Thursday, May 17

All These Jagged Lines

At a bend in the b-road there is a van that sells wooden garden ornaments. The bend disappeared, garden ornaments too. The car still smelled new, but all cars smell new these days.
‘I didn’t tell you but—’ said my mother—‘Mr. Killen has died.’
It had been a long week.
On Wednesday my father suffered a heart attack. A missed call from my mother in the middle of the day; a strange time for her to call so I surmised she had either mis-dialled me, or indeed there was something wrong. It was the latter. They were in an ambulance and things were being monitored. She told me not to panic but I know the sound of her voice. I have known that voice longest of all voices; well aware of its fluctuations, its tone, its idiosyncratic cadences.
I went for a walk. It was a bright sunny day and my legs were dizzy down the street. It was quite difficult to walk straight. Through muggy eyes nothing was clear; blurred colours and lines, so forth. I thought about my grandfather’s death when I was eleven years old. It doesn’t matter how old I was when my granddad died, it matters how old my granddad was when he died, and it matters how old my dad is now. For a moment I thought I might vomit but it would have been silly to vomit there. Next to the Dutch church, people sat and ate in the sunshine. The air smelled sweetly. Every human was kind and good-looking. It was a really beautiful day.
My grandfather died after a heart attack, I remember that. From outside the hospital room, relayed, he was in a bad way. The attack had ruined him, out of nowhere, bruised and collapsed between the sheets. ‘When it’s your time, it’s your time,’ my mother always said. She also said—
‘Don’t panic, but…’
Four years, my grandfather was sixty-three; my father now fifty-nine. Four years is not such a long time, and, o, how it had flown since his death! Tempus fugit. The mathematics: my father born in (x) my grandfather had him when he was (y) and my father was (z) when my grandfather died at (a) and I am now (b) so my father will die when I am (c). What’s my age again? Although the route I walked was very familiar to me, at that time with all those thoughts nesting about my mind, it became alien, as though I were a tourist in the city for the first time.
At one point: many well-dressed people, suits and so on, in a restaurant, eating outside, drinking and twirling glasses, al fresco, such attractive humans while a million miles away from myself, I thought I should sit down. A lady was making a telephone call, walking back & forth, her legs so taught like school children and sailing boats. Focus on the legs, do not fall over! Maybe I should take a seat, I thought to myself, but, no, I could not.
Some vacancies, the constants in one’s life, cannot be imagined. To get close enough is to become slightly breathless, leaning on a bollard. My cousin used to work there, so I paused and looked for him but I remembered—O, he was laid off. I kept walking. It was as though I was drunk, trying to walk straight but knowing I could not.
‘His first name’s Patrick, right?’
‘I always thought it was Peter, but I dunno.’
‘I’m sure it was Patrick. Patrick Killen… He died last weekend but they were only able to get it in the church newsletter today.’
‘I guess it’s him. I mean, how many P. Killen’s can there be in the parish.’
The van that sold wooden garden ornaments disappeared. I hadn’t spoken to Mr. Killen in years, since I was at school. He was my favourite teacher, had always been my favourite teacher. He was one of those teachers – if one is lucky enough to experience it – who left an indelible mark upon one’s character, as though they took a knife to the revolving pot as opposed to a finger. He was an Irish man whose eyelids folded over his eyes, whose grey hair was cropped short. He told us all, his class, of when he discovered god. His wife nearly died and when she didn’t, he believed in god. There is a novel about it somewhere where you can read about him falling in love and his wife almost dying and his belief in god and then he started teaching. I remember one sunny afternoon, particularly mischievous, I began reflecting the light off my watch into his eyes and he stopped, saying—‘That has been following me around for the past thirty minutes!’ I stopped. He was of a softness. Beneath the wrinkled and scarred Irish exterior, he was a radiant human. If he didn’t care for you then that was all you got, although he had hope you would change. If he did care for you – myself – then he was inclined to look upon you as if you really were someone with seventy years ahead of them, and each of them filled with so much potential. He related to you, to me, to all these fifteen year-olds like they were really people and adults at that. He got respect by giving it (the rarest of teacher breeds). He would talk to you, not down to you. Because of my cockiness, he liked me, and by then I was grandfather-less. Whenever someone spoke ill of him, I objected. He threw a table at my friend, and I defended him. No one could understand what I saw in the grumpy bastard. In my memory he floats in front of the whiteboard, talking and holding the bible. In my memory he speaks of his own life. In my memory he is magnificent.
With his grey hair and the eighteen years since I saw him, there was death snapping him up.
My father sat in the hospital bed and I watched the screen showing all these jagged lines in different bright colours. ‘It’s kinda hypnotic.’ Every fluctuation was worried about. I thought about him not meeting his unborn granddaughter. If I were him, there would not be long until I – with my family and my house and my life – was around his bed, hoping he would live but waiting for him to die. I had no family or house or life, so I just spoke to him, hoping he would live.
I kissed him good-bye.
In the story of life I supposed that a new paragraph had been started. His hospital ward did not smell too bad and I was sad to leave it, but I pulled quickly away from the kiss as though to appear unsentimental. I went away from my family, as I to the city and they the country.

(Probably unfinished.)

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