Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Mantra of the busted tub

Crackpot. Crack. Pot.

Yes indeed, the secret is in knowing that the world is built upon one big skewed smile running through the belly of an earthenware jar. It's like seeing that slip of a thing sprawled across a billboard, a perfectly cut danger waiting to spring out and sell you something. Or like the confusion in your body when you haven’t seen your lover for weeks, until the sleek shock of penetration sends the silent language scrolling again through your limbs.

I know them when I see them. The old men who venture out in order to be just that - out. The one today carried a Somerfield bag but the bag was clear and I could see that he had gone all the way to the shop to pick up a flyer. Plucked from a litter of thousands it lay cradled against the weak plastic walls. The man’s wild white hair crested from one temple around the back of his head to the next, the top of his skull gleaming as he lumbered under the street lights.

It’s not the oversized coats that gives the story away, although I suppose it could be, because when they are that large they have been bought from a charity shop when there was nothing else going. But no - it’s the shoes. Giant black loafers with wide soles and rounded toes. And with each step a flash of bare ankle beneath too-short trousers. The rest of his life can be imagined. You don’t even have to get up close to let the smell fill in the clichés. Maybe it’s twenty minutes on the bus to the grocery store in another part of the city, to pick up a single packet of digestives biscuits that he could have bought a block away. Or a visit to the coffee shop where they haven’t washed the floor in what could be years, but it’s warm and the girl behind the counter lets him chat to her while he nurses a single cup of tea for two hours. He keeps talking, even when she barely murmurs in recognition before turning back to text her friends with news completely unrelated to the presence of an old man whose name she does not know. When one day he finally stops coming in, she will not even notice.

I like to think there is one great pleasure in his life, something other than the arrival of the weekly free paper that flexes him out of his routine. I like to think that he meets up with a friend each week, perhaps in the park or a suitably dismal café, and that they spend some time talking and arguing and maybe even laughing once or twice. I like to think he watches the quiz shows on television and yells out the answers, huffing to himself in pride whenever he knows something the contestant does not. Finally I like to think that sometimes the tunnel of his vision, worn smooth with time, opens up like the roof of a giant stadium on a spring day. And that into his mind pours light, wonder, and the welcome weight of contentment.

11 comments:

Skyclad said...

There is a quality here that inspires thought and consideration. It is as if you have held aloft the golden mirror and dared us to look within.

Or in simple terms... a thinking post. *S* Thanks for the inspiration.

Anonymous said...

That touched me in sad places. Lovely.
JP

Scarecrow said...

I thought this is me when I'm old... followed by, wait, this is me now when I've been alone too long and walk to town just to find someone to say hello to.

Jacqui said...

"He keeps talking, even when she barely murmurs in recognition before turning back to text her friends with news completely unrelated to the presence of an old man whose name she does not know. When one day he finally stops coming in, she will not even notice."

This was really poignant, especially the bit above. It is a reminder to all to see the humanity in others, to stop, to care, to take notice and to remember. I feel different for reading this and I'd like to think that this post has made me take a step back and that I won't simply neglect to notice or fail to care. Thank you.x

C.S. Perry said...

You have forced me to accept the inevitable fact that I will make a tremendous Old Man.

My life is too much like this already...what can I look forward to now?
Other than scaring children out of my yard, of course.

Purest Green said...

I have determined that I will have to write something less depressing soon. You see, Jacqui, this is what I meant when I said I was like eeyore. Can't you just hear him saying "she won't even notice..." (big sigh).
I know that JP will be one of those old men who uses their age as an excuse to blossom with eccentricity. And he will take to saying "BAH!" even louder than he does now. He also plans to be deaf. How nice for me.

Jacqui said...

:-) Hilarious! What's the point of old age if you can't be a bit barking? Did I ever tell you about the time that I was at James' parents and his Dad started chatting to an old, dishevelled looking man? I turned to James and said:
"That's what I really like about your Dad, he talks to everyone and anyone and makes them feel special. Just look at him chatting with that tramp, if only more people were like him."
To which James replied:
"That's my Uncle Davey"
Big oops.

Purest Green said...

Oh, lovely Jacqui you make me laugh. Brilliant. xx

Jacqui said...

Size elevens every time :-)

your new best friend said...

so - this was a brilliant post. a treasure to discover this late in the day, backswimming through posts to get caught up :)
you are the bestest. i adore the way in which it ends:
"Finally I like to think that sometimes the tunnel of his vision, worn smooth with time, opens up like the roof of a giant stadium on a spring day. And that into his mind pours light, wonder, and the welcome weight of contentment."
what more can any of us ask?

Marcheline said...

I can't tell you how often I see old folks when I'm out and about and I have to leave because I'll start crying. I make up stories about them in my head, but usually they're pretty sad ones. The thought of then out there alone in the world, like sparrows with no wings, makes me sad down to my bones. I want to adopt them all, take them all home with me and make them some tea, listen to their stories.

It's not nice, by the way, making someone cry when they've got to get ready for work momentarily.