An excerpt from

Ex

Laurie Avadis

Saturday had arrived, as Saturdays do, and Daniel woke to the sound of his father sharpening a meat cleaver over his bed and singing the aria “One Fine Day” from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. Nothing out of the ordinary there, then.

“Up we get,” said M, whipping off the duvet with the dexterity of a thirty stone bullfighter before leading Daniel out of his bedroom by the wrist. He had never held Daniel by his hand and had only done so once with Daniel's brother – but that was after he had died. Holding Daniel’s hand, then, might have promised some degree of intimacy, but his father had no facility to deliver – that particular cupboard was bare.

“Shall I get dressed dad?” asked Daniel as M dragged him down the stairs of their house towards the front door, “because I’m only in my pyjamas and it’s quite cold.”

M paused and looked down at him. His eyes seemed to soften for a moment. “I never wanted this to happen, but this is all we have left, you and I. It’s what we are.” There was something odd in his voice that Daniel didn't recognise. But a moment later and the calm waters that still filled some of the tidal pools in M’s heart were swept away in a bitter current, carried off with no way for them to return.

“What's the meat cleaver for, Dad?” asked Daniel, already aware that this was a question to which he probably did not want a response. But he had come to realize that no matter how bad answers might be, surprises were far, far worse.

“For little fingers and CCTV cameras,” replied M, looking at his son as if the answer should have been obvious. In many ways, it was.

*

“This is the mountain that you will be climbing,” said M, gesturing towards nothing remotely mountain-like, as far as Daniel could see, but plenty of things that had the potential to cause him irreparable harm.

M had driven them to St Pancras Station and they were parked just outside the multi-story car park. Realization dawned upon Daniel in the manner of a veal calf's, exposed to light for the first time, only to discover that light was the neon glare of a slaughterhouse.

The Austin Allegro struggled up the ramps of the car park to the top level, encumbered by the combined weight of Daniel's expectation and M’s arse. After disengaging said arse from the long-suffering driver’s seat, M waddled over to the nearest CCTV camera, hacked it from the wall with a single blow of the meat cleaver and crushed it underfoot as if it were a fag butt. He was looking at Daniel's life vest with unaccustomed satisfaction. It occurred to Daniel that his father was much more interested in the falling aspects of climbing than the ascending parts.

At the edge of the car park balustrade, Daniel and his father paused and shared a glance over the edge and down into the abyss.

“Off you pop then Daniel,” said M after a moment, gesturing vaguely towards the wide blue yonder, “show me what you’re made of.”

“What if I get to the bottom dad, can we go home?”

There was a further period of silence while Daniel and M looked over the balustrade, their eyes following each of the six floors of sheer concrete down to the frost licked pavement far below, where a cat was pausing to probe an errant ear. It looked like a furry ant. There were indents in the surface of the concrete, but they were no more substantial than a day’s growth of stubble. Spiderman would have struggled - little boys in pyjamas, weighed down by life jackets, need not apply.

Daniel looked back at his father. His question was redundant. From the impatient manner in which M was tapping the meat cleaver against his thigh Daniel could tell he didn't have time to launch an expedition in search of his father’s better nature.

So this was fear.

Daniel climbed on to the edge of the balustrade and slowly lowered himself off the edge. He dug his feet into the deepest indents in the concrete below. His fingers and toes were small enough to gain some purchase, and with desperate precision he edged down inch by inch.

After two minutes he had actually begun to believe that he might make it all the way, but without warning he lost his grip and began to slip and fall backwards. With every sinew in his body he tried to remain connected to the wall but soon his only foothold was on thin air – which is, by and large, slightly less substantial than concrete.

M saw his son begin to fall and a smile passed across his face, like a newly dawned sun. He swirled the feeling of fulfilment around his mouth like a delicious Belgian chocolate, but there was a lingering aftertaste of something unfamiliar – regret? His life had been like an express train without a destination, a racing horse with no finishing line. He had cradled one dead son in his arms and now he could not escape from death, it clogged his pores, impeded his every breath and his only choice was to deliver Daniel on to it. So not regret, no, but also not resolution.

And then Daniel stopped falling. Gravity’s embrace was inexorable and yet he defied it. The life vest had snagged on something – a light fixture, leaving Daniel suspended a dozen metres from the pavement.

“Ohforfuckssake,” said M, and not without due cause. He tried to run towards his car but while his feet were willing the ham hocks that now occupied the positions his ankles used to be in showed little inclination to cooperate. He leaned back over to get a better look at what was holding the life jacket in place, and what he heard had him heading for the car again. The life jacket was ripping apart under Daniel’s weight.

M reached the penultimate level of the car park to find his son just over an arm’s length below him. Part of the life vest had been shredded and the part that remained attached to the light fitting would bear Daniel’s weight for only a few seconds more. M found himself reaching out a hand as Daniel looked up and reached out his own. Their finger-tips touched before the life vest gave way and Daniel fell again, clawing for the hand of the man who had killed him.

Daniel’s father looked beyond his extended grasp towards the area of pavement where his son would shortly explode, only to see it filled by a milk float.

 

*

The milkman's usually unremarkable progress was impeded as a 1974 Austin Allegro screeched to a halt across his path. The entire car appeared to resonate as a behemoth struggled to escape from behind the steering wheel and gradually unfurled itself out of the driver's door.

The enormous unit that was Daniel's father walked directly up to the milk float and motioned a single meaty hand sky-ward.

"Couldn't lend me a hand, could you - there's a child on your roof that belongs to me?"

The milkman stepped up on his seat and peered onto the roof of the float where a boy in pyjamas was sitting. The boy waved at him apologetically. The milkman pulled away as if slapped in the face, did a double-take to find the child still waving on the milk float roof, reached out, grabbed the child and handed him down to his father.

"Where...?" was the milkman's sole contribution.

"Fell off the car park, sleepwalking again, he's a bastard for it," said Daniel's father as he deposited Daniel rather too vigorously into the passenger seat.

They were both shaking as the Austin Allegro threaded its way back through the ice kissed streets of North West London. Daniel looked at M’s expressionless face, his eyes illuminated like tiny neon shop signs as he reached behind Daniel’s seat and handed him a blanket. He glanced at Daniel and said, “this changes nothing,” but the snow globe they occupied had been shaken vigorously once again.