Charlie clapped enthusiastically, if a little out of time to the tinny music emitted from the beaten radio into the cramped kitchen. The tiny room had been transformed into a palace ball room with an exclusive guest list of three. Charlie sat on a small plastic seat and giggled as his parents danced, gliding over each other like water on polished steel. The small bottle of cheap champagne – the finest item in the bar – stood proud witness to the happy scene, Earl’s strong arms spinning Charlie’s mother until the song ended and she was dizzy, her long back hair a tumble of beautiful waves in the air. Charlie was scooped up suddenly and allowed a small sip of bubbles that tickled his nose and made him sneeze. Laughter all around. Earl swept Maria’s hair from her forehead, nuzzled her nose with his and raised a glass.
“To my beautiful wife and her new promotion. I love you and am proud of you, more than you will ever know…” She kissed him and Charlie covered his eyes. They all laughed and though Charlie was barely four, he understood laughter, and happiness.
And for a few years there was laughter, love and dancing. Charlie always remembered the dancing.
* * * * *
The cans of beer hit the shiny kitchen counter with an uncomfortable “clunk” as a heavy hand calloused from machine work slid off the clinging skin of the plastic grocery bag.
Pop. Hiss. Then the unmistakable urgency of cold bubbles being welcomed into a dry throat.
Wide eyed, Charlie watched as his father clutched the remaining cans and trudged into the warm front room, leaving behind the whispery smell of the factory, which echoed his day’s work. Tentatively, Charlie followed in his father’s wake, unavoidably inhaling the misty odour of oil, metal and sweat. Charlie hoped tonight would be different, but as he watched his father’s fumbling fingers grapple in frustration with the expensive stereo, the knot in his stomach refused to reassure him. Gracelessly, Earl allowed the weight of his worries to slump himself into the leather armchair as his son perched precisely on the opposite sofa. For a moment it was just father and son, a moment of silent pleading from Charlie, and his father’s glazed eyes, staring at his son but never seeing him. Eventually, the stereo accepted Earl’s choice of song, his only choice, and the air was soon inflated with the lonely sorrowful story that spoke to him. Closing his eyes, he raised the can and felt a borrowed relief infuse into his weary muscles helped by the beer and his soundtrack to despair.