14. The Guest

WHAT YOU NEED TO know from the outset is that I moved in with Veronica Laidlaw about six weeks after we met, even though things were not exactly going well between us. I was drinking a lot, and so was Veronica. Not at work, but after work we drank too much, although we couldn’t see it then. We drank every day and we were hungover three, four, sometimes five mornings in the week. The fighting began as soon as I moved in with her. In fact, the fighting began literally as I was moving in, and even then I knew something was broken, only I didn't want to see it. We lived on the second floor of an old apartment building above a little park. Because the apartment was tiny and it was the height of summer, we took most of our meals in the park. Veronica sure could cook, and she would cook something for dinner, or lunch if it was a weekend, and if it wasn’t raining we would walk down the two flights of stairs to the park and eat. There was a picnic table and seats in this little neighbourhood park and a little bust of a shrivelled old man, a little old Polish man who'd saved the lives of countless Jews in World War Two. Sometimes I would look at the bust of that man and something like hatred would swell up inside me, although it was hatred at myself, and it made me ashamed. For these meals, we always brought plates and a tablecloth. Soon we became known for it in the neighbourhood. Sometimes friends would join us, but often we ate alone, at least at first. The evenings are long at that time of year, and warm. Often there was a song wafting from someone's window, sometimes two or three songs from two or three windows. I can still remember the songs that were popular that summer, especially that song 'Crazy', that song was everywhere. Eventually our neighbours began to introduce themselves. We made lots of friends that way. Eventually a bunch of them began to join us, young couples like us who would bring their own food, which we would share. Then my brother Rudi arrived from Germany. At first he told us he was visiting for a few days. He needed a place to stay for a little while, and Veronica, with the best intentions, said he could stay as long as he wanted. He slept on the couch. I had my doubts at first. I suspected he'd left Germany for good. He was on a tourist visa but he wasn't going anywhere. God knows how he got the money together - he was terribly vague when it come to money. I hadn’t seen or even heard from my brother in six years, and I didn’t know him too well because he’d been just a kid when I’d left Germany myself, so I was glad to have him around, getting to know him for what really was the first time. For the first few days at least his presence meant Veronica and I couldn't fight. I even began to think it was a good thing, Rudi being there. Then the arguments with Veronica started again, first in whispers, and then spilling over into raised voices, and before you knew it Rudi was joining in. Summer slipped into autumn. As the evenings shortened and cooled, we ate out in the park less frequently, and when we did I began to fixate on that bust of the old Polish man who'd saved all those lives. Rudi invariably ate inside, complaining of the cold. I noticed how little Rudi went out, how much television he watched, how little he ate, how rarely he spoke about himself. He and I had less and less to say to one another, although at the time I couldn’t really see that. I just put it down to the unusual circumstances – a small apartment, a young (very young) man who’d just left his country and didn't want to talk about himself, moving in with his alcoholic older brother and his older brother's girlfriend. I'd get home from work and find him pacing the apartment testily, only to slump onto the couch as I had entered as if I had surprised him doing something wrong, and there on the couch he'd spend the rest of the evening, flicking channels with a look of distilled anger on his face.