He found out I smoked the day I went off to university, and disapproved, of course, but nothing he could do or say. Although, he did, often. He’d have hated seeing us sitting around the fireplace using a bowl as an ashtray, blowing smoke up the chimney, drinking his best wine after the cremation and wake. We’re laughing at stories from the boat trip where he yelled “I’ll cut you in half” at someone who’d cut him up on the Broads; his face red with rage and sunburn. I notice the mantelpiece where half his ashes will sit, the rest boxed up ready for us to hire a Broads cruiser, and pour them out where he exploded.
When we hug our hellos you’re solid and new, like you’ve somehow reversed the spread of middle age. Chopping logs and pushing mowers has worked for you. I feel your calloused hands on the back of my neck and round my waist. You seem much happier talking about axes versus chainsaws, tending someone else's garden and the absent streetlights. While we’re both drunk you let me chop the kindling logs—my back gives out and hands blister. We make a joke of it all. You hardly utter a word about the folks back home. We avoid everything we know about each other, holding back our chosen versions of events. In the morning I’ll drive myself back to the family and day job for cups of tea and shuffling files. The aching won’t wear off for weeks.