The Argos Catalogue

The toughest thing about being poor was having no curtains. It meant the other kids could see in, could see the bare floors, the beat-up TV, the mouldy sofa, the wallpaper torn back and hanging loose, the crazy dog of bones which shit as it spun cartwheels up at the window. But worse than what they could see was what they couldn't see: no video, no furniture, no lampshade, no ornaments. We had no nothing. And when the evening came, and the light went on, we had even less.

On page 24 there were curtains : thick dark red ones.
Above all else they were my biggest ''want'
That was my thing, you see, covering up what was going on inside.
I jabbed my finger at them on the page and shouted “WANT!”
My brother and Sister followed
eager to point out their picks

Dad sat in the middle holding the Argos catalogue
He'd wet his middle finger before leafing over each new page
You could smell the glossy print and the glue of the bind
It smelled like commerce itself

And Dad was good
He didn't understand, but he knew what to do
He said that on Monday he'd go and look at new wallpaper
That ours wasn't very nice
He said we could even paint the skirting boards AND the window frames
Then we were all excited
Suddenly the game was on. The Catalogue became our hope for a better life.

“Washing machines aren't too expensive,” I said
“I'd go without pocket money if we could have a washing machine?”
My brother said that he'd like a dryer
That once his friend dried his football top and it came out as soft as spring and smelling of it too
So Dad agreed that he'd look into getting a washing machine AND a dryer.
Then Dad said that it was possible to buy flatpack bookcases that you assemble yourself. He said that if we didn't mind helping to carry it home that we could get one AND a matching TV cabinet!
Rachel said that our TV was too small
That if we had a new TV cabinet it would be nice to have a new TV to put in it
Dad nodded. He said you could get decent TVs on the monthly
Daniel said “And a video!”
Dad said that videos were expensive and the films cost dear too
I said that the video player didn't need to work, just be there
My sister agreed
Daniel pulled a face that made him look like he does now
Dad scoffed, like I was a little him or something.
He said:
“There's always video players dumped 'round the back. We could go and get one and clean it up!”
Rachel said that as much as anything else we needed a carpet
I said I'd like a white fluffy one, like what was in Mum's room... Only new, and not stinking of vomit and stale Martini.
Dad said that white carpets weren't a good idea with three shitty children AND a dog
Then he said that every Wednesday Gypsies knocked around selling carpet and he'd see how much one'd cost. BUT (he warned me) it wouldn't be white and it wouldn't be fluffy, and it may not EVEN be carpet!
That didn't matter so
Our eyes were gleaming with dreams now
And as we pointed out our 'wants' on each page we began talking of what friends we'd invite around and who could sleep over
That got us to our bedrooms.
The evening was in for real then
That weird time where the city is done for the day and late night baths are steaming up
Dad licked his finger like people do when counting bank notes
He rifled the pages back until we saw duvets and pillows

I wanted bunk-beds.
That's where my finger went.
“!!WANT!!” I shouted with everyone else
We all had the SAME idea. It must have been that film we'd seen:  ET or some other hideous picture, showing us everything we didn't have 20 times its size.
I said I wanted the TOP bunk as I didn't want my brother “to piss on me!”
Dad said, “Don't say things like that!” and circled the catalogue numbers
Then we got to study desks and table lamps and globes of the world
Each of us creating a space where we could read, do our homework, and cast low shadows around the room
Dad even let us pick a computer
All the kids with everything had a computer
I imagined mine dropped right in the middle of my desk, surrounded by containers of pens and pencils, and fruit smelling rubbers. On the shelves above there'd be books, encyclopaedias and a telescope.
After planning our bedrooms and the bathroom and the kitchen and the hall, we picked out accessories, getting really extravagant then
We chose lampshades and light switches
Floor tiles and door knockers
Toilet seats and covers
Brass taps
Magazine racks
Matching towels and dressing gowns
Fancy numbers for the front door
Bathroom scales
and a WELCOME mat for the doorstep
Dad said it was ALL possible
That if we did up one room at a time we could have the entire house done in a month
A month! Oh, how happy we were!
As long as we hid Mum we could have our friends around
Prove to everyone that it wasn't a lie
That out back we had the same riches as they had... even MORE
Dad leafed the pages over
Then we were at the toy section. He looked at us
He wore a serious expression which wasn't serious at all
Like he was sucking a sweet
We all shook our heads:
Toys weren't important
Still, on Dad's insistence we allowed ourselves a look and one or two wants each
After the toys there was nothing -
diagrams of furniture and people surrounded by arrows and measurements
Dad closed The Argos Catalogue
He said “Things have never been so cheap and so disposable.”
We didn't understand that
“And on Monday you'll really go and see about new wallpaper?” I asked
“Well yeah,” he said  “Monday or Tuesday.”
We all smiled; only just a little less.
But Monday IS Tuesday if you stay awake long enough!
Dad put the Argos catalogue away and said it was time for bed
We climbed the stairs without a moan, wanting to be alone to talk more of our new house and what it would be like...

 I suppose it was about midnight when dad shouted up the stairs
“Now stop all that talking and GO TO SLEEP! If not you can forget about MONDAY!”
We froze in terror with fearful grimaces pinched on our faces
 Rachel shouted: “Sorry Dad!”
Then we all shouted: “!!SORRY DAD!!”
“Alright, now just be quiet and go to sleep!”

From then on our words became excited hushed whispers
Sometimes so low that we were talking to ourselves
In a series of diminishing reports questions hung longer, finally only receiving the occasional murmur inbetween periods of dreamy sleep
Then I WAS talking to myself
My words evaporating into the deep silence of the night with nothing coming back
I sat up and peered into the dark
“Dan, are you awake?”
“ … …. .... ….. ”
“Rach, you still awake?”
“ …. … … … ”
My kin were travelling distant and fantastic worlds and I was left alone in this one.

I lay in bed looking at the bare windows with the night pushed up tight against them. I closed my eyes on all those thing we had seen and chosen, and thought of how Dad had promised to fix up the house and really seemed to have meant it. But something of the night was upon me, bearing down and magnifying the loneliness of being the only one awake. Now other thoughts came to me... darker thoughts, sadder thoughts: images of Dad's broken and walked out shoes; his rag of a jacket hanging on the bottom banister post; the bare kitchen cupboards crawling with flour grubs and larvae. Something undefined troubled me, was seeping into my last thoughts of the night. I tried hard to get back to the Argos catalogue, the smell of the print and how each new page had brought fresh waves of excitement. But it was no good: the dream was gone before I'd even got to sleep.
I thought of Dad, directly below, sitting on the floor with his legs stretched out and his bald head reflecting the late blue light of the television. And then a new sound hit me, something I'd never heard before: a low throb like the house was groaning and dying.
I lay there in the dark, withdrawn and scared, listening
And in that night
In this terribly unjust world
Trapped somewhere between sleep and awake
I swear to God
I could hear my Father crying.
- - -
Thoughts and WishesTo All... Shane. X