My old dad, as his wits weighed anchor, decreed himself a Noah of the still and the dead and went about with a notepad cataloguing stones and stars and other bleak insensate things that they might be redeemed, at Judgement Day, from the final deluge of obscurity. It was a job of slow and rococo care but a man should, after all, enjoy the ballast of a hobby in his decline.
‘Sea of Serenity,’ he said. ‘Sea of Tranquillity. Seas of Moisture, of Islands, of Rain.’
He sketched snail shells and twigs and the texture of the interstellar satin. He compared the flavours of pebbles. He learned, in a book, the rules of sonnets, apostrophising the quintessence of the dust on the mantelpiece, the histories hidden in the skins of petrified worms. Some of the neighbours thought he was a grand fellow. They engaged him by lawns and lampposts in disquisitions on the project, examining his records, stroking their chins. Certain nude excursions rendered the rest of them aghast and my mother confined him to the garden shed, where for hours daily he scribbled, scissored, classified, mused, compiled.
As he lay one morning in the spread wings of his dressing-gown, watching the moon’s frail, shirked husk cling, falter, and submit to sheer blue, he determined—purple-cheeked, dew-silvered—to become a student of Diana, eternally. He bought a telescope from Lidl. He began to haunt the nights, or point across his picked-at dinner in the winter evenings, bid me turn and, trailing a fingertip across the window, name the basalt fields that bruised the hanging face, the oceanus and maria, the laci and pali and sini.
‘Sea of Clouds. Sea of Crisis. And that big one, the Ocean of Storms.’
If I called him a fucking lunatic he seemed not to get the joke. He arrived at the door once on the arm of a Guard, nodding at me whenever the breeze in the dressing gown uncovered the brush of grey wire and balls like lead weights, and my mother took her glasses off, turning away. For a while he took to all fours, like a werewolf, and though I considered this appropriate I felt badly for my mother, who coughed raggedly, or cried in the bathroom, and I began to hate him, and it didn’t help that he started forgetting where to put the milk or find his hat or how to work the telescope or what my mother’s name was, what was her name for Christ’s sake, the slut the bloody bitch she’ll smother me with my pillow while I sleep you’ll see. But it placated him to be asked about the moon.
‘Sea of Fertility. Sea of Nectar.’
After death, he said, he wished to be flown by unmanned probe to the deepest crater on the dark side and laid out in his dressing gown, there to crumble peacefully to lunar dust.
‘Sea of Cold.’
We scattered his ashes in a dried-out rockpool.