Web of Memories
Firing up the laptop, Niall Griffiths prepares to get teary with a trip
back to the gone days
You’re alone in the house. Your partner’s gone out with her friends and she won’t be
back until after midnight. You have hours in which to entertain yourself. DVD? Not in
the mood. Nothing on telly, either. Read? Not tonight. And why kid yourself - you’ll do
what you nearly always do, on such nights. You know you will. So you boot up your
laptop and you open a bottle. You fetch some tissues from the kitchen although you’re
telling yourself that tonight you won’t need them; this time you’ll exercise some self-
control. You know how shamed you’ll feel in the morning if you don’t.
Pour a glass, open the search engine. Type in the names; remembered schoolmates,
workmates, those who passed through your life and the gone years of it. That lad who
you were good mates with, him with the mad mop of hair and the deep mischief; you
eavesdrop on his Facebook page (lacking much of a digital footprint yourself, a lot of
what you’ll do tonight is eavesdrop and snoop and spy). You’re told that he’s in
treatment for prostate cancer and all his friends and colleagues and family wish him
well. There’s a picture of him thumbs-upping from his hospital bed, and you have to
stare hard at his face to see in it the features of the boy with whom you once bunked
off school to drink filched vodka in the woods. How you laughed, that day, even when
both of you were sick in the brambles. Everything seemed so funny, then. You raise the glass to the computer screen and wish him a recovery.
Then there’s the bandmates; those who stood behind you, the singer, and thrashed and walloped out the brilliant, awful noise that got played on the radio, once, and with which you were going to be the new Clash; one day you’d wow the hordes at the Shea Stadium too. In go their names. The nice-but-dim drummer, it appears, is still, three decades on, gutting chickens for a living; this you find out from the Facebook page of one of his - by god - grandchildren (and how the realisation of life’s brevity goes through you like a bayonet as you read that). The guitarist has had, and is still having, some success as a DJ, as well as doing something in a car dealership. The bassist? Well, he was the one with the most addictive
personality, wasn’t he? You spend quite some time staring at the picture of his gravestone and the carved dates thereon.
You drink some more and you surf some more. They’ve been married, divorced, they’ve got kids and grandkids, there are pictures - bigger and balder than you recollect. As are you, as are you. One lives in America, another’s in Oz, another’s in South Africa. Some don’t live anywhere at all, and some have dropped off the radar completely. The one whose firebrand leftist politics you admired and shared, with whom you campaigned for the miners and dockers in the 80s, with whom you went to see the Redskins at the Rock Against Poverty festival in Sefton Park - well he, how,
is a prominent member of the Tory party’s thinktank. He looks smug and toady now and he seems to have edited his past so that his earlier youthful politics have been expunged from the public record. This is the worst; more treacherous and sad than even the premature deaths. Yes we age and yes we mellow and yes our flames die down. But this? This is disgusting, to you. You finish the bottle and open another. Tissue-time gets nearer.
More names. Female, this time. That one with whom you spent two years in a tiny room in a big, hard city, just the two of you; it seems that she’s back in re-hab. This is her last chance, the husband declares. How public must our lives be?, you think, and then congratulate yourself on deliberately keeping your life online minimal. And then you curse yourself as you remember promising this woman that you’d dedicate your
first novel to her. I promise that, you’d said; it won’t matter how far in the future this will be, or how many miles apart we’ll have moved. I promise I’ll do that. Of course you never did.
Okay, okay. This happens. We grow. Drink and search. Some names return no hits but marriage will have changed surnames. One appears to
be making a living as a photographer but the image search returns a face that most definitely isn’t hers, even granting the physical alterations of
time. No way she’d wear her hair like that, or ear-rings like that, even in early middle-age. Would she? It’s been a long time, after all. Maybe you knew her a lot less well than you thought. For a moment, you’re not yourself; you’re looking through someone else’s eyes and tapping your own name into the search box. Sitting in a different body in a different part of the world. Wondering, wondering. Feeling loss like a pain. Halfdrunk.
Remembering easier things. Mourning several and various deaths.
Ah, but look, now; here’s one, and she’s on a beach, and that smile hasn’t changed - it’s as big and bright and pure as you recall. She’s holding two little children and she looks magnificently happy. This is good. And it needs a soundtrack, doesn’t it, because you’re almost drunk now, so you open another window, and you play music from your gone days. And you remember a day at the zoo with this smiling woman when it was all sunshine and you told each other as you gazed in awe at the penguins that you’d be just like them - you, too, would mate for life. Like the beautiful, funny, incredible birds, you, too, would never leave each other’s side. And as you look at that clearly-recalled smile you give in to it
completely and you play Me and the Elephants and the tissues come into use as the tears pour down your face. You finish the second bottle
and close the computer down and shut out the past and you go to bed and hope that the lovely one you’re with now in the present comes
home very soon.
© Niall Griffiths 2015