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October 2018, vol 14 no 3

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Jonathan McKeown

Curtains

He took him outside and He said, “Look up to the heavens …”
                                                                      Genesis 15: 5

When I get in from work my step-son is the only one home. He calls “Hello?” when he hears the door close, so I poke my head into his room. “I’ve been listening to Pink Floyd’s Animals album,” he says, keen to tell me about it. There’s a pile of old records on his bedroom floor that my Dad dropped over for him the night before, knowing how much he’s into “vinyl” at the moment. I notice Rock Around the Clock, by Bill Haley and his Comets, on top of the pile. “Wow, I’d forgotten about this,” I say, picking it up. “Dad, used to play it sometimes when we were kids. It was the theme song for Happy Days. My brother and I used to watch it after school. Have you ever seen Happy Days?” “No, but apparently they reference it in an episode of The Simpsons.”

While he bangs on about which “vinyl” album he wants to buy next I turn over the sleeve and scan the bio on the back: Bill Haley was part of a popular group called “Down Homers” … started his own group “Bill Haley’s Saddlemen”, then “In 1952 the group changed their name to the ‘Comets’ ….”

Realising my attention is elsewhere my step-son says, “I read on Wikipedia that when David Gilmour was asked what made him decide to play guitar, he said, that although it was hard to say what exactly, the fact that Rock Around the Clock came out when he was ten probably had something to do with it.” “Really?” I say. “Yeah, apparently that song was like an anthem for rebellious youth in the 50’s. Kind of like "Another Brick in the Wall" was when you were in high school.” “Interesting,” I say, putting the record back on the pile. “But right now I’m more interested in soaking in a hot bath with my book.”

***

I lower myself into the steaming water with a glass of wine and an abridged edition of The Gulag Archipelago, remove the bookmark, take a sip of wine, and settle to reading Chapter 11, ‘Tearing at the Chains’, in Part V, ‘Katorga’: “… At peace and at ease on our familiar bunks, in our familiar sections, we greeted the new year, 1952. Then on Sunday, January 6, the Orthodox Christmas Eve, when the Ukrainians were getting ready to observe the holiday in style – they would make kutya, fast till the first star appeared, and then sing carols – the doors were locked after morning inspection and not opened again. …”

1952, I think … reaching for my glass of wine. But my thoughts are diverted by the sound of … was that fire crackers? … I lie still, listening. Nothing. Then – just as that Happy Days scene in The Simpsons comes back to me – in the distance, the sound of sirens …

fog lifting
police tape around the house
across the street


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