Thursday, 9 August 2012

Nostalgia (Part 13)

There's no real reason for calling the foregoing 'Nostalgia' (Parts 1-12) except that (a) I happen to like songs/poems of temporary or permanent loss - it appeals to the morbid and, dare I say, the sentimental which lies deep within me and (b) I happened to be listening to the Emily Barker song of the same name incessantly during the time I was writing the story. The song has a haunting and melancholic quality which is only enhanced by the cello and accordion accompaniment to Emily's basic acoustic guitar. 

After all, we have all been 'twelve thousand miles away from your smile', haven't we? Even if it is only a couple of hundreds.

 Nostalgia by Emily Barker (and the Red Clay Halo)

Tram wires cross* Melbourne skies
Cut my red heart in two.
My knuckles bleed down Johnston Street
on a door that shouldn’t be in front of me.

Twelve thousand miles away from your smile
I'm twelve thousand miles away from me.
Standing on the corner of Brunswick
Got the rain coming down and mascara on my cheek.

Oh, whisper me words in the shape of a bay,
Shelter my love from the wind and the waves

Crow fly, be my alibi
And return this fable on your wing.
Take it far away to where gypsies play
Beneath metal stars by the bridge.

Oh, write me a beacon so i know the way,
Guide my love through the night and through the day.

Only the sunset knows my blind desire for the fleeting.
Only the moon understands the beauty of love
When held by a hand; like the aura of nostalgia.

Oh well, it probably beats being inspired by Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath, although my  prose would be in no way be any less awful..

* I cannot decide whether this should be 'cross or cross; both have the one syllable that Emily sings and both work. Personally, I prefer 'cross but then I'm weird; seriously weird!

Nostalgia (Part 12)

We both sipped our brandy in silence. In the increasing coolness of the night air, language no longer seemed appropriate, almost intrusive.  I gazed around at the plethora of flowers; annuals, orange and yellow marigolds, punctuated by small clumps of red ‘hot pokers’; perennials, the tall delphinium spikes, cobalt blue in the gloom, the deep crimson lupins, now fully opened, and the titanium white of the oriental lilies. I watched her from the corner of my eye. She seemed more at ease, sanguine, I might almost say serene but how much of that was to be held to tiredness’ account, I could not say. I stood up and straddling her legs, offered my hands to help her to stand up. She grasped my forearms, and I hers, and I lifted her upright. As she sought to find her feet, she pitched into me and I once again felt the warmth of her breasts and her breath against my cheek, yet for a moment, I thought that we were both set to tumble. However, she regained her footing and bent to retrieve her cane.

Confident that she was balanced, I picked up the brandy bottle and the glasses with one hand and with one arm, carried the table with my other into the kitchen, leaving her to follow. While she was locking the garden door, I rinsed the two glasses and left them on the draining board.

She shuffled into the kitchen.

“Right!” I said. “Put the brandy away in a cupboard for a rainy day. Ah, a white board!” I took the pen from its holder, removed the cap and began to write. ‘Dom, Mob 07890 234 518’; if you have a need to call, call! Do you have a phone in your bedroom?” She nodded. “Good! Twenty minutes after I leave here, call that number and let me know that you have safely navigated the staircase, with or without the stairlift, and that you are tucked up in bed. OK? I would wager that you have had more alcohol tonight than you are used to.”

“I was rather hoping that you would deign to tuck me in yourself,” she said with a smirk. “Dominic, I am truly grateful for today as unwished for and unexpected as it has been; I do hope that we can perhaps do something together another time. Perhaps I shall find you hanging around the recycle bins once again but this time without my wheelchair. I would bet that those bins could weave some pretty stories; tales of intense love, redemption and two Danish pastries.”

“Gary Oldman,” I replied. “However, I do not relish sucking the blood of virgins!”

I scooped up the table and I walked to the lounge and left it where I had found it. As I entered the hallway once more, she was already undoing the latch to the door.

“Good night, Dominic,” she said. “Please remember to close the gate after you; otherwise the foxes will get into the garden and will poop all over my roses!”

“Good night,” I replied. I kissed her on the forehead. “Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!”

I sauntered down the ramp and out through the gate. As I turned to close it shut behind me, I could see her face outlined in the half open door. I waved and made my way down the road to the bus stop.

A singular day, diary; a most singular summer day; such a day as the very stuff of dreams is made of, diary.  Who would have thought it, outside the supermarket? As I approached the bus stop, I could see that the time to the next bus on the indicator board was seventeen minutes. I decided that it was too long a wait. I was stiff from all of that sitting down on the grass; the walk would do me good. I would still be home inside of twenty minutes.

As I marched on down the road, the temperature was still a comfortable one for shirt sleeves. I could just make out the lights of the supermarket in the distance; that great, glazed Nissan hut on stilts. Why did this happen today, diary? Why not last week, last month or last year? For all of the teasing, the bravado; the devil-may-care and he can take the hindmost attitude; the naked vulnerability; the strange touching of our fingertips, oddly alluring; that smile, that laughter; why today?

And yet for all that I found attractive in this strange woman, a victim of circumstance, happenstance gone awry, still the inner voice would not be silenced; it spoke to me even now in words that still ring in my ears . The voice with the plum lodged firmly in its cheek; the voice at home with either Greek or Latin; the voice of a thousand dinner parties; the voice of affluent privilege; a voice full to the brim with arcane knowledge and cutting-edge research. A voice which seemed to intone the very mantra of my own despair; how long?

It was difficult to be precise, the voice had said in its monotonic fashion; with treatment, perhaps a year, maybe more, without treatment, perhaps a day, a week, perhaps as long as three months. Life expectancy is not a precise science, however much data is accumulated and new research always offers the hope of new treatments. The important thing is to hope. 

This is all very well but it is of little comfort to the individual whose sole priority is not where you can buy some Château Pétrus at under £1,500 per bottle.

Our concerns are only for the more mundane, the more quotidian; the prosaic.

I should have left when I first intended, diary. I seem to have given hope or, perhaps, merely comfort where I have none for myself and where little or none existed for me before. Have I seriously erred, diary? I should perhaps be in Geneva when, if, she calls after today. Important experiments, I must not lose my ‘slot’ on the LHC; Brian will be very disappointed. Perhaps I should have just shouted: ‘Get thee to a nunnery!’ I could feel no worse than the Prince of Denmark and, perhaps, that is all that I deserve. Damn your eyes, damn that smile; for I am smitten, although it is of little use to either of us.

Next week, the voice will speak once again. Perhaps I should just tell the voice to stick it up his arse; in spades, doubled and redoubled!

Nostalgia (Part 11)

I have never heard it said of the blind that time moves more slowly if you have no sight; perhaps it only affects the sighted when they close their eyes. Whatever the actual passage of time, it seemed as if eternity was going to pass before I finally discovered what this game was actually about. Finally, I started to feel the most gentle pressure across the heels of my palms; those muscles that work our opposable thumbs. The sensation was one that I had not experienced before. This was not a thumb or a finger but felt much like she was using her own palm-heels to slowly massage my own.

It is always difficult to know whether you should reciprocate in such circumstances as these; it is doubly difficult when you are deprived of any visual clues. I decided that it could do no harm to at least indicate that this was not unpleasant and so I gently started to rotate my hands in the opposite direction to her own motions; or at least what I perceived her circular motions to be.

“Keep your eyes closed,” she whispered.

I desperately wanted to track the passage of time, Mississippi-one, Mississippi-two, Mississippi-three, and yet I found that I was completely unable to do so; the only thing in my mind was the counter-rotating heels of our hands. I do not know how long this lasted, perhaps a single minute, perhaps five, perhaps an hour but after an indeterminate length of time, the pressure dissipated to be replaced by a gentle rotational pressure on the tips of my little fingers. I am not sure how I knew that the pressure was caused by her very own little fingers but I was certain of it. I believed I had descried the nature of this little game. I was even more certain when, a while later, the pressure relaxed on the tips of my little fingers and was replaced by a similar pressure on my ring fingertips.

“Keep your eyes closed,” she whispered again.

This was a most pleasurable experience but in many ways it was neither erotic nor arousing, as she moved from first one fingertip to another and then back the way that she had come. At each relaxation of pressure on one fingertip and, before applying pressure on the adjacent fingertip, she would whisper the same refrain: “Keep your eyes closed.”

Although I did not know exactly how long this continued, still I was aware of the slowly dimming light seen through the thin flesh of my eyelids; dusk had certainly come and gone by the time that she finally stopped. I had, however, become so used to my eyes being shut that I did not immediately open them when the pressure finally ceased on my fingertips.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “You don’t know how long it has been since I did that nor the comfort I am able to garner from it. You may open your eyes now.”

I opened my eyes to find her face no more than an inch from my own. Placing her hands around my cheeks, she kissed me on the tip of my nose.

“It is merely a guerdon, Dominic, in thanks for your patience and your kindness. Some brandy?”

As she reached for the two glasses which were still half full, I shuffled backwards on my rear end so that I could comfortably rise from my position between her legs, or at least to do so without kicking her in the head with my feet. I knelt beside the table as she handed me a glass. Raising our glasses in the typical English toast, ‘Bottom’s up’, we drained the glasses of brandy. I looked at my watch.

“One for the ditch?” I enquired. She nodded enthusiastically. I got up and retrieved the bottle from where I had left it by the chairs. Pouring another two glasses, we each took a small sip.

“Isn’t the phrase supposed to be ‘one for the road’?” She asked.

“It is but by the time that you have had your fifth ‘one for the road’, it becomes ‘one for the ditch’ because that’s invariably where you end up spending the night!” She laughed. Placing my brandy on the small table, I hurried to the chairs and swiftly folded them down and replaced them in her small garden shed. I picked up the pizza box and placed it onto the table in the kitchen/diner before resuming my place with the brandy.

“I’ll take this table back to the lounge when I leave,” I said. “There is no point in making two trips when one will do for both.”

Nostalgia (Part 10)

She took a small sip from the glass and I was surprised to note that she did not cough or splutter as she swallowed.

“It is good brandy,” she said. “It goes down really easy; very smooth. Despite your purported chauvinism, I really must settle with you before you leave; you have been too generous with both your money and with your time. Why are you sitting on the grass?”

“No real reason,” I said. “Except for the fact that it puts the bottle within easy reach; it saves me the trouble of getting up out of the chair when I pour myself another.” She drained her glass in one further gulp.

“Then, pour me another as well!” She said. “And then we will play my little game, as you promised!”

She held out the glass and I was once again struck by how small and frail her hands appeared as they clutched the glass between the first two fingers and thumbs of each hand. I uncorked the bottle once more and poured another measure into each of the glasses. She took a sip and she placed her now almost-full glass on the small table, took up the cane from its spot on the grass and rose once more from the chair.  It was difficult to know whether the slight wavering in her gait was due to her condition or to the effects of the alcohol; the last thing that I wanted was for her to become legless, either metaphorically or literally.

She made her way through the garden to a brick-lined, raised bed of dwarf chrysanthemums and marigolds. As she sat down on the grass and lay her cane down by her side, I could not help but notice how the yellow and gold flowers made a halo around her jet black hair, so densely had the flowers been planted. Was she aware of the effect? In some strange way, it was as if I was looking at Botticelli’s ‘La Primavera’, or rather a small detail from it, but translated into a small, suburban back garden. She had leaned into the brick retaining wall with her back, as if it would do service for the back of a chair, and extended her legs in front of her. She placed her hands into her lap; one on top of the other.

“Come, Dominic,” she said. “Gather up the table and our glasses and bring them here. Since we cannot play the game with me seated on a chair and you seated on the ground, I will sit on the grass; I can lean into this small wall to support me, it is sturdily built. ‘English bond’, my gardener calls it; I understand it is quite rare as bricks go!”

“Flemish bond is the norm; English uses far too many bricks!” I replied. The years spent having a bricklayer for a ‘sort-of’ brother-in-law were finally paying off.

I picked up the table and deposited it to the side of where she sat; on the opposite side to her cane. I positioned it far enough away so that she was in little danger of spilling her drink but close enough so that she could easily reach out and grasp the glass without effort. I sat down crossed-legged alongside the table, keeping its oaken frame between us. Taking my glass in my left hand, I offered her own with my right. In a different life, perhaps, we may have been passing the baton in a school relay race; however if that were so, we fumbled it. As she took the glass from my hand, it tilted and a small splash of brandy made its way down onto the table-top.  I reached into my pocket and took out the paper towel which I had earlier used for the pizza and used it to mop up the spilt alcohol. After I had cleaned up the liquid, I made a move as though I was getting ready to put it into my mouth.

“Waste not, want not,” I joked. She laughed and took a sip of the brandy.

“Now comes the difficult part,” she said. “We cannot do this if we are separated by the table. Come, I will open my legs a little and you may position yourself between them.” The blatant double-entendre seemed to amuse her but I was at last becoming accustomed to her somewhat risqué banter; she seemed to relish every opportunity to tease. She opened her legs wide enough so that there was sufficient ground for me to sit between her calves; I positioned my legs, knees bent, over her own legs so that I was in no way pressing down on any part of her body.

“Comfortable?” She asked. I nodded. “Now, stretch out your arms towards me with your palms facing me. Now stretch out your fingers. Now, make as though you are trying to push me away. Good! Now close your eyes.”

I must confess that at this stage of the proceedings, diary, I was beginning to become a little apprehensive. I do not like the notion of being blind in a strange woman’s garden with my arms in the exact position to make handcuffing me somewhat less difficult than ‘a piece of cake’; one always has to be alert to the possibility that one was being lured into being forcibly buggered by some hairy docker in a Batman costume. Nonetheless, I did as was instructed and waited for the metaphorical axe to fall.

Nostalgia (Part 9)

“I trust you, Dominic; I don’t know why. I have no reason, except for your kindness today but I do trust you. This is just so hard for me to do. I have kept it close, too close, inside me for so long now that I am so frightened, terrified, of letting it loose. I am forty-three years old, Dominic, and I am so frightened of dying! I was twenty four when they diagnosed MS. They said that I would lead a normal life for many years. They said that that there was no cure. Other people said that I need not worry about it until I started to need a wheelchair; and carers. I do not need carers, fuck the carers, screw carers but you have seen me, Dominic; I need that wheelchair. The only reason I can go to work most days is because the company that I work for send a car to my house every morning and he brings me home every night at six. I haven’t been out in three months; not even with my colleagues at work. They are not willing to take responsibility for me anymore and the driver only works until six, Dominic. They give me six months to five years after I am consigned to a wheelchair; I already have four months in that sodding thing outside of the house! I do not want to die, Dominic; I am too young to die!”

I could think of nothing else to do; I put my arms around her and hugged her as tightly as I thought she could bear. Never have I been so lost, so bereft of ideas, so devoid of words to say.

“And that is not the worst of it. I cared for my children-to-be enough to not want them to suffer what a stranger now goes through; your fault, Dominic, I was alright as I was! I have no children, my parents are in fuckin’ New Zealand these five years past; about the only person who seems to care about me is my neighbour and she only gets my meat from the butcher in Clapham because, like me, she hates supermarket meat!

And ‘you’, the you that is not you, Dominic. Where is he? Fuck knows. Fuck cares! I really thought that he understood; perhaps for a time he did. But then, if I went through a bad patch, he became less and less attentive with each bad patch that I went through. Oh, he’d do the washing and the ironing and the cleaning and the cooking but when I only wanted love, Dominic, where was he? I couldn’t take the sex, it was just so debilitating. But love? Love is not just sex, is it? You can love without sex, surely, at least for some of the time? Is love too much to ask from the people, that person, that profess, or professes, love? Is love like an old dish cloth; when this one is worn out, you just buy a new one!

The only thing that frightens me more than dying is that I will die alone. Please promise me, Dominic, that you will leave me your telephone number, so that I, or somebody, can call. I, or somebody, will only dial you as a last resort; if no-one else can come. Please don’t let me die alone!”

I tried to hug her as if she could never be alone; I doubt that I succeeded, but I was shocked to hear her eventually say: “Get me a half bottle of brandy; I think I’m going to need some of it!”

What could I do, diary, I took her keys from the lock and went to the corner shop and bought some brandy. On a whim, seemingly senseless, I bought some cigarettes, a small lighter and some chocolate as well.

I could not find any brandy balloons in the cupboard from which I had earlier retrieved the beer glass and so I settled for two shot glasses, although it seemed a crime to drink brandy out of glasses emblazoned with the Luxardo logo. Carrying the two glasses in one hand and the bottle of brandy in the other, I made my way into the garden.

“They only had disgusting cheap stuff in halves so I got us a bottle of Remy instead,” I said. “I couldn’t find any brandy glasses in your cupboards either so I hope shot glasses will do.”

She had already removed the pizza box from the table and placed it under her recliner and I sat the glasses on the table and tried to find the little tab to remove the foil from the stopper on the bottle.  I found it surprisingly easily with my nail and uncoiling it between my thumb and forefinger, removed the cork and poured two generous measures of brandy. Perching the bottle on the small table, I moved my recliner away with a leg and sat down on the grass. I handed her one of glasses. Picking up the remaining glass, I lifted it up to meet hers.

“Sláinte!” I said.

“Gaelic too?”

“I am afraid that I know a drinking toast in just about every European language except Hungarian; it comes from a very mis-spent youth,” I replied.

Nostalgia (Part 8)

“Dinner?” she asked, still drowsy and not yet fully awake I thought. I laid the pizza box onto the little table and knelt to retrieve the beer glass by the side of her chair.

“Wake up, sleepy head,” I cried. “Cheer up, sleepy Jean; oh, what can it mean? To a daydream believer and a homecoming queen! You once thought of me as a white knight on his steed, oh bugger I’ve forgotten the rest. Just imagine. Look! Here’s a beer; you can’t have pizza without a beer.” I handed the half full glass to her.”

“Thank you,” she said. “The Monkees? I used to so love that show when I was very small. What was it? Take the last train to Clarksville and I’ll meet you at the station.” She paused. She was still off key and still slightly cracked.

 “Oh fuck! I’ve forgotten too. I always used to wish that Michael would meet me at the station; he so looked like my dad.”

I sat down on my chair and flipped open the pizza box. Pulling the ring pull from the can, I took a swig, a large swig. Something told me that this was ever so slightly starting to get out of hand.

“Tuck in,” I said. “I have got some paper towel here. It is so not de rigeur to wipe your hands down the front of your jeans in front of guests after pizza. I’m sorry, I nosed around your kitchen looking for some things; glasses, paper towels, the fridge, vibrators. I’m sorry; with a big, capital ‘S’. That last one just slipped out!”

She smiled. There are smiles which can melt butter; there are smiles that can melt your heart; there are smiles which can melt the hardest heart; her smile could smelt aluminium!

“Oh, you won’t find them in the kitchen, my dear Dominic,” she replied. “I keep two, and a dildo, in the bedroom; an egg and some anal beads in the den and a waterproof, vibrating dildo in the bathroom.  Perhaps I really should get one for the kitchen.  Oh, your face! Such a picture! Let me get my phone. I should have you around all of the time. You surely cannot be shocked!” She smiled and then laughed. Such laughter as might shatter glass.

“You haven’t answered my question,” I said.

“What question?” She asked.

“The one that I asked earlier”

“Earlier?” She was now puzzled. This seemed to have taken a turn for the more serious.

“I asked you if talking to a stranger about whatever problems you might have would help; just after you apologised to me for not making love to me tonight!”

There are times when a realisation comes just as it occurs in the cartoons; a light bulb appears above the character’s head. And then there are times when the metaphor is more like a filament bulb which is running via a ‘dimmer’ switch which is set to low. Gradually the power is increased and the brightness goes from nearly zero to blinding incandescence and, gradually, as the power is increased, more parts of the revelation are revealed! Until...........

“Can we finish the pizza,” she said. “But first will you make a promise to me?”

“I only make promises that I can keep,” I said. “So, to know if I can make a promise, I need to know what it is that I need to promise. Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” she said. “Noun, verb, verb, noun; I understand the difference. All I want you to do is to play a silly children’s game with me, just once. It is, as I have said, silly and childish but no-one will play it with me anymore and I would so like to remember that innocence just once before I........I should not ask you; you have been too kind already. I only ask because you have been so kind.

“OK, I promise to play your game,” I replied. “Just so long as it’s not kiss-chase after first bunking into the park over the railings at night. The last time I did that, I got my boot heel caught in one of the railings and I ended up hanging upside down for half-an-hour; it would have been much less except my ‘friends’ were too busy laughing for that long before they could be bothered to release me.”

“Excuse me if I don’t laugh; that is funny, I know that it is funny, it’s just......” She exhaled. I had no idea of where this depth of breath had come from, or how it had been stored before its release.

Nostalgia (Part 7)

We walked through the kitchen and I was surprised to see that she scarcely used the cane and her footsteps seemed to be a little more sure; I did not feel as though I was slowing my pace as much as I had previously. We passed two closed doorways, when we came to the open doorway that I had steadfastly refused to peer into on my arrival. A simple living room; sofas, a chair, a small bookcase, a TV and a hi-fi with small wall-mounted speakers; part of a surround sound array, if I was any judge.

“Will that do?” She said, pointing to a small oaken table at the side of one of the sofas.

“Parfaitement,” I replied. “C’est une si jolie table!’ I swooped it up in my arms and made to leave the room.

“Wait,” she said. “You earlier understood some Italian, I think; now you are speaking French, if my schoolgirl French is any judge. Are you multi-lingual aside from your abilities as an atom-smasher?”

“Only because of my atom-smashing abilities,” I replied. “Switzerland is a small but intensely strange country. Depending on where you are, they either speak Bastard-French, Bastard-German, Bastard-Italian or Bastard-Romany; there is no Swiss language. Romany, I cannot handle but the other three? I have managed to pick up a phrase or two working in Geneva.”

“So, what have you picked up in German; other than ‘I would very much like to fuck you’?” She asked.

“How about: ‘Die Ohrtrompete meiner Grossmutter wurde vom Blitz getroffen’; very useful down the Bierkeller, that is.”

“I know that I am going to regret this,” she said. “However, what does that mean?”

“My grandmother’s ear trumpet has been struck by lightning,” I replied with as big a grin on my face as I could chance without splitting my face asunder.

We both burst with laughter and it was some minutes before we could get ourselves under a measure of control. However, as we gained control of our twitching muscles and our laughter had started to subside, we found ourselves with our arms wrapped around each other. It took but a moment to disengage but not before I had felt the warmth of her breasts against my chest and her sweet breath against my cheek.

“Not a good idea,” I said. “Making jokes with you in a highly volatile state, vis-a-vis the laughter threshold; I shall endeavour to desist henceforth.”

“And you speak English!”

I carried the table into the garden and placed it between the two chairs. The sun was still warm but it had set beneath the roofline of the streets of terraced houses and so the warmth was only one of the air; there was no radiant heat. Not that I needed any additional heat. The beer was coming! That would surely cool.

She came out into the garden behind me and, laying her cane upon the ground, laid herself on the chair. She closed her eyes. Within a few seconds, her head had tilted to the side and I knew, somehow I knew, that she was asleep.

 I tried to busy myself while she slept, dinner would soon come; a-knock-knock-knocking at the door or a-ring-ring-ringing at the bell. I washed the dirty cups. I found some beer glasses in yet another cupboard and I placed one on the lawn at the side of her chair; I would not drink alone but then, one glass was enough; I only needed the bottle or the can. There was nothing more to do and so I sat down to wait for the pizza; not on my chair but on the grass at the side of hers. I traced the outlines of her face, her nose, her mouth in the warm evening air, as though I had a pencil, or charcoal, and some paper. I tried to imagine her eyes so that I could add them in later; always a good trick for budding artists. Acquire the form; worry about the details later. I traced the outlines of her breasts with my finger in that same still air, her slight paunch, the ample curve of her buttocks and thighs; a sign of middle age I reminded myself. It happens to us all.

The doorbell rang!

I went to the door and opened it. I asked the man mountain that stood before me how much the total was. £16.90 was the giant’s only reply. I searched my pocket and I gave him £20.00. It is a shit job delivering pizza, especially for an immigrant; why shouldn’t he earn an extra £3.00 for five minutes work? It was only marginally less than he earned in an hour. He thanked me in what I think was his own language. Living in London, you get used to residing in the Tower of Babel; the only conversations down at the mini-market all seem to be in Polish nowadays. At least it means that you can get decent ‘kiszona kapusta’, Sauerkraut, from the neighbourhood’s small ‘Polski Sklep’.

There were 4 cans of Budweiser as well so I put two in the fridge; it was one of those fridges that you could not miss. I grabbed two pieces of paper towel to do service as serviettes (and I am well aware of the irony in that phrase) and took the pizza, two cans of beer and the paper towel out to the garden with all the panache, or so I thought, of the Queen’s butler. She was awake; the bell had awakened her from slumber. She rubbed her eyes and peered up at me; much as the myopic, without their spectacles, are wont to do.

Nostalgia (Part 6)

“I used to date a psychoanalyst,” I said to no-one but the empty space between us. “Sometimes it helps to talk to a complete stranger. There’s no emotional investment or involvement; you can be divorced from it, the pain. Shirley Valentine used to talk to the wall; ‘hello wall’, she used to say in her Liverpudlian accent. I am a poor substitute for a wall but if I can help, I am at least willing to try.”

She made no sound and no movement. Shit, what was I doing, diary? The minutes dragged by and still she made no sound, no movement, except for the gentle rise and fall of her breasts with each passing breath. Shit, diary, I had to look. I had to check that she was still breathing; I don’t know how someone with MS dies! The one thing that I do know, diary, is that people are disinclined to breathe when they are dead.

“What time is it?” She asked suddenly without opening her eyes.

I looked at my watch.

“Seven-thirty,” I replied.

She got up from the lounger with the aid of the cane and, turning towards me, asked: “Do you fancy a pizza. I have not had pizza in such a long time; I end up throwing so much away. It all seems such a waste with the many so hungry people in the world. Perhaps we could share? I am sorry; I am being  thoughtless, as usual. Would you be able to stay for a bite to eat?”

“Yes, I can stay if it means that you do not have to throw perfectly good pizza into the rubbish bin.”

“What would you like?” She asked.

“I’m easy. Just get what you would like. I’m not the one who has been depriving themselves of pizza for an age in order to save the planet!”

She disappeared into the kitchen/diner. I stood up and stretched my legs. I could hear her on the telephone from the garden: ‘That’s right, number 34. Pizza to go; large, thin crust, veggie with pineapple. Oh, yes, four will be good. Bud. 40 minutes will be fine.’ This was truly a woman after my own heart, I thought. Hallelujah! At last a shared pizza without pepperoni! Why did guys always think that beer and pepperoni in any way made a good combination?

She shuffled out into the garden again.

“It will be about 40 minutes. I ordered a...” I did not let her finish.

“Yes, I know, I heard. For someone who doesn’t order pizza much, you seem to be on very familiar terms with Bud. Oh, and how much was it?”

I was unaccountably getting excited, diary, well not excited as such, more like ‘my nipples were exploding with anticipation’. No, this wasn’t a date; just someone very nice (very, very, and too, nice and beautiful to boot) being friendly. God, I hadn’t sat down with a woman over any kind of meal since Natalie (accent on the second syllable please - bloody French) and what a feckin’ disaster that had been; never try to get involved with your colleagues at work or French electrical engineers, however cute! It can only ever end in catastrophe.

“£13.50, I think he said but please, my treat. Please? Bud? He’s not someone! He’s something. I got you a couple of beers, I thought you might like them.”

“I’m a chauvinist,” I replied. “I don’t expect women to pay for more than half of a meal. So, half of £13.50 is £6.75; two Buds, let’s call it two quid. With a tip for the biker, that makes my share £9.75.”

I rummaged in my pocket and managed to find a £10 note; I slapped it on the end of my recliner.

“You can give me the change later,” I quipped, somewhat lamely. “Just joking! Thanks for the beers. You can’t have pizza without a beer. It’s like having beef without the Wellington; salmon without the croute; chicken without the chasseur; sex without the foreplay.”

Diary, why? Why do I engage my mouth a full two seconds before I engage my brain? Hers was a genuine slip; mine was just a lurid attempt at a very cheap ‘chat-up line’. I refuse to believe that I am so desperate! She is just too nice to be subject to that!

She smiled, at least it seemed like a smile to me; perhaps it was just an embarrassed grimace.

“At the very least, I am pleased to know that you think that foreplay is an integral part of sex,” she said. “Do you enjoy going down on a woman? I have read that it tastes like stale fish. I’m sure that this would not be very nice. Perhaps men only do it because ‘GQ’ tells them that they ought to. Or, perhaps I should try it for myself. You can watch if you like. Do you prefer it doggy-style or with the woman on top. Or perhaps you favour anal? Like all men, I’d bet that you would like a blow job right now! But perhaps, with all the bad experience of women, you’re now openly gay? Or into small boys? No? Rubber? Leather? A nail through your penis?  No, I know exactly what you would like. It’s the same the world over; football, pizza and a beer.”

“Naila, please,” I replied. If a man can ever be said to have his tail between his legs, I had mine between my legs and in my mouth. “You could have just said that it was an inappropriate remark to make. You didn’t have to go overboard. I’m sorry but nails through, you know, makes me go weak at the knees.”

“Dominic,” she said. “I think that I’m beginning to like you. You are like a little puppy; frightened that you are going to get a tap on the nose for being naughty. I’m sorry but I refuse to wear a badge saying ‘I’m teasing you’ when I am. Come, let’s lay the table.” She paused, motionless for a moment but then waved her hand in front of her face. “Unless you fancy eating out of the box?”

“I don’t know of any other way to eat pizza; pizza and plates don’t make a happy couple and, when you include knives and forks, well, it is just an accident waiting to happen. I’ve been to PizzaExpress! Do you have a small table to put the box on; we could dine al fresco.”

“Yes! Come with me”, she shouted. “I need you to carry it.”

Nostalgia (Part 5)

There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to make one of those decisions; one of the big decisions that your father tries to warn you about. The life changing decision; the momentous decision; the decision of such import that your life will never be the same again, however you choose. Diary, it was as if that time had come and all I could think of was ‘the Clash’ singing ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ I stayed. I comforted myself with the thought that she could fall, so hard was she laughing. So why would I not stay?

It was at least five minutes before she had calmed down enough to drink some more of her Chai.

“I think I would like to sit in the garden for a while,” she said at last. “You see that shed? There are two chairs, recliners, just inside the door. Would you mind being the gallant knight and setting them up for us in the sun? I will pop the mugs in the sink and then I will join you. Of course, I am assuming that you do not have a rabid aversion to the sun.”

I smiled; she was incorrigible!

Just inside the door, diary? Well, yes; just inside the door behind the old floorboards, the paint cans, a cracked fish tank, the lawn mower and at least four bags of peat-free compost. I set the chairs up on the lawn in full sunlight, which, the sun being low, made it comfortably warm not oppressive, just as she appeared at the door to the garden. She was smiling, laughing again.

“I am sorry,” she said. “I fibbed. It was only just a little fib. There is a man that I have to come in to tend to the garden, I cannot manage as well as I used to; I really didn’t know what might be in front of the chairs. I don’t use them that often.”

Like I say, diary, incorrigible!

I waited, like the butler, at the side of a chair while she made her way to the same chair and sat down.

“Would madam like Jeeves to make any adjustments to your chair?” I asked. It was difficult to keep a faux-mocking tone out of my voice.

“No, upright back will be fine,” she replied. “However, you can move yours so that we are facing each other. I would not have you get a crick in your neck by continually turning around to look at me. Besides, I do not want the same.”

“Very well, m’Lady. I do not know what possessed me to arrange them so, side by side; too much time on Greek island beaches laying out deckchairs, I suppose.”

I arranged my chair so that it faced in the opposite direction to hers and I was reminded of the arrangements that my mother used to make when a cousin stayed; top and tail, pillows at both ends of a single bed. She had already closed her eyes and I was suddenly struck by the same idea; top and tail.

As I made myself comfortable, she suddenly opened her eyes.

“I am truly sorry for reminding you; that must be so painful. I cannot imagine what it must be like; to lose such a one, so soon. If you would like to speak about it, we can; otherwise we will just leave it.”

I remained silent.

“Do I have kids?” She said after a lengthy pause. “No, perhaps a long time ago I might have wished for them but when the doctor made the diagnosis of the dreaded M word, I didn’t think it was fair to burden a child with a cripple for a mother.”

“I do wish that you would stop using that word,” I said. “It in no way becomes you.”

“Why? It’s what I am, a cripple. Does not the Bible speak of cripples? Am I not crippled, as in damaged? So you can call a battleship crippled when it can’t move under its own steam but you can’t do the same for a person? A person that you scarcely know! Why is damaged or disabled or challenged or anything else that you care to mention any better a word than crippled? Call a spade a spade, at least in my book. When you’re in my house, you play by my rules.

“I am sorry,” she said. “That’s all I seem to say nowadays. Sorry. Sorry for being unable to walk sometimes; sorry for bumping you with my wheelchair; sorry for being too angry too often; sorry because I can’t come to work today; sorry to Debbie because she has to fill in; sorry because I can’t make love to you tonight.” She caught her breath in the sudden realisation of what she had just said. “I didn’t mean you, as in you. I meant.....”

“I know just what you meant,” I said. “Perhaps, more importantly, do you want to talk about it?”

She closed her eyes once more and turned her head away from me as if reinforcing the distance between us; drawing battle lines?

Nostalgia (Part 4)

“I live about 15 minutes walk from here,” I said. “It is a modest apartment, rented, on the second floor, no lift. I work for the University of London but I only have a contract; I don’t have a proper job and scarcely any prospects of one. Sometimes, I work in London, sometimes in Geneva.”  At the mention of Geneva, her eyes widened, if such a thing were possible.

“Switzerland,” she said. “Quite the little globetrotter, are we?”

“I do most of the theoretical work in London, the practical, the experimental, in Geneva; at CERN. You know, the LHC, the Large Hadron Collider. I am a sort of physicist.”

“You mean like Brian Cox?” She exclaimed. “He can smash my atoms any day; he’s so ridiculously cute! Oh, sorry, please go on; I did not mean to interrupt.”

“No,” I replied. “Not like Brian Cox at all; he’s a Professor with tenure and I am just a lowly contract worker with a PhD. Besides, he’s a lot brighter then I am and he used to play in a pop band; that’s why he’s so cute!”

Diary, I think I should avoid women.  Why do they always want to change the subject and why is everybody so much cuter than I? I continued with my half of this decidedly one-sided conversation in between sips of my Chai.

“Married? Sort of, used to be. No ring, no church, no legally binding contract but when you decide that banking is not what you want to do and smashing atoms is, then it is sometimes hard for other people to accommodate themselves to your plans. Children, no; sort of. She died a few minutes after she was born; massive brain damage, or malformed brain, the doctors said. There was just enough time to hold her in our arms before....”

It was about that time, diary, when I started blubbing. It’s been 9 years, diary; why? Why did she bloody well have to ask?

“Oh, I am so sorry,” she said. “I did not know! Please believe me that I wouldn’t have asked if I had known. I am so, so very sorry.” She appeared to be genuinely close to tears
“Now comes the part when I tell you that I have just made that up; to get you back for teasing me,” I replied.  Her eyes, like the dog in Andersen’s ‘Fyrtøiet’, the Tinder Box, became as big as mill wheels! “Only that wouldn’t be true. They say, ‘when you fall off a horse, you should get straight back on’; we never did. So there you have it; my sad tale. Are you satisfied? My apologies for the deception that never was; it was uncalled for. You got kids?”

She was rubbing her eyes, as if she had just woken up and was trying to rub the encrusted salt from her lids. One hand slid down to the pocket of her jeans while the other moved now to enclose both eyes. Taking the tissue from her pocket, she blew her nose vigorously; the tissue covering not only her nose but her eyes and her mouth. She blew again. Finally, she folded the tissue one more time and threw it into the waste-paper basket behind me. I automatically turned round; it was a ‘basket’.

“I cannot believe that you just did that. Are you always so cruel? I don’t know what is the worst; to lie, to seek to lie or to pretend to lie.” She wiped the back of her hand over her nostrils.

“I am sorry,” I replied. “I should be going; I fear that I have outstayed my welcome once again.”

I rose from my chair and drained the last of the Chai from my mug.

“Thank you for the tea,” I said. “I can let myself out; I know how to use a door.”

As I strode out of the dining area and into the kitchen, I heard her laugh. It faltered for a moment before suddenly erupting into laughter such as I have never heard before. She laughed as though her sides were about to split. She laughed in her belly, she laughed in her lungs, she laughed in her throat; for all I knew perhaps her vagina too was laughing. As I turned around, I could see her shaking, banging her hand on the table, tears were starting to stream down her cheeks; all the while, the sound of this incessant, maniacal laughter was ringing through the house.

“Oh Dominic, my dear Dominic, my saviour, my knight in shining armour,” she managed to blurt out before the laughter took a hold once more. “‘I can let myself out; I know how to use a door.’” She could barely get the words out amidst the mirth that was making her almost uncontrollable. “Do you know how silly that sounds? How positively ridiculous that is! That is on a par with......oh I don’t know but it’s certainly on a par with something! Come back here, silly! You have positively not outstayed your welcome and I am not angry; how could I be angry? I haven’t laughed so much in ages! Do you do this all of the time?” She collapsed into more paroxysms of laughter.

Nostalgia (Part3)

The kettle came to the boil and with her free hand she poured full measures of water into each of the mugs. She rummaged about in a drawer under the sink and produced teaspoons which she dropped into each cup; each spoon made a loud plopping sound as if pebbles in a lake.

“I really should make amends for shouting at you earlier,” she said. “So, as the sun is shining, we will sit in my small dining room. And, if that is not enough reward, I shall make you carry your own mug and please to bring the saucer for the used teabags; I cannot carry two full mugs today, let alone the saucer.”

I collected the saucer from the counter opposite and made to gather both mugs in my right hand but she was too quick, far too quick for me. She gathered her mug in her right hand and started to make her way to the brightly sunlit and glazed dining area. I walked beside her, deliberately slowing my pace to match hers; to catch her if she might fall, I thought.

“Oh God,” she cried. “You are too much, way, way too much. I know exactly how fast I am walking and nobody, except a cripple manqué, walks as slowly as that. Bloody well sit down, at your own pace, won’t you!” She smiled; to take the barbs from her words? Perhaps.

I pulled a chair from under the table and sat down. As she approached the table, she placed her mug of steaming Chai onto the place mat and moved towards the door which lay at the far end of the long room. With the same small, frail steps she came up to the door, unlocked it and threw it wide open.

“Let the sunshine in, let the sunshine in, the sunshiiiine,” she warbled in a slightly off key, almost cracked voice. “I do so like the sun; life never seems so bad when the sun shines!” She sat down; diagonally across the table from the chair at which I was seated.

“So, do you always go to the aid of damsels in distress; even when they are not in distress?” she asked. “It does not seem to me to be a particularly good place to pick up women for a quick lay, outside of the supermarket; the recycling bins do have a somewhat unromantic feel, don’t you think? I do hope that you were not waiting long.” Before I could speak, she went on. “No, I think I would much prefer to be flattered, chatted up, alongside the bottles of balsamic vinegar or perhaps the mozzarella di buffalo and sun-dried tomatoes; it shows more style, I think. The recycling bins are so very last year! I have always liked Italian men; chauvinistic perhaps but they do have a certain joi de vivre; a certain je ne sais quoi! Eh, Bella! Da dove sei vunuto? Paradiso tropicale? ”

I could only blush and stammer some half-formed phrase which might have been ‘No, of course not’ but, in my confusion, I could not be so sure.

“Oh, Dominic,” she said. “I am teasing you; I get so little opportunity to tease! Do you honestly think that I would have invited you across the threshold of my little house if I remotely believed you capable of what I have just accused you of; in my condition? I could scarcely fight off a kitten right now. Drink your Chai and tell me; where do you live? Where do you work? What do you do when you are not rescuing helpless maidens in seeming distress? Are you married? You look married to me but I don’t see a ring. Divorced? Perhaps you take the ring off when you go shopping to snare the unwary. Children? I bet you have lots. I like a good story; do you tell good stories?”

Diary, if I was confused before, then I was now doubly confused. While it was good to know that she had just been teasing me and my reputation, such as it is, was perhaps intact, I was not very happy about being teased at all. I sipped my Chai, while, for all the world, wishing that a hole would open up below me and swallow me whole; or at least wishing that I had not embarked on this tom-fool venture in the first place. I should have said ‘no’ to the tea; I should have let her wheel her merry way home and bugger whether she dropped the shopping.

“Well, I am waiting,” she said. “Cat got your tongue?” I relented. She sure as hell knew what to do with those ‘cow eyes’ of hers; why so big, so round, so bright, so brown?

Nostalgia (Part2)

“Straight on down the hall,” she said. “To the kitchen! I need to put my shopping away and I will find a kettle nowhere else! How else shall I make tea?”

I was struck by the width of the doorways and the stair lift which edged its funicular way up to the upper floor; a bastard travesty on a solid, wooden stair-case which should be pristine, unadorned by such technology. As we passed into the kitchen, I made a move to remove the bags from her lap.

“No, I do not need you to help,” she said quietly. “I have been doing this for myself for a long time now. I will not be long; sit on the bar stool over there. They get so little use nowadays. I only wish now that I could remember why I bought them; probably for the same reason that I bought the espresso machine, although I seldom drink coffee.” She laughed.

I hauled myself up onto the bar-stool and sat down as I watched her; curious to know what she would do next. Placing the bags on the floor, she propelled the chair across the tiled floor in my direction and, passing beyond me, came to a halt in the glazed area of her long, narrow kitchen-diner. Applying the brakes, she placed one hand on the armrest of the chair and one hand on the table in front of her. She paused briefly, as if in preparation, and then I saw her meagre biceps contract as she rose from the seat. She rose to an upright position but suddenly her right leg buckled underneath her as though it were made of paper and she started to fall. I leapt from my stool and made in her direction as fast as I could.

“I told you to sit!” She shouted. “I meant it! If you don’t want to share my tea then you can go! Now! You are in my house; you will play by my rules!”

Helplessly, I, once more, mounted the stool. She had managed to somehow lock her left leg in place and, using her hands, had regained her position, without falling completely. Reaching over, she grabbed a cane from the back of the closest dining-chair and, using it to steady herself, she turned to face me.

“I did not mean to shout,” she said. “I am sorry, I did not intend to talk to you as though you were a ‘bad dog’; my usual appaling manners, to be sure, and my ill-temper but my house, my rules.”

I could do little more than shrug my shoulders and nod my acquiescence. She made her way to where she had earlier deposited the shopping bags. As she passed my place on the stool, I could not but help notice how fragile and frail she looked, how small her steps were; an old woman’s shuffle. Perched high on my stool, I could not stop thinking that I had been consigned there in shame, like some recalcitrant pupil in a classroom; all that I needed was the dunce’s cap on my head. She seemed to glide across the tiles, almost as if she were skating on ice. Picking up the bags, one at a time, with her free hand, she laid them gingerly on the counter. She unpacked the jars and packets and bottles onto the counter, crumpling the polythene bags as each was emptied and placing them in the largest ‘cookie jar’ that I had ever seen.

She opened three of the wall-cupboard doors and I noticed that only the bottom shelf of each cupboard had produce on them. She carefully and neatly stacked the contents of her shopping onto the lowermost shelves, one handed, while she steadied herself with the cane; tins of tomatoes, beans, sweetcorn, ghee, tuna, salmon; packets of lentils, rice, pasta, herbs and spices; bottles of oil, vinegar. I was mildly surprised at the bottle of Marsala, diary; I truly thought that I was the only one in the world who drank it, or cooked with it!

She closed the doors and made her way to the sink opposite with those same tiny steps. Hanging her cane on the counter, she pulled a long metal tube from alongside the tap and, wedging it into the spout of the kettle, pulled the lever for the cold water. The water gurgled into the empty kettle. The transparent water indicator inched its way to the half-way mark and she turned off the tap and turned on the kettle.

“Tea is finally on its way,” she said, reclaiming the cane in her left hand and turned to face me once more. “What would you like? I have Chai, Darjeeling, Green, with lemon or with mint, Assam, Earl Grey or I have some fruit and herb teas as well, if you would prefer?” She smiled. Damn that smile, diary!

“Chai will be lovely,” I replied. “Drink a lot of tea, do you?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “I do not like coffee very much and alcohol is a little too dangerous, given my condition. I am too prone to falling over as it is without needlessly increasing the risk. Fruit juice and water I drink sometimes but most of the time I drink tea; I usually need the caffeine.”

She crossed once more the short distance to the other side of the kitchen and, opening yet another cupboard, pulled down two mugs and a saucer from the shelf. She placed them on the counter and put one teabag in each mug from one of a row of glass jars at the back of the wide counter. Crooking the fingers of one hand between the handles of both mugs, she carried the mugs to where the kettle stood. Once more, she turned her head to face me.

“Milk or sugar?” She asked.

“No thank you,” I said. “I don’t like milk and sugar is bad for you; or so my doctor tells me.”

“Mine too; and milk in Chai is just too disgusting!”

Nostalgia (Part 1)


Dear Diary

I met a wonderful woman today; attractive, amusing and with a smile that could melt butter. I helped her home with her grocery shopping.

I do not know exactly why I did so, perhaps because she was in a wheelchair and seemed to be struggling with the bags on her lap; they seemed to be so precariously balanced as she drove the wheels. The sweeping movements of her arms made a hypnotic rhythm all of their very own. It was as if she could propel herself to an alternate future, a different destiny, one in which she was not disabled or confined to a wheelchair.

It is always hard, I think, my dear diary, to proffer assistance in such circumstance; the wheelchair-user does not, in the main, consciously curry pity. Theirs is a life which brooks no meek sentimentality from us, the able- bodied, those able to walk. The wheelchair-user does not even, on occasion, favour the term ‘disabled’; in what way are they any more disabled than the chronically obese? They, or so they would argue, certainly get around better on two wheels than the obese do on the two legs that a generous God gave to them; they are not, at least, perpetually out of breath and constipated. They do not need or require our social compassion; that inadequate semblance of a desire to help, as if help were needed.

And yet, something tugged at my heart. Perhaps it was her beauty, her indecipherable radiance which moved me, although I did not know whence such a glowing aura might spring. Perhaps it was the flawless olive skin of her face and her bare arms. Perhaps it was her will, the ineffable desire to struggle alone. Perhaps it was the inevitable loss of the bags from her lap. I do not know, diary, but I came upon her and I offered my assistance, scant though it was or could ever be.

“I will be happy to push you,” I said. “If you would be good enough to tell me where you are going, I will gladly help. If I push, you can then hold the bags fast against your chest and this will prevent their falling as they surely must on your journey home.”

“I have no need of your help,” she replied politely but then paused as if another thought, contrary to the first, had passed through her mind. “However, perhaps I do need some help; these bags are awkward to position. I have bought far more shopping than I intended. I live but a short walk from here; I will direct you. I thank you for your kindness; the kindness of strangers.”

We, I, walked in the summer sunshine; we swopped names and I asked questions. Why was she in a wheelchair? Did she have a job; how did she cope? At each response, she looked back, turning her head, searching for my eyes; she reminded me of a Leonardo or a Raphael drawing I had once seen or perhaps a painting. The way her hair gently fell in cascades of ebony or, perhaps, it was her eyes, sharply shifted to the very corners of their sockets as she peered up at me; so difficult for all but the most accomplished of draughtsmen to achieve. As other images, Leonardo or Raphael, Michelangelo, Dürer, portraits of noblewomen, flashed through my mind, images which perversely flattered not to deceive but to reflect the true beauty of the sitter, I was held captive by her smile, her laughter, the radiance of her eyes as she told her sorry tale of MS, multiple sclerosis, and how some days were better than others; a tale of days when she did not have to use the wheelchair, especially so today. The motorised chair was being repaired.

After about 15 minutes of slow-paced walking, in a small cul-de-sac, she indicated a house; a house in which she lived; a house with a small garden in front filled with dwarf roses, camellias and a large rhododendron bush; a late Victorian-era house, a house like any other. I trod the ramp up to the door and paused.

“You have been so very kind,” she said, as she fumbled in her handbag for her house keys. “Won’t you come in for some tea?”

I was caught on the horns of that eternal dilemma, my dear diary; does someone genuinely seek your company or are they just being polite? Are they asking, in the hope that you will decline? Are they expecting that you have some more pressing business elsewhere so that they do not need to regurgitate, recycle, the inane niceties of our urban existence? I accepted her offer; tea would be extremely pleasurable after my minor exertions. And she was beautiful; tea would be an exquisite pleasure, bathed in that gaze. You could, if you were human, become truly lost in those eyes and in that smile.

I walked, drove, her across the threshold as she unlocked the porch door; the propylaeum of her demesne.