Settling In

It was, another shitty day! Okay, Dick felt well, and the weather was not too bad for early winter in this desolate hole far removed from the town lights which he was used to, but something was wrong and he just could not put his finger firmly on it. It was as though he was in mourning for something and despite the music playing on the CD player in the kitchen, and despite busying himself with the more menial tasks of keeping his large home running, he felt decidedly glum.
The Rayburn crackled its way through the softwood logs which Dick had loaded onto it and belched unmanageable heat into the surrounding kitchen air. Dick was already quite warm after his small exertions of the morning, He loosened his shirt collar, opened the end window and sat down at the kitchen table to ponder his peculiar mood.

The ginger tom on which he had taken pity, renamed Fluffy, and homed when his lodger had plead its case — as a deserted and otherwise friendless creature — sat on the sill and meowed to be let in. Although he had now become quite fond of cats — he had eleven including the kittens — Dick was of a mind to hurl something, with blatant disregard for the intermediate pane of glass, at it. Fluffy had been performing this ritual now since it had been decided to keep all the animals outside in the hope of retaining a clean environment, free from the minefield of cat poop of previous weeks. It had also almost perfected the knack of pulling itself up to the bottom of the upper sash of the window frame and peering through a small patch of missing glass whilst hanging on with its front paws lodged in the gap and its back feet pressed on the lower window bar, displaying his private parts. He would push his nose through and plaintively howl to be let in. Sometimes he succeeded in drawing coos of sympathy and achieved his aim of entry by this unashamed show of cuteness.

Now, however, this sad act of a cat with its sad act was not making the desired impression on gloomy Dick.
“Bugger off you bastard!” hissed Dick. He picked up his tobacco pouch and began to roll a cigarette, trying to ignore the muted pleas from outside the window. He was feeling rather tired, having got up earlier than usual to ensure that all of his children had managed to drag themselves from the warmth of their pits into the refrigerated realities that were their bedrooms and begin the daily grind of dressing while half asleep.

Whatever he had tried to do it seemed impossible to get all of the children to go to bed at a reasonable time. There was always something or other which delayed it until there was no way of getting a good, full night’s sleep. Often there was the impromptu meal at a friend’s house or something good on the television and with the older two it was quite often that they didn’t want to miss anything that may be happening in “adult’s” time. They would wheedle and claw every extra minute that they could until they reached Dick’s limit of tolerance, came up against his common sense override and took a severe tongue-lashing. This would usually result in the offender sloping off to bed in a bad mood, muttering all the way to the top of the house, where they would sit in their room, doing anything apart from sleeping, with rebellious thoughts swimming around in their heads. Of course it was them who would pay the price in the morning but this somehow escaped their young minds in their states of tiredness.

The sound of claws scraping the glass of the window behind him caused Dick to turn round. He saw the usual sight of Fluffy hanging precariously by one claw from the halfway bar of the window. Dick rose, walked toward the window and bent down to peer into the cat’s eyes.
“Hello Flu-fly”, he said in his softest, most affectionate voice, then suddenly slapped the pane of glass between them. The effect was surprising for both cat and man as the glass, presumably ages old, shattered. Fluffy, so alarmed by the glass pressing out at speed towards his face, forgot where he was and released his hold on the window bar. He went tumbling into space, got one and a half feet onto the sill and spun a full aerial somersault over onto the ground, regaining all four feet.

Dick was catatonic with delight, so much so that he was unconcerned by the small splinters of glass in his hand. The window was broken but all the shards remained in place. He straightened them all up and popped them back into contact with each other so that they reformed the sheet of glass. The roll of adhesive tape in the drawer soon had it as good as new — at least the surface was safe and it was draft proof— and Dick made a mental note of yet another little job which he had to do.
Next he began the necessary micro-surgery on the glass splinters. They came out without trouble in the jaws of his daughter’s tweezers. The small punctures bled and Dick rinsed his hand under the cold tap. His mood somewhat better he decided to rewire one of the sockets in the kitchen and add another for the toaster, a couple of jobs which he had relegated again and again down the list of priorities.

The time seemed to pass rather slowly just lately. Dick had gone through a separation from his wife just a few months before and had been very depressed about it. It was not the fact his wife had left him but it was that all his plans and dreams had disappeared, or more accurately, the way he thought it would be when they had moved was not in fact the way it had turned out. He had been away at university at the time and had been under an illusion that all was well back at home and that everyone was waiting to be reunited in their new home in Wales. The truth, however, was quite different. His wife had found herself attracted to their best friend, with whom she and their daughter were lodging, and had decided she could not live without seeing him. This was a cruel irony thought Dick, who had at times joked with his wife when she complained about his lateness to bed, that she should go and see Jeff. He knew that this would be a safe thing to say as his wife considered Jeff to be repulsive at times because of his strong smell of sweat.

Jeff was an idealist who had had an education through public school, came from a fairly well off though eccentric family, and was astonishingly arrogant. He did not believe that a person should wash too often and even then should not use soap. He also wore his clothes past their “sell by date” and washed them by hand in water or simply hung them out on the line to air. Dick thought this may be the purist’s way, but for him it meant that he had to smell the purist. Although Jeff had been his friend before he had removed his wife he had found it very difficult being in the same enclosed space with him.

Although at first it had been a cruel blow, it transpired that, with the passage of time, it had proved to be a blessing in disguise and Dick had begun to learn a great deal about himself and about his feelings through it. Furthermore he had come into contact with women again and was now in a position to allow himself to fancy them. He had made his feelings clear to a few of them and was pleased to find that he could be close to all of them while not actually having a proper relationship and all the unseen baggage which that state arbitrarily entails. He had reached new heights in his abilities to relax in their company and was pleased that he could now hug easily. He had in the past found it difficult to show that kind of affection or even to acknowledge in himself his need for a real hug.
His first “new” hug had happened one evening when he was round at Derek and Susannah’s house. Dick had been feeling a bit lower than usual and was talking to Jed and Alice who were sitting there when he arrived.

‘”I think that the DSS should open a cuddle or hug bureau”, he said, “for people like myself who are feeling low and feel the need for someone to pat them on the back and tell them everything’s alright,” he continued,
Dick had decided over the course of the previous week that a hug was what he needed but could not decide the best way to go about getting one. One of the women that had entered his life was attractive, the same age and was also a single parent with six kids. Dick thought she would be the best one for the job, and probably the most likely to oblige. But how to go about asking her without it seeming like the worst chat-up line in history. After all he only wanted the comfort of a caring embrace, but somehow it was even more daunting a proposition than if he were to ask her for sex outright.
Dick voiced his dilemma about how to ask someone for a hug. All had been said in a light-hearted fashion and Dick was quite surprised when the reply from Alice came back not in the same form, nor mocking but as though she had taken him seriously.

“It’s funny,” she said, “Jed and I were just talking about this the other night. We were saying it’s a pity that the English feel that they cannot give anyone a hug without there being some sort of standing contract between them.”
The remark was true! It did appear that you could not touch, let alone hug, another person without their consent, need to know your motives and probably your family history as well. Yet some people could walk up to a person and hug them. Dick supposed that he, and probably half the population, had been miseducated to associate hugging with sexual intercourse and not allow it just to be a way of getting close to someone and allowing each other to feel the warmth and peace of that closeness. After all it is probably the first feeling we all ever have, that of the reassurance of our mother’s embrace.
Slightly lifted by this insight he walked into the kitchen where Susannah was making a “brew”. He chatted briefly with Susannah about his birth chart which she had been looking at for him. Susannah was an amateur astrologer and had done quite a bit of reading on the subject. Between her and Derek they had a wide knowledge of its many facets. She said she had not had enough time to read it fully but had a few things she would like to talk to him about. Dick told her that his life felt as though it were levelling out. She hinted that he was in for some sort of changes and her smile was some indication that these changes were going to take Dick by surprise. The smile gave no clear insight whether they were going to be good or bad and Susannah would not be drawn on the subject saying that she would like to finish off looking at the chart first and that it would be better to discuss it when things were a little more peaceful.
Intrigued Dick returned to the front room. He attempted to sidestep Alice, whom he thought was making her way in to see Susannah in the kitchen. She stopped next to him and got hold of him in a powerful hug saying “Come here,” as she pulled him in to her. Dick didn’t know what to do. Alice was a lovely woman and he indeed found her attractive, but she was with Jed and they were seemingly a permanent item.

“But wait,” thought Dick, “what a hypocrite I am being. I am falling for that miseducation stuff!” And he let himself fall into the hug, put his arms around her and just felt the warmth and security of the embrace. It was just like being comforted by his mother when he was a kid and it felt wonderful and all was right with the world.

© Richard Holt 2012

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