Consul

by Dan Crego

Dan has started, and occasionally finished short stories for a while now. This time it’s serious.
“Writers, unlike most people, tell their best lies when they are alone.”
― Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys

The photo is black and white, 3 inches by 3 inches, instantly redolent of the Box Brownie camera, picnic lunches, Ambre Solaire suntan lotion, our Ford Consul on whose back ledge, behind the sometimes quarrelling heads of my sister and me, our dog Sandy would sleep contentedly on the long drive back from Brighton, Worthing or Bognor Regis, as we slowly made our way through the endless, mysterious and definitively Gentile south London suburbs, over Hammersmith Bridge, back to the familiar tree-lined semi-detached avenues of North-West London, and finally down the unpretentious self-respecting High Street, with its Odeon cinema, its greengrocers, bakers and butchers, its solid and protective every-day-ness and welcoming banality. Home.

My Dad stands in the centre of the photo, my sister is to his right looking imp-ish and summery, although her right hand is nervously raised, slightly hiding her face, the first hints perhaps of the adolescent storms to come that will tear across our family, rattling windows and up-rooting trees, leaving behind the acrid post-storm smell of ozone, lingering traces of which remain with us and between us today. I am sitting on a ledge to the left of Dad, my spindly limbs on display, angular and alarming enough to have prompted Mum to take me aged five to our family doctor. Dr Cohen, a fleshily substantial and stethoscope-wreathed pillar of our community, living embodiment of all our upwardly mobile ambitions, imperiously waved away her concerns. Fat, thin, or in-between, we were all on the Up. That is what mattered. I was on the studious path, even then Oxbridge and the professions could be glimpsed, through a glass, darkly. Others were on the business track, begging space on market stalls to sell t-shirts and teddy bears, working the angles and the arbitrage and disdaining my path of geekiness as I disdained their worldiness. We were all of us learning, learning, learning.

In this photo, as in many others from that time, I seem to combine equal measures of joy and anxiety into one facial expression, a feat which you may think is either a trick of the camera’s deception or witness to a precocious sophisticated sensibility on my part, a Kierkegaardian appreciation, at age seven, of the angst at the heart of life’s existential struggle.

In truth, it was neither; in truth, it was just the way I was. In truth...But then, how much truth do you actually want?