Wales Arts Review is pleased to present a new series of literary vignettes, next up is ‘Your Father’s Father Had Eyes Like Yours’ by Phil Jones. These vignettes will be glimpses into the thinking of the writer and their experiences; from the day-to-day to the extraordinary. They might have the intimacy of a diary entry, or have the scope of something much larger.
We met at a show for local bands on a boat in Bristol. Your band played ‘Walk On’ by Neil Young. A little later you join my band and in my lyrics I start quoting things you say: “You, you make your own meaning, that’s just what you do isn’t it”. It was a time of brilliant new friends, studying, working for money, growing up, too much cider and music long into the night.
You have always reminded me of my brother, your authoritative bluntness, happy to say what you want and don’t want. And your brother reminds me of me. So together we work and travel using brotherly shorthand. In spring, you and I drive around Finland, hiring a car, and have a trail of Air B&Bs waiting for us: Helsinki, Porvoo, Tampere, Rauma. Most of all we look forward to a cabin in the woods amid the lakes. When we arrive the snow has thawed but the well is capped by ice too thick to break so the owner brings us water containers to keep on the porch. It looks over the lake, which is peaceful and the same dusty-grey that is carried by snow clouds.
We walk a long trail through the woods. Your boots are smart enough to double as work shoes, scuffed on London curbs. I can’t see it but the knife is hooked to your belt underneath your grey fleece. I know because you told me so. When we reach the lake – this one is the largest in the country – it’s you who takes the first step out on to the ice as though it’s not spring, as though the ice isn’t thinning. You wave your red cap to have me join you. Deeper in the woods some snow remains. We run through it like children and the bottom of your jeans end up soaked. But the whole time I can’t forget – why’d you bring the knife with you? What the hell were you going to do?
You’re disappointed that I don’t want to come out in the boat with you. I read instead, your piece about your father, your father’s father and you, about what they passed down; men who had eyes like yours, men with ideas of what it means to be a man. You become smaller and smaller on the lake, the red dot of your hat is a marker, way out. Your father says he doesn’t hit you and that that is progress. When you are most open, you speak with the same voice that you write with. In the night we barbeque blood sausage and out-of-season reindeer and drink a beer that has a bear on the label.
The cabin came with a sauna that steams up our mirrors and we can’t see our own faces. You ask me to shave you and we take turns shaving each other over a bowl of lake water. I think of you, figure on the ice. What it means to be a man – isn’t it thin out there?