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Henry Sutton

The Wrong Beginning


As ever, I’m probably staring out of the window, at flowers, at foliage anyway – a few straggly roses, clematis possibly, ferns perhaps, a vine maybe, and plenty of other stuff, weeds notably. Or I’m looking at the sky through the long, slim, slightly grimy panes above the French windows – watching clouds build and threaten, while urging my mind to race off elsewhere.

Or I’m just looking at my screen, my chapped, chubby hands hovering lamely over the keyboard. Perhaps I’m glancing at the books and paperwork stacked up on my desk, the mounds of receipts and bills, invoices and remittance slips, contracts and invitations, the odd bit of fan mail too, having arrived the old-fashioned way via my publishers and through the letter box. I like to hang on to these cards, these letters. Some, I guess, have been sitting there for a while.

So in many ways, while trying to avoid these things that’ll never get properly dealt with or filed, and trying to concentrate, trying to think about what I do best, while panicking a little because a deadline is looming, more bills have to be paid and my brand enhanced, an image appears as if from nowhere. Thank God – not, of course, that I believe in one. In my game?

This, then, is how I’m going to begin it.

* * *


First light Christmas morning. A thin, freezing fog was drifting in from the sea, across the tideline, the frosted dunes, and curling around the decrepit hotels and guesthouses, the long-since-shut and boarded arcades and amusements. A funfair from another era lost further up the Golden Mile.

He crossed the road, his dog trotting obediently by his side. Out of habit he looked behind him, in front again, scanned every which way – not that he could see far. But far enough to tell he was the only fool about at this time and in this place. Why he liked it.

His grey Hugo Boss puffa was zipped tight, his orange beanie pulled low, yet still the air was getting straight to his bones.

Once on the sand, Baz, his black-and-tan Boxer, immediately bounded out of view.

Increasing his pace, not because he was worried about the dog, but to try to generate some warmth, he headed straight towards the sea on a faint path. They always went the same way, across this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. How it had been designated as such was a mystery.

‘Baz,’ he shouted at last. ‘Where the hell are you?’

What is it with Christmas? Why did I have to say it’s Christmas morning? The added pathos? No, that’s not the real reason. Normally I’d run a mile from anything to do with Christmas. The expectation, never truly met. The expense – actually that more than anything nowadays, with Maggie and the children, and their increasing appetites for posh consumer goods. It was because Christmas was the deadline I’d set myself to begin this book. The very last deadline I’d set myself. Now we’re well into February. I’m weeks behind already – I don’t want to think about the other deadline, the one to finish it. Funny how deadlines, my deadlines, used to be all about finishing things. Now I can’t even make deadlines to start things. But at least here it is. Something.

I’m on my feet, which are cold in their knackered slippers, and am now standing behind my desk, having pushed back my chair. With the excitement? The adrenalin rush? Relief more like. I stretch, doing a sort of doubled-armed Olympic salute, arch my back, pull my dressing gown tighter around me, then sit again. Shut my eyes for a moment. I could have done with more sleep. I could always do with more sleep. But it seldom comes, of course – not long, restorative bouts of undisturbed unconsciousness. Not for a while.

Perhaps I should start knocking myself out. Maggie would probably have it that I already do, courtesy of Majestic. Or more recently, because even Majestic’s bulk-buying bargain prices seem to be less of a bargain, the Co-op. Specifically their house claret. It’s OK, when you get used to it.

I stare at my beginning some more. It’ll do. It’ll have to do. But what next? All cannot be what it seems. This middle-aged man out walking his dog on Christmas morning: a man who’s happy to be in such a deserted place, though he’s not so happy about the cold, or the fact his dog’s run off.

Middle age. Despite being warned, it still creeps up on you. And then it does your head in. Maggie might say that’s also the claret – diminishing your powers, making you fat – but it’s not. It’s the simple, physical (and mental) lack of youth, of vigour, of being attractive and original, of being a new-ish thing. But this man out there in the freezing cold might be middle-aged, though he is not me.

While my feet are cold – bad circulation – the rest of me is pretty warm; there’s quite a layer or two of fat nowadays. And I don’t have a Hugo Boss puffa; it’s not my style. Nor do we have a dog. Yes, the children have begged for one, keep begging for one. Though fortunately Maggie and I have remained resolute on the issue. We don’t have the time. I certainly don’t have the time – being the one who’s at home, working from home, most days. It would have fallen to me to walk the thing. To keep it exercised and entertained.

Perhaps the company would be good. What I’ve needed.

Though I am not lonely, surely. And no more distractions, please.

* * *

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