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December 15th

Just over a week to our second Christmas, (really?) Time messing with my head, walking in tandem with all the moments that bought us here. Jangling behind me like the relentless festive shop music. A lightless bulb in our permanent tangle of wire. And while I try to find some energy in today’s empty flatness our son is busy upstairs, narrating a Lego tale, splashing in our newly softened water…..

September 5th

Listening to the sound of our old water softener hiss, pop and crackle it’s salty job. Been thinking about changing it for a while, it’s 15 years now since Mr K sat on your creaky old pretend settee in our sparse newly moved into lounge. We bought it second hand, lovingly looked after, he told us, by an elderly lady. And he described it’s features with the pride of a show winning dog owner. He visited us a few times with laminated options and spiral bound charts. His full case packed with the trinkets of someone enjoying their work and we smiled at his delight, for the salt tablets that he turned in his hands with undisguised pleasure. He always wore that tie, slightly too short, slightly too thick a weave, a blue that announced itself as he ambled up our path with his aimable, helpful air.
I remember our chats as he became an infrequent visitor, servicing the slimline creature that lived at the side of the sink. He always had a tale to tell, a good natured anecdote about some customer event. He always gave more than was asked, jiggled appointments to seamlessly remove and re pipe in the beast after we moved here. He ran his small company through recession with the dedication of someone who’d got there without the expense of others. And we nattered and laughed as he plumbed and turned while I filled the cupboards and worked round the crates. And we joked about your DIY skills and were grateful for the magnets he screwed to the swinging cupboard doors. He had some in the van, it wasn’t problem.
And I’ve booked for him to come round on Friday to look at new models, alone, to find something that will fit the space and do it more efficiently. And I remember that he was widowed back before we knew him and I remember his son was 15 and he talked about his wife as he tightened our taps and I told you in the evening. 
I have a feeling he knows as I’d referred  his services to Mum and Dad and I heard his tone at the end of the line, months back, salt ordering, but neither of us said the words.
And on Friday he’ll be in our kitchen and on Friday I’ll go back in time.

Friday

Waiting for him and his van of memories and his face that I haven’t seen for five years. Sitting with the anxiety. Today my Red Indian name is Stands and Waits,  oh God he’s here…

His glasses glinted in the sun as he climbed out and his cheery smile at the door told me he didn’t know. He grinned a big hand shake and asked how I am. I mumbled ambivalence. He carried his case into my kitchen, saying ‘family well?’

I explained as he leaned up my sink. It took a while to get to the purpose of the visit but I hauled it together enough to half listen to tales of dimensions and usage. I just went with the one that fitted best. Will it do the job? Where do I sign? And we returned to our connection and I heard our old life in his warm Hampshire drawl. He understood. He knew loss a few times over. His daughter (not a son, memory playing tricks on me) had entered this world herself and he would have known how to support her because of his own pain. And the conversation shifted as he explained himself. He pulled back from the carbon copy, put down the biro and said he sees the experience now as ‘The Builder, not The Destroyer’ and how it forced him to go within and after years he now looks out with new eyes.

I leaned up my oven, bookending him by my sink as this unremarkable man in logo-d top fell away, to open up and fill me with stories of gentle souls in Sri Lanka, of peasants without anything, beaming through joy, rose crystal rivers, a natural source of pure pink water, blushing the lanscape in India’s teardrop. And his energy bounced off the units, a wisdom hidden in his simple frame, messages learned and passed down through generations of pain and growth. 
And two hours later we joked on his way out ‘Oh yeah, and by the way I’ll have a water softener’ and he shook my hand, thought better of it and hugged me and it wasn’t what you’d normally expect from a man in a van dressed in blue. But it was right and it was good. 
He told me he gets moaned at for not having a big business by now, but it’s not what it’s about. It’s a means to an end for him ‘it’s just what I do on my journey’…
And as he crosses the threshold he seems to morph back into the job and makes some cheery comment about kids at school and I smile at his back, closing the door.

I anticipated the memories and the pain. I booked the installation for a later key date free week but I wasn’t prepared for this. The connection and deep knowledge that he bought. You’d have found him fascinating, you’d have talked to him for hours, but we wouldn’t have known that side of him then because he only came out today, in my new place. This morning, in my kitchen, crammed with the old and new world, with an older face and his words that hang around me now like the limescale in my kettle.
Feeling the thin, trickled stream that leads back to our first river, all those moments ago when I used yellow pages to find him.

Our Mr Blue Tie
And he came back today
With all that he bought
Making the links
Journeys crossing paths

Though he doesn’t wear the tie anymore.

October 5th
I’m up here out of the way while he kneels on his ivy green towel. Not a chatty job this time, all these years later, I leave him to it, I don’t need to see. Need to write.
And he calls me down with an unexpected question. Where did I want the old one leaving as it’s not something he can take away and it’s there unplugged, out of place, emptied, just a shell. I can’t really look at it and mumble something about the garage. I’ll do it later, something else to edge outside, to rest there as a symbol while the work continues in a different shape, it’s essence remaining.
And as the mysterious gurgling sets in downstairs I review my earlier finds from the cupboard clearing. I’d whizzed what I needed to, the cleaning products, now migrants on my worktop but the corner’s hoard threw me. The surplus cupboard creaked out it’s hidden wares, the shoved in ephemera kept for different reasons from the days when I had a choice about endings. And out they tumbled the tablecloths creased in newness, barely used plans from our first home, party napkins, every year a different theme, the last present from Adam in the days when his mum knew what to say to me, the bumble bee coasters, wedding gifts from Diane. And I reach in further, feeling round like helping to birth a calf and in my rush gush of memories, free up pork not beef, with our pig place mats. Just two of them from pre parenthood meals, fat, distorted, distended creatures, naive art you weren’t quite sure about but they were ok with a plate of food on top. And the ever ubiquitous bubble liquid, a dribble of plastic letter cutters, hotchpotch of fish bits, rubber tubed syphoning from our attempt to keep pets and a mug tree Christmas present from your Dad in the days when he spoke to us. Bits of your old life, some wine cooler that preceded me and the sandwich maker I couldn’t bond with, bagged up for then and now. Bits of mine, mix and matched mugs for our son to role play out, fragments of our world and the last two things amongst the dust and plastic lids: a bubble wand, an unlit birthday candle. I study them for a second, their frozen potential, rediscovered, still able to become.

And he calls me again in his broad Hampshire hog, all done and 
I head for the stairs.
His delight is back as he explains the  
new toy, I like the blue light but I’m not really listening. He tells me the old one is now light enough for the wheelie bin but I doubt I’ll manage that, not just yet.

And we both feel unsure whether to hug again, but this visit was business like, it wasn’t appropriate today. Last time was for sharing, today was for the job. 
And he says goodbye with his warm wide smile and I watch from the window as he beetles off in the van, another traveller who plumbed into our world. 

He leaves with a part of our history, he turns the corner, eyes on the road ahead. Like me.

I miss his blue tie.
X

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