Silent Sally is standing by herself again. My son knows her son. ‘Go on, play with Robbie,’ I say. My son shakes his head and tucks his chin into his coat. It is cold and he is feeling shy. I know the feeling. I think about walking up to Silent Sally, and in an instant consider all the things I could say: ‘cold isn’t it?’ (too boring), ‘brrrrr’ (too casual), ‘isn’t it beautiful the way the puddles crystallise’ (too weird). Perhaps I should steer it away from the weather: ‘I hear those right-wing loons have a new leader’ (too heavy, political, and what if she’s a right-wing loon too, sometimes you can’t tell). But I’ve never been good at talking to women. And even worse since Rachel left. In the end I say nothing, and flash her a smile she doesn’t see.
The children are running around carefree, some coat free. I begin to wonder at the lack of responsibilities of some parents when Bulky Bill comes and stands next to me. Bulky Bill never stands next to me. And he definitely never shakes my hand. To him, I’m probably Wimpy Will.
‘How’s work?’ Bulky Bill says. I don’t know his real name. I feel I should as our sons have been friends in the same class for the last three years. We need to capitalise on these moments. Making friends as adults isn’t child’s play anymore. If you start chasing people around giggling, or start pulling faces in meetings, it becomes frowned upon.
‘It’s okay,’ I say. What does he know? Why is he asking? All the other dads are talking. Slim Stan, Tall Tony, Practical Pavel, Managerial Manish, and Bricklayer Bob. They’re all huddled around chatting, and looking at me. What do they know? ‘How are things at…’ I realise I don’t know what Bulky Bill does. I could guess, I’m usually good at guessing. Bulky Bill always wears expensive suits, he’s probably spent an hour in the gym, and had a protein shake for breakfast already, he enjoys power—he looks the type—the muscles on his neck seem to spell out ‘corporate’, he has a director’s stare. ‘…the office,’ I say.
‘What is it you do again?’ he says. Why didn’t I just say that?
Do. Present tense, auxiliary verb, there to assist other verbs, often goes unnoticed. For example: I do work, I do love my wife, I do deserve happiness. Can also be used in a negative sense, such as: I do not want to be here and I do not like my life.
I’m standing there staring at his stalwart neck thinking leave me alone, so what if my wife just ran off with another man; so what if I couldn’t cope, and had a breakdown at work; so what if the old man used to beat the shit out of me for a goodnight lullaby; so what if I’m on sick leave with stress; so what if the pills make me want to puke and top myself; so what if my Facebook feed isn’t perfect; so what if I’m trying to hide it from my son so he can have a normal life.
The guy looks like he’s dying to get to the office and fire someone. ‘Between jobs at the moment,’ I say.
The school bell rings.
‘See you around,’ he says and smiles. And as he turns I notice his hospital lanyard poking out of his jacket—’Dr. Adrian Thomas’.
Silent Sally is standing next to me with a smile that seems to say: ‘don’t worry, things will pick up.’
Further examples: do keep breathing, do get to know people, do not always assume the worst. Past tense: I did not think I would make it through the morning.
I watch my son running and laughing with his friends and think: ‘I love you, daddy’s gonna get better, and buy you that Lego train set soon.’