinite of mid-west, of reality avoidance in the name of boredom. It was too difficult to glare at the science, look down, cut through and seek solace below. Now I’ve inverted the metaphor. After all, God is in his heaven. Harry was not in his.

Now don’t feel sorry for Harry. For god’s sake lets engage some other faculty. For Harry was white bread. Harry was an excrescence of the Anglo-Saxon white male liberal hegemony, a wart that made the face observed, expressed as Sunday papers read on occasional suburban afternoon - sincerity in slices; full of half-time oranges on the playing fields of privilege.

“Just look at this!” exclaimed Georgia. Harry was instantly ears to her call and eyes to her seeking her indignificant other. The paper lay open before her. A child’s face was surrounded with possible do-goodery by subscription to the lower right corner. A sofa in colour was over to the left, below a car in chrome and beyond reach above. In a thin strip were moments of yesterday from around the world in opinion and too small for Harry to read.

“What” asked Harry? Georgia was moving back her hair to behind her ear, gathering appearance to increase the import before the impart. The hand returned and the indictment produced from her index finger to the page.

“The American’s have sided with Microsoft and are taking France to court at the WTO for charging royalties for the use of French words in the Windows Operating System.” Georgia’s eyes swept from the page, her gaze blazing across the covers in search of his ratification. Harry swallowed, froze and desperately sought a quiet confirmation for her.

“You’d expect nothing less from the right!” he offered. “After all, copyrighting an entire language was a brilliant move.”

“But the American’s have no right to use multi-lateral institutions after all they’ve done to undermine them.”

“Would you rather they used cruise missiles?” Harry said it. His mouth was before his brain. His brain was before his heart. He was in trouble.

“No they should pay the royalties to reduce the Microsoft tithe.” Georgia tried again. This time her eyes narrowed and those lines between her eyebrows deepened.

“But what about the Quebec Issue? Should Canada and Algeria take France to court on prior art?” Harry pleaded. He wished his mouth would shut up. Every word meant he’d have to spend hours in decompression.

“America should be stopped.” She rewound back to the beginning again since he’d offered a cul-de-sac®. Indignation was turning to alienation. Since anger would not work perhaps tears.

Harry jumped in. “You’re right!”

“Shall we have some more coffee?” Georgia appeased.

“Yes, I’ll make it.”

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“I have not seen you for so long – I don’t know if the you I think of constantly, is drifting into a remembered you. Time is loosing integrity. I want to feel you and you are not there.” Harry stopped typing. This would not bring her closer. He got up and walked across the room to the window and looked out upon the morning lit town. Even sunlight tires as the day drags on and falls from the sky in mellow tones.

Georgia had been away for a week. She’d packed her bags and taken a flight to Prague.

“Tickets?” He was standing by her bags laid out on the bed, with arms uselessly hanging by his sides. The bag contained clothes that were different people. She’d take a situation and decide who she was going to be and then choose the clothes that said that person – he just got dressed. Yes, he’d wear a suit if the situation required. He’d dress warmer for cold weather, but Georgia created voices with her clothes.

‘They’re in my desk drawer with my passport.” She called from the bathroom.

“I’ll get them then.”

“Great.” She walked from the bathroom with a wash bag in her hand and kissed him, which helped him move off towards the door and stairs.

“Tickets, passport, money.” She called after him. “My purse is on the side in the kitchen.”

Harry called back that he’d place them all together on the sideboard by the front door and continued down the stairs. By the time he’d got to the front door with her essentials a shadow figure was obscuring the glass of the door, raising its hand to the bell. The bell sounded as he opened the door.

“Taxi for the airport?”

“Yes, thanks. I’ll just get the bags.” He left the door ajar and went back to the stairs. Georgia was at the top of the flight and watching him as he climbed to her level. She was looking very sad.

“It’s only for a month. Right?” Harry asked. He equalled her expression in sadness and lent to kiss her. She dropped her bag and wrapped her arms around his neck as they kissed.

“The taxi,” he said, kissing her open mouth, “is waiting.”

“My bags,” she said, kissed and said, “are on the bed.” She smiled at him.

Georgia was not tall, but when she’d turn her head to one shoulder and look up, when her hair was in full curl – the photos like that were above his desk. He looked to them now and wondered why it was so hard to be away from her, for in fact she had gone away, not him. This was their house, these were their things and all he felt she’d really left behind was an old t-shirt of his that she’d wear as a nightdress in bed. He was wearing it now. She wore glasses that she’d often peer over the top off to put him in his place, but she’d also make a welcoming smile and draw him to her. Such a short time, such a long time, he should have felt foolish.

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