Extract from Chapter Thirteen of Game of Life

On a snowbound Easter Sunday, the Porlocks gather for the final time in their soon-to-be demolished family home. All Porlocks that is, except one. As time and nature close in, the family embarks on a journey of remembrance from ancient Egypt to Victorian England and into its own troubled past, awakening long-repressed voices which refuse to be silenced.

The cigarette smoke formed a light, languid circle in the frigid evening air. Michael learned the technique in his delinquent years, loitering in the alleyway with Tom, Dave and Lennon a few minutes shy of late registration. There was a knack to it. The incremental adjustment back and forth of the tongue, cheek and jaw until, after many attempts, you got it right.

The skill was still gratifying twenty years later. The soothing inhalation, the smoke rising back through the lungs and throat, then sculpted with muscular precision and jettisoned into the air to soar and dissolve. The closest he would get to labour, and not nearly as chafing. Lads’ humour, in the summer of Euro 96, Fantasy Football and hot weather. With hot girls wearing less and less. I wonder what it’s like underneath.

He’d stepped outside just before nine o’clock, his head swooning from two too many glasses of Nepenthe, the sticky aroma of oriental food still pungent in the air. The snowfall had stopped. The bracing wind swept through him, coming from across the river and the chasm created by Clearwater. Power was restored. The kitchen light threw an angular, crosshatched yellow shape onto the dark white lawn.

He always loved cold weather. How the girls wrapped up all warm, leaving more to the imagination than in the clement seasons. How many more layers before you get to the good stuff? Cold sharpened you, knocked you into shape. He hated presenting in stuffy business suites, and once considered a contractual clause to insist on room temperature being thirteen degrees or lower.

If you were skilful and quick enough with your finger, you could depress the top part of a smoke ring to form a love heart, if only for an instant. Maddie asked him to quit smoking many times. You don’t know how much it’s destroying you. She was right, of course, but so wrong. Smoking was the stuff of life. Of inspiration, the rich smell of experience, a tranquilising moment of post-coital calm. A chance to meet beautiful new life outside pubs in shelters as it huddled from the freeze. What’s it like underneath?

Today, his family had inhaled the toxicity of grief, lost themselves in its exhalation, then dissolved into discreet parts of the house. Diffuse, that’s what they’d become. A word that sounded exactly like the sensation it described, urging you to drag the final syllable onwards until it ran out of song. For a brief moment, the family felt whole, at one in the dark. Then they turned profluent, rushing forward on idiosyncratic drives that broke them apart so they could merge with something else.

An old story from an old time. He wanted to tell a new one, without any masks. Michael flicked his cigarette out into the dark and imagined he heard the embers fizzle out in the snow. Come back. Comeback. He turned towards the kitchen door and went back inside, heading upwards to the place where it all began.

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