Last night’s rainstorm shrank the house. We closed down rooms and now the walls are closing in. There’s so much we no longer use, nor visit, so many rooms we no longer enter.
Almost all our friends downsized long ago. We are the holdouts. We love it here in this big house with its lawns and trees and flowerbeds with bees’ balm, butterflies, birds, and the yard abuzz with sunshine and bees.
But now we are starting to throw things out. Maybe we’ll move, next summer perhaps, or maybe not. For now is the time of indecision.
Like friends of the same age, we travel the lesser road of memory loss, a name and a face here, a date or phone number there.
Perhaps, when the time comes, we will have forgotten how to move. Meanwhile, the mandatory old man’s question: ‘where did I put my glasses?’
I wander a vacant, black and white wonderland of empty, accusing, crossword puzzle squares. Most mornings, I sit at the kitchen table, head in hands, puzzled by the news and the crossword puzzle’s clues.
Outside my window, crossbills squat on the feeder, squabbling, heads turned sideways, blinking,
and winking sly eyes. A yellow-bellied sapsucker hops over syrup-sticky squares. His hand-carved chess board
glistens as feasting flies swarm beneath the sun.
My own thoughts are rooted in a stark, new reality. They walk wordless through threatening spaces where unmasked people wander grey, concrete streets or walk in shops, in the opposite direction to arrows, painted on the floor to guide them.
Cross-words, cross-purposes: why do some people obey the current laws while others ignore them and risk their health as well as the health of others by doing what they damn well please, in spite of the scientists who beg them to do otherwise? Like the puzzle’s clues: I just don’t know.
Comment: Well, last year was a year like no other that I can remember. It is so easy to dismiss it as an aberration, but we shouldn’t do that. Hopefully next year will be better. But it might get worse. Let’s look on the bright side and hum along with the song the humming birds are humming: “Yesterday is history, today is still a mystery, but what a day it’s going to be tomorrow.” I still can’t workout how or why some shoppers just head up the shopping aisles, walking or pushing their carts in the wrong direction. Nor how they can stand for five minutes at a time choosing a breakfast cereal, one hand on the handle of their angled carts, another poking at the cereal boxes, and the aisle totally blocked. I also love the people who still handle every apple in the box before choosing just one of them. For apple you may substitute grapes, pears, avocadoes, tomatoes. Oh the joys of ageing in an age of skepticism and pandemic. Mind you: if life is, as Albert Camus always insisted, absurd, or if it is, as Calderon told us, nothing but a dream, I guess none of it matters anyway. Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux / we must believe that Sisyphus is happy!
It’s just a tiny splinter, lodged in my little finger. I take a needle from my sewing kit, put on my glasses, and break the skin around the small black spot in an effort to dig the splinter out.
Suddenly, the vision changes and I am back in my grandfather’s house. My father has bent me over his knee and is jabbing at the splinter in my thumb with a needle from my mother’s sewing kit.
“Hold still,” he pushes me down with the elbow of his left arm, then thrusts the needle again and again into the now bleeding spot on my thumb. “Hold still. Stop wriggling.”
“You’re hurting me.”
My mother comes into the room and inspects my thumb.
“Put your glasses on,” she tells my father. “At least you’ll be able to see what you’re doing.”
“Ow, ow!” I struggle with each piercing thrust of the needle but my father only holds me tighter.
Back in the present, I can hardly see this other splinter, let alone pull it out of my little pinky. I have broken the skin, so I place a band aid over the spot. Hopefully, the plaster will draw the splinter out, it usually does, quite painlessly. I put my sewing kit away and check my right thumb. My age-old splinter, still in there, winks its little black eye back at me from beneath the tear-filled eyelid of its tiny white scar.
We bear so many scars. Not all of them are visible.
Comment: So my granddaughter decided that she could polish up and improve my drawing notebook (top photo). And she did. Proof positive that a red pen in the hands of a young lady can work wonders. The thin red line of life, that link that joins us generation to generation, stretches back to times that only I can remember, stretches forward into times that I will never see. I wonder what my grandfather thought when he sat on his chair by the old Welsh fire and I climbed up, onto his knee. “Grandpa, tell me a story.” And he always did: “Once upon a time … there was a thin red line …” And look, there’s my grandfather’s old chair down in my basement in Island View, New Brunswick, Canada. It’s a long way from my grandfather’s old home in Swansea. Just think, I used to climb up on the back of that chair, while he was sleeping, and blow on the bald spot on the back of his head … one long thin red line of inherited mischief …
When the Black Dog descends it is difficult to see beyond the latest slings and arrows. Everything hurts and everybody hurts you. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But they do. They gouge into the brain, splinter the mind, and leave us gasping for air, mouths open like landed, stranded fish.
How do we stop the hurt? We hurt ourselves more, much more, and then what they do to us can never ever be as bad as what we have done to ourselves. That cut-throat razor, that pop-gun with the cut cord, that carving knife, that finger stuffed into the electric socket … why, they ask, why did you do it? Head down, in silence, I know the answer, but I will not tell them.
They send me to doctors with fancy names who ask strange questions that I fudge or will not answer. They take my family’s money and then write reports and say that ‘his behavior is quite normal for a child of his age’.
Have they checked the scars on my mind, the black holes in my heart? Does the local priest who tells my parents that all is well also tell them about what happens in and out of church, in and out of school? I think of the city watch walking on the castle walls: “Nine o’clock and all’s well!”
Hurt yourself, I say. Hurt yourself so badly that nobody else will ever again be able to hurt you.