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My room faces the sun in the morning and on clear summer mornings it wakes me bright and fresh, no matter what time I stayed up till; I'll get up and make breakfast, watch TV, have a shower. If it's before six in the morning I usually have a cup of tea and go back to bed where I'll doze until seven and wake with a thick head.
If I stay at my sister's I sleep until the kids wake me or until she comes rolling in, poured from the back of some taxi, whichever is earlier. I'm an early riser, and a dead sleeper.
This morning I wake up with a twitch, like the alarm clock in my head has given me a little electric jolt. It isn't sunny outside; I pull back the curtains and the sky is dark grey, the same colour as the sea, and it looks like the sun won't appear before tomorrow.
I get up and go downstairs; the hall clock tells me it is almost six thirty. I make tea and toast, pour cereal and milk into a bowl, put it all on a tray and take it back up to my bed.
My brother gets up for work and I hear him crashing about in the bathroom so I go downstairs to make him a cup of tea. He's down in the kitchen about five minutes later, wearing his work clothes, eyes mostly closed against the morning, hair either sticking up where it shouldn't or plastered down by a night against the pillow. He sleeps on his left side mostly, he has creases on the left side of his face and the hair on that side of his head is the most out of order.
'Morning,' I say.
I leave him to work out what he is going to eat and go back to my room where I finish my tea and toast, turn on the radio and get back beneath the quilt. Sometimes I like to think and other times I like to dash straight in.
This morning I want to think a while.
Today is dad's birthday; mam won't mention it. My brother might, just to cause a row, so I'll keep him sweet when he comes in from work. Every year on my dad's birthday I draw a picture of him; each year he looks a bit different. I'm an artist. There, I said it. It's not that I draw a straighter line or a truer circle, as they try to teach us to do at school. I just get the message across more clearly than other people. More truthfully. I know it.
I read a lot of books too, mainly about artists, and I go through phases when I like a certain artist or a movement. And I try to paint like them. When my dad comes back I'll be able to say, 'this is you when I was twelve and I was in love with Monet' or 'this is you on your thirty-eighth birthday, when I was fourteen, and you'd been gone five years, and I wanted to paint like Dante Gabriel Rossetti.' And he'll look at each painting and know that I loved him and never forgot him.
Last year I printed t-shirts, sold most of them at school, some I persuaded Kendra to sell for me. The guy on the beach wears some.
At the moment I'm into lines, simple lines. It's a development of a six month obsession I had with calligraphy, which came out of a phase I had with cartoons, which came from Liechtenstein and Warhol, and so on all the way back. So I get out my charcoals, and a couple of sticks of chalk and I pin a heavy sheet of grey A3 paper onto a board and rest it on my knee as I sit on the bed.
On Saturday mornings when my mam worked he'd take me to town and I'd drag him around the art shops. On my eighth birthday he bought me an easel, a real one, not a kiddie's. On my ninth birthday he bought me oils. On my sixth birthday he bought me a box of 99 crayons.
'Draw me,' he'd say.
'Aw dad, I can't.'
Some mornings I'd wake up and there'd be a book on my pillow about Picasso, or Chagall.
I should go to school, I really should. I'm not one of those kids who are scared to go; I'm not phobic or anything. I don't get bullied and I'm not thick. I just can't find a good reason to waste my day in a classroom studying physics or citizenship or Buddhism. I could learn that shit in a library. Phil, the head of year eleven will bollock me for it tomorrow, if I don't go in. In two months I've got my exams. We made a deal, I promised I'd go in and he said he'd square it with the EWO.
I'll tell Phil the truth, it was my dad's birthday and I spent it with him.
So I spend some time thinking about his hair, which I think is probably no more grey than it was last year; I know hair doesn't age at the same speed every year, but I make his hair longer this year. And in my mind's eye I give him an extra few pounds too. But I keep the smile fixed in my head, maybe a little muted, like it is when he's happy but distracted, or trying to understand me when I'm babbling to him.
It's head and shoulders, so I'll put him in a t-shirt that shows his neck and throat and how strong he is and how his eyes sparkle and how his brows are dead level straight and still black.
I try to think of how much I want to show and how much I want to tell.
Then I pick up a charcoal stick and do it. I pick up a chalk to add a suggestion of colour to his eyes, then another chalk for his mouth.
And there he is.
There you are.
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