Women want tall men. Tobias was 6’6” but they didn’t want him. He hadn’t always been a single though. For a long time, there’d been Violet too. Violet was 5’0”. The pair of them together: an easy joke. She’d left him for Gary: 5’8” (too short he thought) but not before they’d had Imogen, a flame of a girl, their early passion for each other embodied. He saw her lots as a tot, picked her up from school a couple of days a week, took her to zoos and parks and skating and bowling and kite flying and beach combing…. It had drifted a bit in her teenage years when a girl doesn’t want her Daddy or, as he was secretly glad to discover, her Mum either. He didn’t worry about this like Violet did. He knew she’d come back, though she hadn’t yet. She was 19.
The other woman in Tobias’ life, his mother Sylvie, was dying. Bowel cancer that had been defeated once had returned in new and unexpected places and Sylvie had decided that she wasn’t up for the fight this time. After the initial shock of the second fatal diagnosis, where everyone had gone under and even Short Gary had sobbed, they’d all just carried on because what else could they do? She wasn’t going to die tomorrow.
Imogen made sure she visited Sylvie weekly. Not him, just Sylvie. He, when he could stomach it, had facebook, texting and flash visits that made him resent his groundedness, his heft. He became jealous of the beautiful butterfly girls and spiky Jack Frost boys that he imagined whirled and danced in Imogen’s light.
He’d never before doubted the credibility of his stature. When at 12, it became clear that he was to be a giant, he decided to embrace this, to do the best he could with his height. He wasn’t going to stoop in shame and anyway Sylvie wouldn’t let him. He would stand tall and get some weight behind him. “A strip of wind will blow away” she’d warned. He started labouring for his uncle and the muscles came easily. Eating and drinking like a man gave him some girth and now after a career in construction, he was solid. His childhood moniker discarded, he grew into in his full name and felt he’d found himself. It was others that had the problem.
People thought a body like his had been sculpted to inflict pain or to overpower. Women kept a safe distance, making sure not to touch him, leaping away as if scolded if they accidently did, in case, he saw in their eyes, they invited a rougher touch in return. In men, the Biters were the ones to watch. He knew them now: drunk men, younger men: the wiry, paranoid, swaggerers who looked down their noses, flared their nostrils like skittish racehorses and exposed their insecurity with a twitch or a wary sweep of the eyes. But he hadn’t been bitten yet. He knew how to extinguish their clumsy punches. He knew there was nothing to sustain their false rage released by the bottle and born of misguided ego. He never questioned where the calm came from he just immersed himself in it. He thought of it, with a smile, like an invisibility cloak from one of Imogen’s childhood books, though he was more Hagrid than Harry.
When tomorrow came, Sylvie’s final kiss killed him. She had beckoned him down to her and kissed him, between his eyebrows and it was if she had branded him. That kiss lingered on his forehead for hours afterwards. The wind on his face made it tingle and he imagined light up! He worried that it must sparkle silvery gold and that he was walking around as if adorned with a Christmas decoration but he dared not wipe it away. It was too beautiful: too precious, a final gift that could never be replaced or renewed. He hadn’t kissed her back but felt he owed her no debt if he honoured her kiss. He wouldn’t lift his hand to it. He let it glow on. It carried him home.
Some weeks after the funeral, Imogen visited. Ablaze, she coursed into his house, screaming and crying and tearing at him. He knew about the ‘incident’ and Violet hadn’t needed to tell him to stay away. As he saw his daughter struggle to rid herself of the pain that cursed her by punching out at him, a flash of anger slashed across his calm.
Now he knew what she needed.
He took her into his arms and he held her. He held until she stopped fighting. He held her until she burned herself out, until his calm became her own, until his groundedness became her own. He held her close, he held her tight and he kissed her, just once, between her eyebrows.