Saturday, August 15

Any Persons Living or Dead

WE HUMANS ARE fragile creatures, I thought, in front of my fellow passenger, whose backpack was stuffed with religious texts and self-help books, who grimaced out of the window and shuffled restlessly in his seat. He was going somewhere I wished to know. Indeed, we humans are fragile creatures. If the rapid penetration of a small metal ball into our gut can floor, or even kill us, is it no wonder that heartbreak is more painful still, even more debilitating? Our organs do not enjoy being disturbed, being ripped through, as they hang there like a butcher’s window, but blackly, in the dark. After all, heartbreak is so much more complex than a small metal ball! I would take the metal ball any day. Heartbreak is immense in its complexities, infinite in ingredients; a bullet has only one-hundred-and-eighteen elements from which to be cast. Run your bullet through me! I will cuddle it affectionately as I bleed to death, glad to be spared the horrors of heartbreak. O, what a mess!
On Thursday I arranged to visit my surviving grandmother and treat her to a takeaway—‘Let’s do it Saturday,’ she said. Gratefully I accepted, as I was terribly hungover and wanted to spend the night alone. So I visited. She was most unkempt, not done up as she usually was, her arms exposed for the heat that she dislikes so much; skin wrinkled, loose. I had a glass of wine and she a cup of tea. As her friends & siblings slowly die off, she contemplates death and reminisces to her grandson. I sipped and listened, not caring much for the vanity she exposed to me; it appeared that all she held on to was how desirable she had been in her youth. Story after story she told me of some gentleman trying to court her or to steal her away, to elope with her, to dance or to woo her. Proudly she told me all of this, sitting in her chair with the breeze from the back door carousing in the messy perm she had not bothered to brush. I did not bother to feign interest; I simply said—‘Ah!’ and looked at the glittering television.
‘I’m very lonely,’ she told me—‘Very sad… My mind starts going,’ she said this and spun her index finger around her ear, before disappearing into the dining room where she put away placemats, shut the windows, slowly stepped on the carpet.
When she had sat back down next to me—‘You need to keep your mind occupied, Nan.’
‘Yes… Yes… I’m feeling quite drunk now… Do you get lonely?’
‘Of course, I do, but it’s a battle keeping your mind occupied, keep it working so that it’s not thinking about bad things too much… That’s why I like work, it keeps my mind occupied. I keep busy at the weekends, too… Even if I have nothing to do, I go out for a walk and have a coffee. You should do that: just keep your mind busy. Even if it’s just people-watching. Yknow, sit outside a caf’ and people-watch.’
‘I like people-watching.’
‘Exactly, so do it more. You have to keep your mind busy, Nan.’
It was not much longer before she deteriorated again into telling me about a Frenchman who tried to woo her as she rode the boat from Ireland to England—‘“Come to France with me,” he said.’ She was very proud of this.
‘Hmm,’ I said. The television was playing a bad drama set in the countryside. She stared at the television, too. Then she peeled off her tights and showed me the sores on hers legs. The drama was in seventies’ colour.
I performed some chores for her, then I told her I would be leaving—‘Don’t you wanna cup o’tea? coffee?’
‘Nah, I’m all right, Nan, cheers. I’m shattered.’
As I walked down the road to the station I felt at a loss for leaving her alone, with her memories and her sadness. It was still light; those summer Saturday evenings, the heat of the sun coming down out of the clouds and sweating the room. I felt sad; she was alone again, as was I.

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