Nathan had this theory about love. He reckoned that the only reason the world was fucked was that people weren’t organised about love. They could ship little plastic caps from China to Turkey and fit them to pig-shaped shampoo bottles. They could get those bottles into shops from Tokyo to Copenhagen. Kids in Johannesburg and Tel Aviv and Seoul and San Francisco would bathe in Percy Pinkie bubbles. But people couldn’t get organised about love.
He saw it every day. Love was distributed in an entirely random way. It seemed to him that someone should surely have done the research by now. Someone could tell us all just how much love you need to give a person – in what doses and at what ages – to stop it all going wrong. But he didn’t think they had. When he tried to read up on it, which he had, being a systematic sort of bloke, it seemed there was still a lot of disagreement. It seemed that the giving and receiving of love was more a sort of alchemical process by which you added disputed ingredients and awaited a magical outcome. So, Nathan reckoned, we were probably doomed.
Of course, you could sometimes spot it going well – a sort of fattening taking place in the centre of a child. Nathan was clear that his neighbour, Jane, was working the spell correctly. Her boy, Oscar, seemed to have a curve to his manner that indicated he’d roll when life knocked him over. But, still, it irritated Nathan that he couldn’t break it down into something he could set out on a sparse website and tweet to humanity.
Equally, you could spot it going badly. He tried not to but he couldn’t always help it. His own life seemed to be a map of misplaced love on wasteland. That morning, when he got on the bus, he had no intention of pondering the love dilemma. He was planning to read a short story, eat an orange and text his friend, Rick. But then he noticed that his fingernails were so ridged now. And that was age. And it was just like his dad and his granddad and it showed that he didn’t have long to make any bloody difference to this awful world and the only thing he was sure about was that the love problem needed sorting. So he got out his notebook – a notebook still seeming to him like a more serious object than an electronic gadget – and headed the page: How to get organised about love.
I don’t imagine there would have been any great breakthrough. I mean, one bloke with a notebook is not going to solve that one. He had a good heart, Nathan did, but it didn’t manage to withstand the impact of a metal luggage rack cutting through his rib cage. The bus was upside down in the ditch beside the A27 as Nathan slipped through the window like a silk scarf on the air. He was surprised to find that he did have a soul – souls being something he’d always thought unlikely – and he hung around watching the paramedics injecting adrenalin and administering love from their palms, their mouths. It was green. Love was green – light green like beech leaves when they appear in the spring.
He watched the hopeful gusts of love eddying around the broken bodies. The paramedics were pouring with it. It was surprising that love looked rather like he’d always imagined gas in the trenches, or pea souper fog from 1950s London. It wasn’t doing much for the crash victims. They were mostly dead, their souls nudging against him, or zapping off through the trees to some other place.
Three hours of watching – fire crews and police and giant spotlights rigged up by men in hard hats – and every person puffing out this green, green love and most of it falling over dead people and hopeless cases. One young policeman seemed to expend a lung-full over a shattered image on the screen of an iphone on the carriageway – a little boy holding up a cat. It was stroked out of open hands onto skin that was mottled and greying. It was kissed onto hair. Nathan waited to see it stop. Nathan never saw it stop.
Nathan hangs about by the A27 usually. He winds himself into an elder on the patch of ground beside Stanmer park. He watches the people in cars full of love. He likes the way dog walkers will shout out love in barks. He likes the kite festival, when people send love up a string to stream out in the sky. He likes the children at forest school, drinking hot chocolate and burping love over each other when they play chase afterwards. He particularly likes the man who reads in the trees on a Tuesday and who can cry love in steam from his tears. He wonders, most days, how he ever thought anything needed to be organised.