An extract from Andrew Cowan’s new novel, Your Fault, published by Salt on 15 May 2019
your earliest memory
This, then, is your earliest memory.
You are no older than three because your sister is still in her pram, a Leeway ‘Lugano’ with chromium-plated chassis and white pneumatic wheels. The day is sunny and warm, so perhaps it is summer, which means your likeliest age is two and two thirds. Let us settle on that: August 1962. You were born on the first day of the decade, which means you are now two and two thirds.
The sky is very high and there is space all around you, hurtling away from you. It reaches your mother, who is striding into the distance in her strappy high-heels, pushing your sister in her blue canvas stroller. The sun sparks in the chromium. Her heels clip on the pavement.
At this age your mother is Mummy, and Mummy is taking you somewhere, you would not know where. In fact, she has no choice but to take you – both you and your sister – since she is a housewife and your mother. She can leave the house whenever she wants to – no one is stopping her; it isn’t a prison – but she cannot stop being your mother. Perhaps that is why she is so cross.
You are not being taken on a trip, then. It is not for your sake that she is taking you with her. You are old enough to understand this. Your future self, looking back at yourself, will decide that you are old enough to understand this, aged two years and eight months.
You are coming towards the end of your long curving street. You have already followed your mother around the last bend, which means your house is now lost to you. Should you dare to look back you would not be able to see it. But you do not dare to look back, because then you would lose sight of Mummy, who is striding away from you, as though to escape from you.
She cannot escape you.Mummy can leave the house whenever she wants to – no one is stopping her; it isn’t a prison – but she cannot stop being your mother. Perhaps that is why she is so cross.
The concrete pavement between you and Mummy is grey, a grey so pale it is almost white. The road beside you is a different grey, a grey so dark it is almost black. There are no motor cars to be seen, but on the far side of the junction there is a row of Corporation-let garages, six alternately-coloured metal doors beneath a low corrugated roof. The sequence runs red, blue and green; red, blue and green. Throughout your estate you will find other such patterns, for instance in the doors of the houses to your left, which are set back twenty feet from the road and fronted by freshly mown lawns. The sequence of these doors runs mustard and blue; mustard and blue; mustard and blue.
The open-plan lawns belong to the Corporation, and are mown by the Corporation. The tenants are required to trim the edges with shears or clippers, and are encouraged to plant flowers appropriate to the seasons, but they are not permitted to alter the style or colour of their doors. The sycamore tree that towers over the garages has been left there to provide scenic interest, vegetative variety in the built environment. It terminates the prospect. The curvilinear road layout is intended to obviate the impression of monotony. Naturally you won’t know this, or even know that you don’t yet know it. The tenant’s handbook will help you, years later. Also the internet, books.
This is your earliest memory and it has no end or beginning, no afterwards and before. You are stranded in this moment, snatched from an immediate past you did not wish to be snatched from, and led towards a future you do not wish to be led to. Such is a life.
Your mother has quickened her stride to get away from you, to make you feel left behind, and you have refused to hurry after her. Instead you have come to a halt on the white pavement, beneath this blue summer sky, and you are bawling, abandoned and furious. You stamp your sandalled feet, and when Mummy stops at the junction and turns and angrily shouts for you to come along now, you do not come along.
Peter! she shouts. I am warning you!
Your name, then, is Peter – let’s settle on that – and Mummy is becoming impatient. Time is now pressing.
And the next thing: there is nothing but the inevitability that she will come back and you will be spanked. This much you understand. But you have no resources. You do not want to keep walking, to go where they are going – your sister and Mummy – but neither do you wish to be abandoned, left alone on this pavement, and so you stamp your feet and refuse.
You bawl at your mother and wait for your future to reach you, a future you do not want but cannot prevent. This may be your inciting incident, the point at which your story begins. For now, let us suppose so. Here comes fury. Here comes a spanking.