There’s a sheltered housing across the road from me. Chelsea Court. My mother’s ex boyfriend lives there these days. I sometimes see him, tousled and with his shock of hair, a “More” menthol cigarette perpetually in his mouth like Lucky Luke’s cheroot. I try to make conversation with him from time to time but there’s less and less I can talk with him about. His conversation to me is and always has been about his achievements. I like to force people to pull back the curtain and show me the picture. He won’t do that and I’ve never really been able to see him. Just the projection, which bores me and tires him. So we can’t hang out.
He probably felt some duty to be an example to me, as mum’s last lover. That just made him talk about his achievements every time we spoke. He was a very useful warning, especially in this industry which is all about story and positioning. “How not to do it.” Even as a fifteen year old my friends would make up bands in order to see him tell us he knew their manager. “Keithbaiting,” we called it, as unpleasant teenagers. Cameron was a master at making up bands. Keith would always tell us he could introduce us to them.
He was and is a very charming fantasist who was there every step of mum’s wet death and was certainly in the best position to try and help her stop it but didn’t. Again I don’t blame him but it’s in my head.
When she died he almost immediately glommed onto another attractive woman with property who again died shortly after. Once more, in my head. No more.
Mum was only 55 when she went too quickly. I always wonder if we could have done things better for her if we’d found a way to do it together. I was just a kid, really, swamped in it, impressed by his grown-upness. Willing to accept his words and thoughts as wisdom, rather than as suspect utterances. He was parental generation, I was still in kid generation in my self-identity.
Now I’m not. Now he bores me and I feel guilty as he’s getting older and frailer, and he lives just over the road. I once offered to ghost write his memoirs as a means of reconciling – (and because he’s a good storyteller and his version of the truth will be a good story.) He blew me out of the water, lip curling at the very thought of it being me. “No! God no. I need an actual writer!” . Fuck it. He can die waiting for Ian McEwan. With that comment and the attitude beneath it he lost the last of me. Out.
The fire service is linked to the smoke alarm in his block, which is what got me thinking of it today as I curtain-twitch through lockdown. We are close to the Chelsea Fire Station, and I know for certain that the guys at the station are fed up of being called out every time somebody cooks a steak.
Four engines showed up tonight, all sirens and lights, as they do perhaps twice a month on average. They go in hard every time, and then reverse out with demonstrated difficulty. It’s their way of suggesting that Chelsea Court ease back on the instant call to the fire service through the smoke alarms. Problem is, as soon as they do so Keith will fall asleep with a More menthol in his mouth.
I haven’t seen him for a month or so.
I hope he’s alright…