Daniel: (trying to look away from everything, turning his face towards the door) It doesn’t matter, Dad.
Dad: (surprised) well of course it matters.
Daniel: Not to me. (He is exhausted, mainly emotionally) It’s not my apology. I didn’t speak to her and I don’t want to.
Dad: You don’t have to speak to her, Danny! (he considers) I just want to know if you think I should do anything. (He muses to himself) Whether an apology is helpful, or even right.
Daniel: (getting upset) please stop asking me! I don’t even understand what I’m supposed to be like with other people so how am I supposed to know what you should do? (He taps the doorframe he has been edging towards. He taps it seven times and the action does seem to – at least momentarily – calm him with its familiarity.) Are you sorry?
Dad: (realising that he is, infinitely so) Well… well yes bu- well, yes; I’m sorry that I argued with her like that and I’m sorry that I pegged her as a criminal and I’m sorry that I was only sorry for having a go at her because I thought she’d retaliated. I don’t know Danny Boy. I made a mess and it didn’t have the effect I’d thought it did but I’m sorry that I even made the presumption…
Daniel: (confused) well if you’re so sorry then why haven’t you told her so yet?
Dad: I’m not sure if she’d be interested.
Daniel: Why not?
Dad: well, what value does my ‘sorry’ have to her?
Daniel: Maybe lots.
Dad: Maybe... But she swore at you Daniel!
Daniel: That doesn’t matter to me. In fact, I wish she’d do it again. (He says it truly but with a sharpness that seems to press intentionally into the back of his fathers’ skull.)
Dad: (horrified) Daniel?
Daniel: (resisting the urge to tap the doorframe again whilst he speaks) It made me feel normal, for once, like she didn’t know that I’m messed up. Or if she did know then she didn’t care about it. I saw her do that same to someone else when Mum took me to the library the other day – you know, to take Ja-Jasmine’s books back. (This reminder stoppers the conversation momentarily until Daniel finds the courage to step around it. It is like the edge of a grazed knee that he touches with a combination of pain, wariness and curiosity.) The kid she swore at was someone from school. He’s the year above. He’s cool. He does skateboarding. Don’t you get it Dad? Her swearing at me was like paying me a compliment – she treated me the same as Jackson. Everyone’s equal to her.
Dad: (He teeters on the banks of so many different rivers of speech; pulled apart by all the consolations and suggestions and contradictions he ought to release. He passes a hand over his swimming eyes, as though trying to shield Daniel from how tired he is, and then ruffles the boy’s hair. Daniel condescends not to realign it, which is a greater sacrifice than any other might understand.) You are a wonderful kid, Danny, wonderful. Maybe there’s just not enough people to tell you that.
Daniel: Maybe there aren’t enough people to tell her sorry.
Dad: Thank you, Daniel, a thousand thank yous (He would kiss his son is he didn’t know that Daniel hates that sort of contact, so he just leaves the room, uncertain whether such behaviour equals failure to let Daniel be a normal kid.)
• It is the first time this summer that the extended family have visited yet, despite the overcrowded kitchen, the house is haunted by its own emptiness. There is, of course, a distinct lack of Jasmine. When Daniel heard that his sister was named after a flower he thought it was appropriate because she was pretty and perfect and unspoilt. Now he saw that the similarities ran deeper; she was also unerringly fragile. Only, flowers are supposed to be around in summer and Jasmine isn’t.
• The family have even left the seat she was supposed to sit in clear. Surrounded by plates and wine glasses, it becomes something of a shrine and it seems to overwhelm the throng of blood-ties and genetics.
• It is actually due to Jasmine that this shared lunch exists. The dinner may be cold, bumbling and dampened but it exists and it exists because she created the need for it. In a strange way it is therefore comforting to experience it as Jasmine draws them all together one last time.
• The family have come bearing their condolences and they give collective advice about funerals in general. Nothing they say is of any great consequence but they talk and they staple their smiles tight and hope that they can offer a distraction.
• A problem shared is a problem halved etc. etc.
• The boy called Daniel does not bother to look up at them because he knows that their desperate sympathy will only hurt him. He does not like the way people who do not understand him insist on handling him with care. He prefers to laugh and study the solar-system.
• Only, he’s not so sure what he likes or doesn’t like anymore. He thinks that, if he is the sun around which this family rotates, then Jasmine was the gravity that stopped them all from drifting.
• He focuses on his plate. Aunt Cathleen has brought a mixed-salad with her which Daniel must now un-mix. He wishes that he had one of the trays at school and then begins to wonder how he can ever go back to school knowing that Jasmine is a fragile flower with a cut stem.
• The family clatter and clutter the kitchen and the noise
• Begins to bleed into
• His thinking so that he cannot keep focused on any one train of thoughts because it
• Is all rattling inside him and somehow his brain is incapable of discarding the knowledge it doesn’t need and so is left to process all the simultaneous sounds which involve Cathleen scrapping cherry tomato pips off her plate with the edge of a knife and Mum sniffing and Dad drumming his fingers on his placemat and cousin Daisy’s dress rustling as she wipes her fingers on it
• And he can also not tune out of the tick-
• Toking of the clock that Jasmine made in year nine so that, when he begins to think in sevens, he’s also counting how many seconds he’s surviving without her.
Dad: (to Cathleen, his sister) So where’s Ryan today? Could he not make it?
Cathleen: Oh, Ryan? No not today, sadly. (She says it quickly, welcoming a topic of conversation that is easier to discuss) No, no he has work. Didn’t tell us that until this morning, mind, but no. No he works at the Co-op, you know, up the top – the big one. (her pride is obvious) And driving now as well… Passed his test first time as well! To think. I still remember changing his nappies… well. We tried to persuade him to pop in after his shift but – well – he’s just at that stage, you know, all independent. Doesn’t want us all interfering and telling him what to be and what to do. GCSEs under his belt now – trying to grow up and spread his wings a bit, you know. (She breaks off realising that those she is addressing do not, in fact, ‘know’ this freedom. It is a prospect which many have dangled before them and someone else snatched away. They will never know because Jasmine is a slave to mortality and is Daniel a slave to himself; neither will ever ‘spread their wings’ and leave their parents behind.)
Mum: (bravely attempting conversation) It must be nice for him to be earning money?
Cathleen: (embarrassed by her previous inconsiderate speech but trying to avoid the stupidity of not responding) Yes, well, he seems to enjoy it. Daisy seems – Lord knows why – to think he’s got a girlfr- (she trails off again, realising that any exciting news she spills about her son will be mocking and insensitive.)
The man sat next to Cathleen: (making an even more foolish attempt at small talk) What about you Daniel? Have you got a girlfriend?
Cathleen: (hushed and to her husband only) George! Don’t ask him that!
(Daniel looks up briefly and thinks. He doesn’t really have any friends. He used to have Josh and Jasmine, of course, always Jasmine. Now he has neither. Sometimes he is friends with his teachers. Sometimes with the silent girl in his class.)
Daniel: No. There are too many girls who want to go out with me so I don’t want to upset any of them. (He smiles but no one else gets the joke.)
Older woman: That’s nice Danny – Your Granddad was always a handsome young man, lots of admirers. (Wistfully) Only had eyes for me though, did your Granddad, the girl who wore a blue ribbon in her hair at Sunday school.
Dad: (interrupting her reverie gently, trying to break the truth over her without causing damage) I don’t think Daniel meant it, Mum.
Mum: (Loud, forceful, overly bright) Second helpings, anyone? (she, more than anyone else, hates it when Daniel makes jokes about himself and so, when she crosses the room to fetch the remains of the quiche, she lets her fingers stray just a little into his hair. He does his best to let her touch linger – reshaping his scalp – but he can’t. He stands. Leaves. The table notices, of course, but says nothing.)