Monday, 9 July 2007

Chapter 117

Standing in front of Guernica by Picasso, Harry was momentarily in awe. The huge canvas – much bigger than he’d ever imagined it, spread out across a whole wall of the gallery – shouted its anguish and pain as he slowly scanned it. Just like when he’d first visited New York, and felt – as every other visitor did – that he was walking into the set of every movie he’d ever seen that was filmed there, so the image of Guernica was familiar, and at once so radically new to him.

“So?” Alan whispered, standing just behind his left shoulder.

“Amazing. It’s more powerful than I ever could have imagined.” Harry’s eyes were wide, still trying to take it all in.

“I know. A poster can’t do it justice.” Alan turned to leave, expecting his brother would follow, but when he got to the end of the gallery he saw he was still standing, transfixed, in front of the canvas.

He watched for a minute or two while Harry continued to take in the spectre of war in black, white and flashes of every shade of grey. Eventually, he pulled himself away, just as a huddle of Japanese tourists came in.

“You know, it’s bewildering to imagine that Lillian McFry was there – that she lived through all of that,” he said to Alan, as he drew up next to him and they made their way out of the long room and down the stairs.

“There can’t be many left who did,” Alan said. “Unless they were children.”

They’d been looking at an artistic snapshot of the brutal bombing of the Basque’s spiritual capital, captured by a tortured artist who wanted the world to scream, with him, at the agonies inflicted on an unsuspecting people.

As they descended to the exit, Harry finally felt he could give some sort of explanation to his younger brother for Friday night.

“Look … if you must know, I don’t think anything happened between us,” he said, quietly.

Alan stopped, near the foot of the stairs, and shot Harry a look that said ‘I don’t believe that’. “She said you stayed for breakfast, Harry. In my bed.”

“She … seduced me!” Harry’s words spilled out, almost involuntarily.

Alan’s response was terse: “Not how I heard it, bro.”

“I was drunk!”

“Not an excuse. She’s my ex-wife, for God’s sake!”

Harry was getting riled, felt himself backed into a corner. “Ex-“ he said, pausing for just a fraction of a second, “-cuse me! She’s her own person, Alan. She makes up her own mind what she does, and who she does it with, now. Or did you forget that?”

“It’s not like there aren’t any other women in Birkenhead, is it?” Alan pleaded.

“The truth is, I don’t really know if we did, or we didn’t. She’s the only one who really knows that…” Harry sensed a strategic advantage coming, a chance to turn the tables back on his brother. “Why don’t you ask her?”

(‘And when you do, make sure and let me know!’ he thought). But he knew that would be the last thing Alan would do, worried that it might betray how strong his feelings still were for Carrie. Maybe even that he had – sometimes, at least – regretted abandoning her? He didn’t have to have disappeared to Madrid when Carrie wanted him to stop the drinking, after all, and Harry knew that.

“She’s a fine woman, Alan,” Harry said, pursuing his advantage some more. “But she’s not my type. Just like I don’t think Yolanda’s really your type.”

It was Alan’s turn to feel the ropes against his back. Harry was relentless, and wanted another stab at his brother to drive his point home:

“After all - it’s not like there aren’t any other women in Madrid, is it?”

Their walk back to the flat was passed in silence.