At around half past 3 in the morning I decided that I would go for a crafty cigarette. I was at my grandfather’s house – he didn’t (and hopefully still doesn’t) know that I smoke and I didn’t want to wake him by going downstairs and outside, so I thought it best to hang out of the bedroom window and smother the smell with perfume afterwards.
I opened the window, jumped up on the sill, dangled my pyjama-ed legs out over the edge and, before I could spark up, my attention was diverted to the meteor shower that was performing its drama in the space above me. I’d seen such sights before but never this clearly. These fizzling stars seemed so close, as if I could reach out and catch them. I half expected a piece of hot rock to land in my lap and burn through my shorts.
A voice shocked me back to Earth.
“Are you gonna light that or what?” my father whispered, a little too loudly.
“JESUS CHRIST, DAD, YOU SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF ME!”
He chuckled until his chuckle turned into a cough, which he tried to stifle. He was also hiding his habit from granddad (his father) – he had promised him a year before that he had quit. But here he was, also hanging out of his bedroom window, a few metres across from mine, smoking a joint and watching the shower.
He put his finger to his lips and said, “Shhh,” and then pointed at the sky.
“I know,” I whispered back.
We stayed that way for a few minutes, together but apart, smoking in the silence of the night, watching the meteorites falling so effortlessly from the heavens, knowing that they look pretty from here but up there the scene is one of violence and destruction. We were quite content to revel in the magic of the display, ignoring the science and calculations and unfathomable numbers behind it and the reality of our insignificance (although these things did cross our minds).
“You know how stars die, don’t you?” he whispered to me, again a little too loudly.
“Erm… supernova, is it?”
“Nah. Overdose, usually.”
I giggled into my hand, before whispering, “For fuck’s sake, Dad,” in his general direction. We didn’t know that Amy Winehouse would die from a suspected overdose the next day.
We spent another minute or so watching the sky. I looked over at my Dad, his face illuminated only by the stars. His smile had gone. He looked wistful, possibly even sad. Then I felt sad, knowing we’d be back in London soon and unable to see magic like this through the pollution. Back to London, to depression and money problems and bad decisions and drug dealing and dangerous dalliances and trouble trouble trouble.
“Dad,” I said, quietly. “Am I going to be okay?”
He looked over at me from his window and smiled, and said with such certainty,
“Yes. Yes you are, babes.”
In that moment, I believed him. I locked that exchange in my heart, archived, for future reference. Then I stubbed out my roll-up underneath the window ledge and buried it among the leaves in the guttering. Then I replied to my Dad,
But his window was shut and he was gone.