For a moment there was only the sunrise, the first light from the East cast lovingly still, each second ascending but between them, behind them, beyond them some alignment eternal, from universe to star to planet to human, Danny at peace, peace present before will.
Lifting space for first thought, the fires were lit, song in his chest set soaring with sight of the day, time now aligned in ascent: I can't wait to start work; my new job, artist, designer, my dreams; this chance I will take; I have an idea; the future is open.
In the kitchen his mum stood at the window looking out on the garden, the morning here and outside on the lawn cool in the shade, but for the teapot sat steaming, and one strip of gold at the back by the fence, which rose up through the beech hedge and there caught the flutter of thrushes flying out, along and back in.
'Morning mum you alright?'
'It's the blackbird Danny, come and see, on top of the hedge over there. Can you hear it? Isn't it beautiful?'
'You went to the Robinsons' last night then after all?'
'Well I didn't want to as you know, just in case, but what with Tier 3 coming on Monday we had to really because who knows when we'll get to socialise again, and we go every year. Oh but Danny it was a good laugh!'
'Not too cold?'
'Well yes, but no, they had those outdoor heaters see, and a little fire, and we were well wrapped up. It was dead pretty actually with all the lights in the garden. More fun than normal with just the six of us. Pippa Marshall who always upsets me was blissfully absent. No we had a brilliant time, music and memories you know how it is Danny. Now, listen, you're up early ain't you?'
'Gotta start work. Today's the big day.'
'What do you mean? It's Sunday. We're putting the Christmas decorations up today.'
'My design business mum. First deadline first draft tomorrow. A new look for the Taverna.'
'That Azarios works you like a dog.'
'He's paying good money for it. 25 quid an hour.'
'Well that's not bad. We're ever so proud. We was telling everyone last night. Jamie said he might have something for you too.'
'What's that then?'
'Well he works in advertising but I didn't ask what. I've got to get this tea upstairs before it goes cold do you want some?'
'Nah, coffee, bacon, eggs, art.'
'Get you. Right I'll see you later.'
Landscape, first side, front, white border, not too thick not too thin, surrounding blue rectangle, the sky, not too light not too dark. Centre top, The Taverna, new logo, underneath, Very Good Greek Cuisine, excellent yes but no not excellent very good, personality, cheeky, friendly, family, talking point. Bottom centre website. In each corner of the border the beauty of nature, colour, a neat mosaic, sunshine, tomatoes, olives, aubergines, mint, peppers, sea bream, pine, mountain, sand and sea. In the blue rectangle, first quote, Epicurus.
'Remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.'
Dreams. Go Danny. Second side, back, blue border, surrounding white rectangle, same mosaic. Centre top, The Taverna, underneath, slogan, You Know It! Bottom centre, idea. Please share your thoughts, experience, wisdom and philosophy. Drop off the flyer for window display. Or visit us online. For the community. White rectangle left empty, to be filled in by customer. Simple. Should work. Friends. Fun.
You see Azarios, he imagined himself saying, it's a viral campaign, word-of-mouth, it will build, people will think of the Taverna. Really you inspired it. I'm really grateful. It's the virtue you see, we're going to spread virtue. I'm sure it will work. The design of the flyer is classic, tasteful. Very good - that's important, not excellent, because who cares if you say excellent, you need personality to stand out. When people go online they'll see photographs of the food - I can do them I know how, and then the comments section of course, not expensive. The only question is how many to print. We're looking at between a penny and five per flyer, depending, and well, the more we print at once the cheaper. Me I say we get six months in, you know I see you might say well how much wisdom do the people of Chelmsford have but the news will change with the season, and people love to see their names in public. I believe in this Azarios.'
If he doesn't like it then we'll see. Greek salad or something.
'It is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.'
'Not what we have but what we enjoy constitutes our abundance.'
'Man conquers the world by conquering himself.'
Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Aristotle, Socrates, Plato… Almost lunch time already.
'Danny are you coming down or what?'
'Is that lasagne?'
'Yeh had one in the freezer didn't I.'
'Is that Campari?'
'Yeh you want one?'
'Go on. How long before lunch?'
'Half hour or so.'
'How's the work going Danny?'
'Not bad, not bad, quietly pleased.'
'You be at it all day?'
'Well I'm enjoying it to be honest, hard part's done, just knocking it out now, but then I want a few shots of the website, so I'll keep going with it. I'll bring my laptop down here and do it in front of the TV with you two.'
'Christmas tree's coming at three I'll need a hand with it.'
'Now listen to this.'
'Mariah Carey has finally topped the UK charts with her widely beloved festive hit All I Want for Christmas is You, 26 years after it was first released.'
'"Happy Christmas UK!' she said in a statement. "We finally made it!!! We are keeping the Christmas spirit alive together despite how dismal the year's been. Love you always! Joy to the world."'
'Now that was released in 1994, just after we found out that your mother was pregnant with you, in our first house.'
'Baby, all I want for Christmas is you.'
'26 years later she's finally reached number one. Do you see the point Danny?'
'Don't make me say it Danny. You keep trying son.'
'Alright cheers dad. What beat her, out of interest?'
'East 17, Stay Another Day, which is understandable, because it was good, and they're local.'
'Stay now! Oh don't leave me alone like this! Don't say it's the final kiss!
Don't you know we've come too far now, just to go and try to throw it all away.'
'Ha ha! We had it on last night, and Mariah. You tell your mother, she was well into it.'
'I'll turn the TV on now if you don't mind?'
'Did you know they banned Christmas in 1647?'
'I think I did know that yeh. That'd be Cromwell wouldn't it?'
'Yeh. Imagine. Celebration banned.'
'Not in our house Danny. Not with your mother. You should've seen her.'
'Danny get the garlic bread out of the oven.'
'Alf get the prosecco out of the fridge.'
'Obviously there's wine I'm on prosecco.'
'I'll get another Campari actually.'
'Now where are we?'
'I was just telling Danny about Mariah Carey.'
'Ah yes. Now what were we saying last night? That was it. History. The problem with your generation. Danny, you don't know where you come from. You'll never know what it was like, back then, where you came from. We'd had 25 years of Tory power and we were sick of it. Thatcher for 21 years Danny you don't want to know what that was like. Then there was Major. By the time I was pregnant with you Danny Blair was in, new Labour leader, and we was all full of hope. You know, there was a ceasefire with the IRA and we thought finally this is going to get better. Like we said last night how did we end up here? It's like we keep going round in circles. But Danny the 90's were amazing. We had the best time. Now they're having a go at us again. We need another break do you know what I mean?'
'If you take the long view, I mean history…'
'No Danny. Now 1989, first Christmas your mother and I were married, that was something special.'
'The end of the Cold War Danny. The fall of the Berlin Wall. You wouldn't understand. But sometimes it happens. These big events in history they really mean something. Freedom Danny! Sometimes we get a break!'
'Now freedom, what does that remind me of? What else happened in 1989?'
'No. Return of the Jedi, that's it, do you remember? We watched it on Christmas Day. Your impression.'
'No Christmas Day was Crocodile Dundee.'
'That's not a knife!'
'Yeh, because I bought you a lightsaber.'
'Indeed you are powerful as the Emperor has foreseen.'
'There was a flu epidemic that year too wasn't there? How funny.'
'No. Do they Know it's Christmas?'
'That was 1984.'
'Re-released in 1989.'
'Oh for God's sake do they never give up.'
'What's on TV later?'
'Great Expectations and The Godfather.'
'It's like you Danny ha ha gentleman or gangster.'
'Right so what we doing then?'
'Turn the TV on!'
'That's what I'm trying to sort out, are we doing Christmas decorations now or later?'
'I wanna watch Great Expectations.'
'Well you pass that bottle over here you'll be pissed otherwise.'
'We've got enough wine to last until Easter.'
'That's not what I mean, come on, top us up at least.'
'Oh alright then.'
'God isn't it bleak.'
'Where's that then?'
'That's the marshes!'
'Is it nice?'
'Well does it look nice Danny?'
'It is nice we took you there as a child. Why?'
'Oh no reason.'
'Who you talking to on that phone of yours?'
'Because you're smiling Danny.'
'And who's Sara?'
'She was a regular at the pub.'
'What does she want?'
'Nice is she Danny? Come on give us the news if you've got some.'
'I was trying to think of somewhere to take her, on a date, that's why I asked about the marshes.'
'Ha! You're not taking her to the marshes she'll run a mile.'
'There were bluebells there when we went.'
'I asked her to dinner but it's not getting any better is it?'
'No not yet, not for a while.'
'Why don't you ask her round here?'
'One day mum.'
'Are you ashamed of us Danny?'
'No mum, I'm sure she'd love to meet you. I've told her all about you already.'
'What you say then?'
'Ask no questions, you'll be told no lies.'
'And they always start by asking too many questions.'
'Why are the young never grateful?'
'I said you're both very friendly. Enjoy a good chat.'
She's got a mouth like the Thames estuary.
'Come on Danny then what you working on?'
'I know but which philosopher is it now? You said there were philosophers.'
'I'm trying to make the quote from Plato fit but it's too long. He's not exactly pithy.'
'Come on read it out.'
'The idea of good is the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in the visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual.'
'I'd skip that one if I was you Danny.'
'Dad it's Plato.'
'Whatever does it mean?'
'Well, I suppose you could say it means that you shouldn't let it get to you, you know when you're down on your luck, because really the universe is good, and it's out there no matter what, and it can be inside of you too if you look for it.'
'Don't let the bastards grind you down that's what we used to say.'
'Some things in life are bad, they can really make you mad, other things just make you swear and curse. When you're chewing on life's gristle, don't grumble, give a whistle and this'll help things turn out for the best.
And always look on the bright side of life, always look on the light side of life.'
'But more than that dad.'
'Exactly. Why'd he say it like that then if he coulda said it like you.'
'Oh alright then.'
'Who's that then? That Sara again? What she say?'
'You may kiss me, if you like. Now you are to go home.'
'She said she'd love to go for a walk, and maybe we could bring a picnic, and a thermos, and a blanket.'
'A blanket? What does she want a blanket for?'
'To sit on obviously.'
'Well she's not having one of ours.'
'And you be careful Danny, now you're going up in the world. And you tell her if she breaks your heart I'll have her buried wherever she first bedded you. One of my blankets!'
'Come on you pass that bottle over here.'
'Biddy I want to be a gentleman.'
'Oh, I wouldn't if I was you, Pip. I don't think it would answer.'
'Would you like to take the champagne glasses too?'
'I wouldn't mind actually.'
'We've got an old hamper you can take that.'
'Don't be encouraging them Alf we'll never see him again once she's had him under the blanket.'
'I'll never forget you mum. I'll always carry the scars at least.'
'Heaven forbid I should want anything for not standing in Pip's way.'
'A young gentleman of great expectations!'
'There you are Danny on your way now.'
'London's a great city you should give it a try Danny.'
'I've been to London.'
'One day I'll come and see you in London, Pip, and then what larks, eh?'
'You keep your feet on the ground.'
'It is early days yet. The Taverna's a good start, but…'
'You said you were going viral.'
'Let's drink to London, and a very happy future!'
'Don't you ever forget about us Danny.'
'Oh fuck I forgot about Kayla.'
'What do you mean? Who's Kayla?'
'I know the Wilsons.'
'I was supposed to call her this morning.'
'Well why didn't you then?'
'I don't know I was doing my design.'
'Well what does it matter?'
'She wants a piece of work.'
'She's a fitness instructor.'
'What's your philosophy for that then? What do they call it Lisa? Body Positivity?'
'It's Body Positivity for a thin person and Body Neutrality for a fat person.'
'Actually Aristotle says we should get a good body.'
'Well that'll be that then. Aristotle says try harder fatty. Ha ha. It's like that film Dodge Ball ain't it? Average Joe versus Globo Gym. Who's got the philosophy for Average Joe that's what I wanna know!'
'If life feels jolly rotten, there's something you've forgotten, and that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing.'
'I'm gonna give her a call now wait there.'
'Don't be long Danny Christmas tree'll be here any minute.'
'Right come on this way watch the clock there. Now tilt it up that's it inside the door. We're in. Over there in the corner. Ha! Danny! Look she's fallen asleep we were only gone for five minutes.'
'You got it?'
'It's a beautiful tree.'
'Shall I wake her up?'
'Nah leave her she'll be good for nothing otherwise.'
'I have come back to let in the sunlight!'
'Wake up mum. It's time to do the Christmas decorations.'
'Stick some music on Danny that'll get her up I'll go get the boxes.'
'What's this Danny? You put carols on? That won't get her up. You need to know your woman. Here take these.'
'You will get a sentimental feeling, when you hear voices singing, let's be jolly, deck the halls with boughs of holly. Rockin' around the Christmas tree, have a happy holiday, everyone dancin' merrily, in the new old-fashioned way.'
'Alf don't make me get up.'
'Come on we're counting on you. We can't have Christmas without you.'
'I'll get you some water.'
'Here's my favourite decoration mum do you remember?'
'Put it down Danny I'm not ready.'
'She's up! I told you Danny!'
'I'd better have some brandy Alf.'
'Now who's on what? I'll do the tree with Danny, Alf you do walls and ceiling. Then when I go to make dinner you two do hall, staircase, landing and then I'll have someone to talk to.'
'Alright come on let's go.'
'There'll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow, there'll be scary ghost stories, and tales of the glories, of Christmases long, long ago.
It's the most wonderful time of the year, there'll be much mistletoeing, and hearts will be glowing, when loved ones are near. It's the most wonderful time of the year.'
'Now Danny do you remember this one. You must have been only five, no… six, no… seven, seven years old you were, seven years of joy, to think of it now. Yes that can go here. We bought it in Harrods, which you used to love Danny.'
'Had we moved in here by then?'
'No we moved in the spring after, but we had the best Christmas because your father had just been promoted to CEO. I always knew he'd go to the top, the way he talked about the business. Anyway that year we had goose, which we didn't really like, and a new table cloth, which we still use, the same one. Do you know Danny that's when I got my taste for brandy. Get us a top-up will you?'
'Now doesn't that look lovely. Cheers everyone! Now I'm going to make the dinner. Hour and a half I'll see you out there.'
'What we having?'
'Costolette Milanese. Milanese veal cutlets.'
'You've had it before you just never asked.'
'Why what Danny?'
'You get what you're given Danny. Shut up. You and Sara can feed your kids chicken nuggets and chips when it's your turn if you like but me and your father won't be coming.'
'What happened to good British food?'
'You bloody facist. Now enough I need to marinate the meat.'
'You're not supposed to win Danny, you never stood a chance.'
'Don't I know it.'
'Now come on tell us about Sara. What's she like? She pretty is she?'
'She's alright yeh. I suppose you know I just feel there's something there. I feel comfortable with her. It flows the conversation.'
'Yeh I know what you mean. You got a picture?'
'I can find one, wait there.'
'Phwoargh! Look at that. Show your mother a different one.'
'She's on the beach dad.'
'I know, but still…'
'Give us it back.'
'What about this one?'
'Do you know when I met your mother, I'll always remember, she was wearing a jacket with these big shoulders like they used to and a beret and the way she looked at me Danny, I said I just don't know what to say about you but you look wonderful.'
'Yeh I know, come on then, we'd better start on the hall.'
'Actually mum this is delicious.'
'Knew you'd like it.'
'It's the best Lisa when did we last have veal cutlets?'
'Alf I don't remember. Now, what about Sara? Does she cook?'
'I think so.'
'What do you mean I think so?'
'Well, I remember seeing lots of things in the kitchen.'
'And when did you see her kitchen?'
'Two-three months back.'
'And why didn't she make you breakfast?'
'I got off early actually.'
'I was a bit tipsy the night before and I just wasn't sure.'
'Why sure now?'
'I don't know, it was my fault really, I just wasn't sure in myself. I didn't feel like I was up to a relationship.'
'I dunno it just happened, I guess it was the philosophy.'
'Let me think… It was the Wednesday that I saw her, so it was Aristotle.'
'Come on then Danny tell us the secret.'
'Well he says happiness is three things - virtue, body and external world, and I couldn't help but agree with him. You know to put it simply you need a good to-do list, and then you just keep trying. Excellence is not an accident he says, it's a series of choices.'
'And so you decided Danny that love was on the list?'
'No, no I didn't actually, but I was just a bit more clear on life. You know when I thought about it all I didn't fall, the list was there. Right, next. And then when I saw her I couldn't help smiling.'
'Now this is a good idea. Maybe I need a new list. All I've got is DIY and chores on there at the moment.'
'And your list Danny, what else is on yours?'
'Well, for example, learning to cook, you know because we did Epicurus - first learn to live well - and because Azarios is an amazing cook, and you of course.'
'Ah Danny let me teach you, Azarios has done enough.'
'Yeh 'course, I was meaning to ask, was just busy that's all.'
Love you two.
'This is the best film.'
'Greatest film of all time.'
'Look at Marlon Brando.'
'What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?'
'Danny it's past ten can you not finish that tomorrow you'll knacker yourself out.'
'I was thinking, which philosopher is it that tells you that you should work hard?'
'Search me son.'
'Remember in the second one, when he gives that pear to his wife, that's how I feel.'
'Oh Godfather I don't know what to do.'
'You can act like a man!'
'That horses head. I mean what would you do? You'd have to give him the part wouldn't you?'
'I don't know.'
'Oh come on Danny he's threatening to kill you, and you know he's prepared to do it.'
'But then you've got nothing left.'
'No Danny that's the point you do.'
'There's got to be another way dad.'
'Never tell anybody outside the family what you're thinking again.'
'It's a dog eat dog world Danny. If you want to be the biggest dog on the street that has serious implications.'
'The biggest dog in the world doesn't have to be a dog. It isn't logical. There are a million ways to win.'
'Tom this is business and this man is taking it very, very personally.'
'It's not personal Sonny, it's strictly business.'
'What are you gonna do about big dog Danny?'
'Love conquers hate dad.'
'How's the Italian food in this restaurant?'
'Good. Try the veal, it's the best in the city.'
'What a coincidence!'
'I never wanted this for you. I worked my whole life and I don't apologise to take care of my family, and I refused to be a fool, dancing on the strings held by all those big shots. I don't apologise that's my life, but I thought that when it was your turn you would be the one to hold the strings, Senator Corleone, Governor Corleone or something.'
Finished. We are ready to go viral.
'Today I settle all family business so don't tell me you're innocent Carlo.'