Thursday 23 November 2017

Family Guy: Heartbreak of beauty and loss, all in a day's shopping

Mike Love of the Beach Boys
Mike Love of the Beach Boys

SKINNY 13-year-old girls make for funny little shopping companions. We career along the coast, waves crashing against the sea wall to one side as empty bags skitter across the floor behind our seats.

"Hold the steering wheel for me for a second," I say as the road narrows at a particularly treacherous bit. "I just have to text someone."

She looks at me with the side of her eyes, hair bobbing just above her bony shoulders as the car shudders over bumps. "Ha ha," she chuckles. "Imagine if you were serious."

Who else would say that? Ha ha. Imagine if you were serious. "Ha ha," I tell her back. "Just imagine!"

The supermarket in the next town is huge. We only come here for the very basics every now and then. On the way around to the car park, we pass a hamburger place.

"Should we go in," I joke, "and spend all our shopping money on eating until we're sick?"

"Aren't you trying to lose weight?" she says. She pokes me in the ribs with her finger.

"I was joking," I smile.

"So was I," she says, adding: "No, really."

In the shops, we take a short cut to the food hall through aisles of clothes. A shirt catches my eye, Hawaiian with little palm trees and parrots. It instantly makes me think of the Beach Boys.

I hardly ever buy clothes, but I hold it up anyway. "What do you think?" I say.

"Cool," she says. "Can I choose something too?"

"Deal," I tell her. She chooses a grungy hooded sweatshirt. My little punk rocker, I think.

As we reach the food hall, I send her off on errands, watching her skip away, so willowy and heart-achingly beautiful.

She arrives back with some sort of sugary cereal full of marshmallow bits. It's in a box covered in cartoons.

"Really?" I say.

"Can I?" she says, putting on her face.

"How can I say no," I tell her sarcastically, adding: "Oh, I remember. No!"

"Gah! Chuck it in," I grumble. "Just don't blame me when you start farting rainbows."

She frowns, looking around to see who's heard, then we both burst out laughing.

At the checkout, I load the conveyor. "You realise how much trouble we'll be in," I snort, motioning to where the sugary treats are shuddering by with the Hawaiian shirt and her hoodie.

We watch the items being beeped through, then smile at each other conspiratorially.

It's getting late as we sail home along the coast road, home again in our beaten-up jalopy, groceries rustling in the back then spilling over as we negotiate a bend back again at the particularly treacherous bit.

My phone starts to chime from the dash. I pull the car over as soon as I can and take the call. It's bad news. One of my closest friends, George, has died. It's unfathomable. When I hang up, I begin shaking uncontrollably, stifling sobs. Not here.

"My friend," I manage, eyes blurring. That's when I feel two skinny arms wrap around me from the next seat.

We're just around the corner from the house. "Let's get you home," I say, wrestling with the steering wheel and putting the car back into gear.

When we arrive, I abandon the car in the driveway, door ajar, and tumble in to our front hall, face ashen. Our daughter soldiers silently in behind me with shopping bags.

"Oh no, what's happened now?" says my wife, putting her hands to her mouth. I tell her. The boys hurry past to help bring in the rest of the groceries. "I can't believe it," is all I can keep saying.

Shock, loss and grief are a silent, shrieking hurricane around where you find yourself huddled as the world tumbles around you, and I find I'm forcing myself to shuffle around straightening things uselessly, as though needing simple, manual tasks to keep operating.

I'm aware we're committed to being somewhere, a charity fundraiser of some kind, and that we go, are there, then eventually leave.


It's dark and quiet when we arrive home. I open a bottle of wine I'd bought earlier on a whim and notice it's an Italian red. My friend's favourite.

My wife finds the shirt. "Did you buy this before or after you heard the news?" she says.

I look at it, eyes raw and glazed. "Before," I answer hoarsely. "The call came in when I was just around the corner. Why?"

"It's just," she says, looking at it, "so... George."

"Yeah," I manage, looking at it too. "It really is, isn't it?"

I take the shirt and the wine in to where my music is and my fingers find a song named 'Thirteen' by the band Big Star.

The lights go out behind me and footsteps disappear up the stairs as the song begins.

Utterly alone, I finally let the rest of my heart break.

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