Steamboat

The Day The TV Breaks

I never liked visiting my Dad’s house. It was boring. My toys were at my house, at my Mum’s house. Dad’s house was books and dust, newspapers and daddish things. Watches and tools. Grey and brown and black coats. Mugs to drink pop out of instead of glasses.

Dad’s TV didn’t even work anymore. It broke when I was about 7. I would do nothing but watch TV there until then. Tex Avery cartoons and anything with spaceships in it. And then my only escape, my only fun, broke. It had a thin line down the side of the screen, a crack or something. And the lazy old man didn’t fix the TV. Not ever. Worse, he just left it there. For years, gathering dust. And the TV was still broken when I turned 11, and I remember I really wanted to watch Battlestar Galactica, the second part of a two parter, and instead I had to sit there and hear about boring stuff. Again. Him asking how school was. How rugby was. Making me listen to Louis Prima. Old people music. On too loud, because he was deaf in one of his massive man ears. Telling me about the time he went to Hong Kong and worked on a giant steamboat, how it changed his life, showing me where it was on a map of the world in a book I still remember as being too heavy to lift.

Dad had hundreds of books. ‘A very clever man, your Father’, Mum kept telling me. I didn’t really understand. Just three weeks after the heavy book, in what was, until that day, a hopeful February, he died.

His funeral came and went. A strange blur to my heavy, somewhat guilty-feeling head. His things went into storage. His flat was sold. I walked around, my heart carrying metals it didn’t know the density of, for a year. I did some exams at School. I kissed girls and I read books. I listened to music. I was a little man.

I didn’t realise, until my first proper girlfriend left me, at the age of 19, telling me I never listened to her, what it felt like to wish you’d done more, talked more, or listened. And then it hit me that my Dad only ever wanted to know me. I had put fictional space pilot’s missions against bad robots in front of my Dad’s pleas for details of my week, my week removed from him. Whilst I felt guilty, felt regretful, now he had gone, I also realised I had been but a child; colours and fun meant everything, and ticking clocks were for the grown-ups. I was not to blame.

A parent sees the most precious thing in the world when he looks at his child, and yet a child, for the most part, looks back through the prism of fun and want, or the absence of. And this doesn’t matter when the child can grow to an age where the conclusion, the reality, manifests, and they get how it works. But when February, steep steps, frozen water, a fall, a fracture conspire against their love, nothing is to be done. There are no nerves in the brain, I read once.

I write these notes in my forty seventh year, my daughter begrudgingly en route to my house for TV and tiresome talks. Yet earlier today, I lined up a ruler on my television, and took a permanent marker and drew a line from top to bottom, a line that is to be reported as a crack or break. I took the remote control and put it in a drawer, amongst screwdrivers and allen keys. Today is the day the TV broke. I’ll get the remote out again later, after her and I have read stories and kicked leaves and read about Aurora Borealis and I’ve driven her home. I have to, because there is a documentary on this evening about Jupiter.

I drive her home to her Mum’s house, and we listen to music on the way, and we sing. Her and I and Louis Prima singing ‘When You’re Smiling’ so loud that Dad might hear. A steamboat chugs through the harbour in Hong Kong.






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