At least Pauly was pleased to see me, so that was nice. “James!” He shouted when I went into his room for the first time since returning from France. He looked different somehow but I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly why. His hair seemed the same and being only 7 he didn’t have a beard or anything.
I’d bought him some football stickers at the harbour because he is mental for football. Or he was because he’s not any more. I realised this when I went to put the stickers on the Iron Lung that contains him.
“That’s weird!” I said. The lung is normally plastered with stickers of footballers but there were none. “Huh?” I said. I looked at Pauly, he was smiling. “Whaaa..?” I asked in a funny voice.
“Do you like it?” He asked.
“I… guess so.” I replied but if I am honest I liked the stickers as they gave the machine a bit of character. The machine wasn’t just free of stickers, it had been painted a matt forest green and it had been painted badly. There were lots of bits that hadn’t been painted. Tricky to reach bits had been left. I hate that, if you’re going to do something then do it properly.
“Do you know who I am?” He asked. I stood back and looked at him.
“A football pitch?”
“Guess again!” He demanded. He was enjoying this.
“Give me a clue!” Pauly shifted around in his contraption but as I can only see his head I didn’t have a clue what he was doing and I felt like a bad father. “I give up.” I told him.
“I’m Raphael!” He squealed.
“Raphael! Of course! You look just like that.”
“Him,” Pauly corrected and I could see he could see that I didn’t have a fucking clue what a Raphael was.
“Wow! You really do look like him. Wow, that’s great! Raphaelo in da house!” I was heading to the door, walking backwards while talking. “Wait there,” I told him and went to find my wife. She was crying by the washing machine. “Pauly?” I asked.
“Raphael, Shitsleeves, he’s a cartoon turtle.”
I then went to the kitchen and looked the name up on my smart phone. Returning to Pauly’s room I found him staring at the ceiling. “Raphael, eh?” I wondered with fake wonderment and he smiled. “Looking good!”
“James?” Said Pauly.
“What is it buddy? And call me Daddy.” I didn’t like where this was going.
“Can we go out tomorrow? If it’s not too much hassle?” He said it with no expectation in his voice. He often asks – less often recently – and we never do. It’s too much hassle.
“We’ll see!” I told him as brightly as I could but he’s not stupid. He knows it’s too much hassle. His head slowly retracted into his monstrous apparatus. “Pauly, come on!” I cried and then remembered, “Raphaelo!”
“It’s Raphael!” He shouted, echoey from somewhere inside.
What a shit dad I am. “Right, we’re going out tomorrow, I promise!” I shouted down the neck hole. “I promise, do you hear me?” Saying ‘promise’ twice made me feel a bit a person in a film about the Vietnam War making a promise.
“Do you mean it?” Came the small voice.
“Actually I can’t, I’m playing football. I just remembered,” I added. “Why don’t you like football anymore? I’m going to be on telly playing it.”
“I’ll bring the telly in here, set your mirrors up and whatnot, what do you say, Champ?” Before he could answer, not that he was going to, I heard a large crash and my other kid wail from outside near the bins. He sounded like he’d really hurt himself. “Fucking brilliant, now I’ve got two of them.” I said then tapped the machine. “Football, yeah?” I said and then went to help out with the other one. He hadn’t actually disabled himself, so that was good.