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Autumn is coming. In the evening the temperature drops like a stone into
an empty pond, the ripples gone by morning. He watches the three elm
trees from his window and waits for the leaves to turn to colour of the
liquid in his glass.
Often he worries that he might one day drown in the bottle. He’s heard stories. His grandfather, whom he met once or twice as an oblivious infant, was a drinker. Drinker was the local term for an alcoholic. He died on his own in an Arran cottage. He might have been able to see the waves.
Wine never seems a dangerous thing. A glass with dinner is as respectable as anything else that can fill it. It is its purpose that worries him. It calms his nerves and, when he needs it to and drinks enough of it, sends him to sleep. This is the only rea-son he walks to the market with his passport tucked into a jacket pocket.
Today he walked in the other direction. The path that stretches beyond the trees and across a patch of empty parkland had been maddening him. The grass is al-ready stained with orange freckles and the children have disappeared with the day-light. The clouds and the light rain that often follows remind him of home. The wind is as unwelcome as it always was. He wore a coat that he didn’t need; it reminds him of a winter spent hand in hand.
Parks are like jars of air with thousands of strangers’ memories stuffed into them. Voices can be heard when no one is there, usually laughing. Sometimes the rat-tle of a dog chain or the heavy, irregular footsteps of a child. He only hears them when he is alone, and only sees them from behind the glass and tilted blinds.
They remind him of friends at home who smoke, how they stop and start to roll a cigarette or light it when they finish. Sometimes he thinks that he can smell to-bacco, and every time he thinks of buying a packet and carrying it in his winter coat. Instead he stuffs his hands into his pockets.
There was nothing at the far edge of the grass where the path had bent out of sight of his window – only an empty play park and the high back garden fences of a cluster of houses. He was disappointed when he turned back, his journey pointless and somehow humiliating. Someone could be watching him from the communal kitchen or from one of the flats above and below.
It was three weeks ago now that it caught his eye: a camel, dromedary or the other variety, whichever has two humps and looks even more ridiculous than its coun-terpart. He saw the first hump through the trees, followed by the other, and then the oddly-shaped head as it turned and flicked its tail mid-graze. Maybe that was when he began to worry about the drink.
He’d bought a bottle of Royal Canadian rye and had regretted it ever since. It was a stupid, impulsive decision – it was darker in colour than proper whisky and he wanted to know if it compared, or whether it was fiery swill akin to that distilled in Kentucky and Tennessee. He’d had one measure and choked on it, his eyes watering. When he’d turned to the window, the camel had been there.
A circus had come to town and a great twin-spire tent had been erected some-where beyond the park. After a week or two it was gone. He regretted not going. He regretted the second measure.
He regrets the engagement ring in the top drawer; not the purchase, but his purpose. She isn’t here. When she is, he will be too afraid. He misses her.