Archive for May, 2009
The old man awoke with a start. He muttered to himself. It was hard enough getting into the arms of Morpheus at his age but to be awoken by something after a few hours of precious sleep was beyond the ken. He thought he heard voices and laughter coming from the shed out the back. He shone the torch that he kept by his bed over at the clock. 2.30 A.M., the arms said. He thought to himself what a bargain that clock at been, and how good his eyes were at his age. His hearing was pretty good too, but he preferred to feign deafness sometimes. Amazing what you heard about yourself when people thought you deaf. Then he heard the noise again. A sort of snuffling and murmuring that could be a possum but could also be human. His shed held his precious tools and papers. Someone had broken into it a while back and a chest of ship’s tools had disappeared overnight. Tools that had shaped boats which were now but history in the seaport where he lived. Tools that he had bought from the old country. Tools that had shaped first sail and then steam boats that had transformed this country. He thought he heard the sounds coming closer. Coming into the house. He would deal to them. He reached over for his stick thinking he would give them a sound thrashing. He might be ninety-four but he still could deal with a mischievous thief who was so cowardly he had to sneak around in the dead of night, stealing an old man’s possessions. There were a lifetime of memories out in that shed. He hoisted his sturdy frame to the side of the bed and as he was pushing himself to his full five foot nine, the carpet slipped out from under his foot and he felt the sickening pain as he fell to the floor.
He came to and he still had his flashlight gripped firmly in his hand. He had wet himself, probably from the pain and shock, and he was very cold. He looked at the clock again. He had been unconscious for over an hour. He could not hear any sounds from the shed now. He tried moving but every movement caused a terrible, terrible, pain to shoot up his leg and side. There was also an ominous grating that suggested bone against bone. It bought a wave of nausea. He must have broken something, he thought. I cannot move, but I can reach over and get my stick. If I can hook it through that pillow I could perhaps drag it across and then lever myself up onto it. Then the blanket. Half an hour later, after passing out again, he had the pillow and blanket. Now, at least his top half was warm, and his hip wasn’t grinding into the floor. Now what, he thought. I guess the daughter will come looking for me when I don’t ring in. He usually rang every morning before she took off for work to tell her he was OK. She was a good girl but their relationship had been strained until she and her husband moved into their own home. She had lived with him into her thirties after Mary, his wife, had died giving birth to the dead baby that would have been her younger brother and his heir. Oh for someone to pass his wisdom on to. Then she had married, a late war bride. He could never work out why the son-in-law never liked him but his daughter always stood by him. If he missed the occasional call, she said she would get a neighbour to bang on the door until he just had to answer it. But he had never missed a call in the decade or so he had been doing this.
His daughter found him at 8.00am. She had a premonition that something was wrong. She often had premonitions, but this morning’s was strong. She used her spare key and found him unconscious, on the bedroom floor. Soaked in urine, so that at first she drew back from him and muttered ‘Oh Dad’ under her breath. Then she saw the rise and fall of his chest and knew that he was breathing, although it was shallow. He was shivering and he looked so frail and for the first time she was aware of how terribly old he was. She tried to get him back into the bed but he shrieked every time she moved him and she saw that he must have broken something by the funny way his leg was pointing. She telephoned the ambulance.
He woke in a strange hospital bed and surveyed the world around him. He was in a single room and in a hospital. His snoring and nighttime yelling had forced the hospital staff to put him in ‘the side room’. A narrow window to his left framed a view to the North East Valley and the University and Teachers College part of the city. The greenery of the hills contrasted with the blue sky. His room was painted that institutional green that was supposed to calm. He was propped up on his bed with his broken hip and leg encased in plaster and splints. The doctor had told him there was no chance of a replacement hip at his age and because of his other health conditions.
“You would not last the length of the operation. We consider that your best option is a wheelchair.” This would mean he could no longer go on living in his own home and his daughter had made it clear she would not take him back again.
“I couldn’t support you any more Dad. I’ve got the job and John would not have you living with us again. I’m getting on myself. I just couldn’t lift you anymore or supply you with the level of care you would need. I’ve looked at a few rest homes and decided that Birchfield is the best. You would have your own room and they have nice grounds. I’d come and visit every week. It’s for the best.” How many times had he heard those words ‘it’s for the best’. The daughter had said that as she burned all his precious possessions that he bought at the Friday auctions. She said that when she and the husband moved to their new house on the hill. The words still echoed around the incredibly hot hospital room. The bedside table had the cards from the grandchildren and flowers from neighbours. The RSA man had come and given him some chocolates and a kind word. The unopened box of chocolates still lay on the floor where they had fallen. The stupid man didn’t even stop to ask if he liked chocolates. Had been allergic to them since his teens. Silly fool. Funny how he still thought of himself as young. His thoughts drifted off to Harrington Street and his shed. He had called his home ‘The Anchorage’. It had been his and Mary’s refuge since they had come to this country. It had stayed his anchor when first Mary and then his daughter had left. One dead and one plucked like an egg from a warm nest. He had all his memories out there, in the shed. Memories and the roll of money that even his daughter knew nothing about. That had been his real fear when he heard the noises. Not the tools, though they were valuable, but the roll of money. His daughter had found the $2000 in $20 bills in his old overcoat in the wardrobe in his back bedroom, but she didn’t find the more substantial roll out in his shed. Who could he trust with the knowledge of that? Twenty-five years of saved pension and egg money. That and the Lodge money. Encased in waterproof wrapping and wedged in the back of the shed, under a floorboard beneath the coalscuttle. He drifted off into sleep thinking of the Anchorage, of Mary, of warm nests.
They watched as the shed finally crashed to the ground. Flames hungrily engulfed the new feast of timbers as they settled. A pall of white smoke rose to the sky and they shielded their eyes and ample bodies from the intense heat.
“I always thought he had a huge pile of money buried around the house somewhere but we have searched every nook and cranny and there was just no sign. I even had all the chimneys cleaned at considerable expense, but nothing. I reckon he frittered it away on all that junk he had in the shed. Just useless junk from second hand sales. You know Dad used to go to the sales every Friday after he retired. Always bringing home junk which just sat in the shed.”
Outside, the rain continued to pound down on the asphalt pavements. The best marriages are tangled and contradictory affairs, their psychological terrain unknowable to all but the immediate participants.
Davinia’s husband, Eugene, sits stroking his fluffy white bichon and listening to Jim Morrison wail softly on his stereo. On his desk sits a mock-up he’s made of a Harper’s Bazaar cover, with his wife’s face superimposed on Britney Spears’s body. Well, that’s what she would be like if his imagination could be allowed to come true.
She imagines herself as one of the girls—let’s call her Dana—She’s as close as you can get to being a Barbie doll while still breathing. According to the clique cartography, she’s probably a popular sophomore. Boys come and go, putting their arms around her bust to say hello, and a chasm between her snug top (she wishes!) and her denim skirt (how did that get in her wardrobe) beckons back. Would it be hard not to be popular?
Davinia’s husband, Eugene, sits fondling the morning’s paper, his eyes flicking nervously across the pages. He’s looking for evidence of bored husbands doing mischief. It doesn’t matter to Eugene who the mischief is with, or what the mischief is – it’s the thrill of seeing others do what he can only imagine.
Davinia is tired after her day. Eugene hasn’t been paying her enough attention. She schemes behind her fashionable Hermes glasses of how to pique his interest.
Davinia has had quite a day. Early morning she is transported back to England at the dawning of Second World War. She is thrown together with a brylceamed, mustached young English fly-boy who sweeps her off her feet. Just after their relationship is consummated after a picnic in an uncharacteristically sunny English countryside, he is inconveniently called back to his squadron and, before lunch, she has news that he has been shot down-believed dead, over France. Lunch had been a torturous affair as Eugene ridiculed her pitiful attempts to replicate the perfect Provence omelet. After lunch she had parachuted into war torn France and experienced the most exotic and explicit adventures. By six, she was exhausted.
They were arguing. Their respective fantasies had not managed to keep the distance between them from seething with the contempt and malice they felt for each other. Davinia was reading – Women, on average, excel on tests that measure recall of words and on tests that challenge the person to find words that begin with a specific letter or fulfill some other constraint. They also tend to be better than men at rapidly identifying matching items and performing certain precision manual tasks, such as placing pegs in designated holes on a board.
She correctly thought that a man probably wrote the article. Anger welled up inside of her. Eugene made the mistake of looking up from his newspaper and read bits of an article to her about some new age guru who blamed women for the ills of the world-unemployment (more women taking up the precious few jobs rather than staying at home and having babies), rising prices (they instead on cooking foreign muck that had to be imported-Eugene was still exacting revenge for the failed omelet), and violence (women were as violent as men and when a man hit a women she had taunted him for far too long). Davinia exploded,
“Yeah well,” yelled Davinia, “imagine talking to a fish, and you asked it to describe its environment. One thing it probably would not volunteer is that things are awfully wet down here. Men are so fucking insensitive. If you ask one to describe and understand violence you would be struggling to get one to admit that it’s mostly done by males. The truth of it is that if we could stop men beating women and other men, we would pretty much get rid of violence altogether. The maleness of violence is so fucking obvious that it is rarely even noticed; it is the ocean in which we swim.”
Eugene reeled back. Rarely had her heard Davinia to be so articulate. His brain screeched to try and come to match her repartee.
“Err…, well…., what about….., just because…..” He mumbled to a halt. Thinking on his feet had never been a strong part of Eugene’s character. He paused and then it came to him in a flash; a picture perfect reproduction from the Harpers Bazaar article that had run against Britney Spears headless body. “Look darling, “ (he curled the word so that it could be interpreted as either an insult or an endearment), “from observations of both humans and nonhumans it has been proven,” (he liked that-it sounded very authoritative), “that males are more aggressive than females, that young males engage in more rough-and-tumble play than females and that females are more nurturing. We also know that in general males are better at a variety of spatial or navigational tasks.”
Davinia crossed her arms and humphed. “ Right, like the time you found your way to Mike’s place. Oh yeah! And that time that you found a whole new way to get to the West Coast. It only took three more days than the standard two hour drive.”
Eugene paused to recollect what Davinia had managed to drag out of the distant past. “You have to admit it was rather scenic though,” he floundered.
This just infuriated Davinia and she moved onto a topic that always grated between them.
“And don’t get me started on men who rape,” she started.
Davinia’s husband Eugene, who had been down this path many times looked hopefully around for the bichon. A walk in the fresh air, sans Davinia, looked awfully inviting.
These long weekends are a bitch
Davinia lowered her eyes and, in a low but steady voice said to Eugene.
“It says here that she told her lover to wait in the car while she went to get a present for him from her car. They had a brief but intense sexual relationship, which had lasted about three months. She returned to the car with a bucket, yellow ribbon around the rim, overflowing with petrol. She threw the bucket over him and then a lighted match. Just think Eugene, a woman fighting back.”