THE GREYING OF MR. CLARK by Christopher Mawbey
The infant sun which had, a few minutes earlier, slipped across the window sill, now kissed the edge of the table. Steve Clark watched as the pool of light spread relentlessly across the polished oak surface, chasing away the last of night's shadows. He felt the fresh warmth of the new day as the light lapped at the tips of his fingers.
The progress of the dawn continued unnoticed as Steve's attention was taken by the pyjama clad figure in the doorway.
"Hi Poll," he sighed.
Polly sat opposite her husband. She felt the half drunk cup of coffee on the table. The china was cold to the touch.
"How long have you been up?" Polly's sky blue eyes clouded with concern.
"All night." Steve's tone was flat. He seemed to be on the point of saying something else - but the words never came.
"All night! Why, what's wrong?"
"Nothing - just thinking."
"You don't sit up all night just thinking."
"Fancy a coffee?" Steve said, rising from the table.
"No thanks - and stop trying to change the subject."
Steve sat down again and rubbed the growth of stubble on his chin. "I'm not going to shake you off, am I ?" he said. "Of course not," Polly replied, with a satisfied smile.
Steve sat and gazed at the cold brown liquid in the cup nestling between his hands. He did not know how to start and avoided eye contact with Polly lest she bully him into talking.
After a minute or so, Polly broke the silence. "I'll make the coffee. Start talking." Steve was more likely to open up if he was not in a face to face situation - they both knew that.
"Last night got me thinking." Steve finally began, then paused. Polly busied herself with the drinks and her lack of response prompted Steve to continue. "I'm sure that Jo brought her boyfriend round for me to approve and I found myself disagreeing with almost everything about him."
"I quite liked him actually," said Polly pushing a fresh cup of steaming black coffee in front of Steve. "He reminded me of you, twenty five years ago."
"Exactly!" blurted Steve, slapping his palms onto the table. His coffee spoon rattled in its saucer and black liquid splashed over the sides of the cup, staining the bone white sides.
Polly set a plateful of toast on the table and sat down. She looked closely at Steve. His face was a mask of confusion and his red rimmed eyes held more than tiredness.
"Exactly," Steve repeated, this time quietly, as if in defeat. "I saw in David, an image of how I was at his age. Okay, so I didn't have my hair beaded or my nose pierced: but the boots, Army store trousers and faded T-shirt were precisely the kind of thing that I wore."
Nodding in agreement, Polly wiped crumbs from her Winnie the Pooh pyjamas and, through a mouthful of toast, said, "But there's more to it than that, isn't there? You don't tend to lose sleep worrying about the clothes that your daughters' boyfriend wears."
"You're right." Steve tore a slice of toast in half, the fluffy white inside contrasting sharply with the golden brown surface. "it was his attitude that bothered me. His views and beliefs are so strong - and opposed to how I see things."
"It's called the generation gap," smiled Polly, stirring a half spoon of brown sugar into her coffee.
"No, no, you don't understand," Steve replied. "I totally respect his views. What bothers me is the fact that we disagree in the first place."
Polly looked puzzled.
Steve continued his reasoning. "David sees things with the clarity and passion that I did when I was twenty - the way that I thought I would always see them. My strength of conviction was so strong - as David's is now - that I really believed my views would never change."
"Yes, you always have been dogmatic," agreed Polly. "But I still don't see what the problem is."
"I've changed wiithout realising it. Do you remember the greys?"
"The greys. The popular name given to the silent masses - especially the middle aged. Comfortable, anonymous people, who never raise their voice to any issue."
" I remember them now," said Polly. "They were your favourite subject of derision. They could change the world if they only spoke as one but they wouldn't."
"Yes, and I've become one of them. Quietly, invisibly, wiithout feeling - I've become a grey!" Steve sank his head into his hands.
Polly sipped her coffee before answering. "Did you really think you could go through life battling the system? Changing the world as a radical octogenarian?"
"Why not? People do it. I prided myself on being forward thinking, progressive. But David leaves me standing - the gulf between us is enormous." Steve shook his head sadly.
"Your problem lies not with David, but with yourself," said Polly, leaning forward. "You thought you had the attitudes of a twenty year old- but have actually woken up to an older, more mellow you."
Steve nodded slowly, realising that Polly was probably right.
"Look around you." Polly indicated the room with a sweep of her arm. Steve complied. "What did you see?" she asked. "Describe them."
Steve repeated his scan of the kitchen. "The Aga, the Lakeland slate clock, wine rack, cafetierre, Italian prints......
"All symbols of your hard work and success." said Polly taking Steve's hands in hers. "But with success comes responsibility. And with that, a degree of conformity. To Jo and David's generation, that probably makes you a grey. If you remember though, you always defined a grey as someone who lacked passion - but that's something you've got plenty of." Polly paused and smiled as she watched Steve trying to take in what she had just said. "The only difference is that you place more importance on different things now than you did twenty five years ago." Polly patted Steve's hand and sat back in her chair. "Let Jo and David change the world - it's time we enjoyed ourselves."
Steve looked sheepish. "Of course you're right - you usually are. We should have had this conversation last night. I could have got some sleep then." He smiled, running his fingers through unkempt, greying hair. "And I wouldn't have had to get up at the crack of dawn to straighten you out," laughed Polly. "More coffee?"