Mark was having breakfast with James. His eldest son, now on the cusp of manhood, seemed to Mark to inhabit a closed world. His comings and goings were mysterious, his friendships and destinations remote. Just a couple of years ago James had been a mere boy, with insecurities and needs connected to childhood. Now he was grown up, coming into his inheritance - cars, girlfriends, staying out all night, drinking with friends - a young man in possession of the realities of life without yet having to take them too seriously.
Once this had been Mark's world - just the other day, it seemed - but it was his no longer. Mark had known this for some time, but James's occupancy of it sharpened his awareness of the fact. He felt edged aside. Saddened. He dwelt now in the realm of the middle-aged man, and twilight glimmered on its dim horizon.
'Fancy a game of golf this weekend?' Mark asked James.
James shook his head. 'Can't, Dad. I'm going down to Brighton with some friends. Thanks, anyway.'
'Anyone I know?'
James got up and took his plate and coffee mug to the sink. 'Don't think so.' Possibly from some sense of compunction, he asked his father,
'How's work these days?'
Being nice to the old man, thought Mark.
'Yeah it's good. We've got a new machine, opening up urban markets, bringing in quite a lot of business.'
James was not remotely interested. 'Good.' He nodded. 'Anyway, got to go. See ya.'
James was working in a friend's recording studio for the remaining months of his gap year. Mark had no idea what he did there.
Paula came into the kitchen with the morning post. She handed Mark some letters and a small packet.
'Can you run Owen into school today?'
'I thought he took the bus.'
'He does. But he's got to take his portfolio plus all that stuff for his DT coursework. I can't possibly run him. I've got new stock coming in first thing.' She fastened on her earrings, then poured herself a swift cup of coffee. She never sat down to breakfast these days.
'Fine I'm not going in this morning, anyway. I thought I'd work from home. The office is still chaos.'
She gave him a brief, diving kiss, took a couple of sips of coffee and picked up her bag. 'See you this evening.'
Mark glanced at the letters she had handed him and put them aside. The packet, he knew, was the next instalment of photos from his father on CD. He would look at it later. He glanced at the kitchen clock and went to call to Owen.