Thursday, December 31, 2009
Time to gaze into the coals;
lament the year that flew;
to curl around the hearth,
around a bowl of stew.
Children want to read in bed
but grown-ups won't permit.
Power cuts are every day now,
candles must be lit.
So up to bed the youngsters creep
with book and hidden wick;
under the sheets they turn the page-
what a clever trick.
Time to ask the burning coals
how we got this far.
We think on all the happenings and
we thank our lucky stars.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:07 PM
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
On Christmas Day, Mater and I got acquainted with our respective, shiny new webcams. Now, all of a sudden, she could see me and I could see her; and we had a grand time looking at each another's surroundings- I at the familiar homestead in the darkest, bitterest depths of an Irish winter, and she at the sunlight streaming in the window behind me.
"You've got sunshine," she said, a muffled sob. "Lashings of it! In December!"
"Sorry," I said.
At times the camera worked well, other times hardly at all- the picture frequently got scrambled. When I could again see a clear image of the living room I asked, "What's that on the shelf behind you?"
"A handmade peacock," said Mater. "Would you like to see it up close?"
I said that I would; and over the telephones I distinctly heard Mater stand up to fetch it.
I watched that tiny window for nigh on thirty minutes: Mater, I do declare, never moved from her chair. The peacock remained a dark shadow on the shelf.
"Here it is," Mater said, "I'm waving it at the camera. Can you see it?"
I explained that I still saw her in her original sitting down position; Mater, surprised, said that she had travelled and returned, peacock in hand.
Thus a great debate was struck on the concepts of time and peacocks.
"I can still see you before you fetched the peacock," I said. "The old you."
Mater was perplexed and awed at the singular notion; more so when the minutes dragged on and Mater put the peacock back on the shelf and I was obliged to continually remark that I had not yet seen her stand up to get it. We waited for the moment, fleeting and outwardly innocuous as it might have been, to catch up with us.
But I never did see Mater get the peacock; later on she waggled her fingers and told me she was doing so, and I glimpsed that slight action as she spoke; so the peacock moment had been irrevocably lost somewhere in the middle. But why, and to where had it flown?
Later that evening, when Mater was tucked up in bed and dawn was edging towards Ireland, I wrote her a brief note.
I suggested that she ought to be asleep at the time of writing; unless, I added as an afterthought, she was still busy fetching the peacock.
And somewhere out there- who knows- she just might be.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:39 PM
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The pedestrian crosswalks scattered across my town are equipped with black boxes which emit various noises- helpful sounds that range from furious beep-beep-beeps to gentle sparrow chirps. There are a few, of course, that say nothing at all, but they flash their friendly green hands and silently suggest that we waiting walkers cross right now.
I have been walking a good deal lately and am more familiar with some crosswalks than with others. I routinely encounter one in particular that uses spoken words to make its announcement.
"Walk sign is on. Walk sign is on. Walk sign is on," it declares as I move boldly across the road.
I was growing used to its jarring insistence, inwardly preferring the subtle methods employed elsewhere, but glad, still, of its enthusiasm with regard to my personal safety.
Then yesterday, I found everything changed.
I was gliding across, the green hand was waving cheerily at me, and the little voice piped up- the same voice, but with an entirely different personality.
"Hey! Walk sign is on. Hey! Walk sign is on. Hey! Walk sign is on."
I jumped a bit, which caused a momentary stutter in my stride while I wondered who was angry with me, and why.
I hate to be heyed; and when I made it to the other side, I told the little black box just what I thought of its roguish manner, and of the uncouth crosswalks of today's society.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:24 PM
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Gently we were motoring through the woods, yards from the front door of our friend.
It had been such a long homecoming: we ran out of words as we turned onto the familiar forest path and understood that we were there, at last- it was not a photograph or a dream but a real scene, and we were in it and breathing it. Home again, after several years away; home again, so that our favourite small town lay just through the trees- striding distance.
A deer, slight and graceful, bolted from between the trees and halted when it saw us.
Spouse turned off the engine.
I must have looked like a deer in headlights myself, too thunderstruck to reach for the camera or to believe Spouse when he insisted I try to take a photograph.
"It'll run," I said. It was hard to argue without moving my lips. "If I twitch it will run away."
"Try," said Spouse.
I made an effort to reach for my backpack without moving my arms or my head or my eyes. My fingers closed around it; and then they curled around the camera; and then the camera was in my lap, its lens cap off, awaiting my instructions for posterity.
I thought that the deer would gallop away but it remained perfectly still, watching the pair of us. I felt sufficiently confident to roll down the window to improve the picture quality.
Most curiously, the deer granted us enough time to take another picture, and then another, and another, until Spouse and I were satisfied that at least one must have been acceptable. While we were scrutinising the camera's tiny screen, the deer slowly angled its head and studied another part of the forest, politely surveying the land while we fumbled with the camera. And yet- when I was ready to take one more picture, the deer recommenced its original pose of gazing straight into the camera.
I switched off the device, packed it away inside my bag.
"You can go now," I said quietly through the window. After all, we had a friend to catch up with and a whole town of memories to wander about in.
No sooner had I said the words than the deer was a faint brown blur among the trees- gone before Spouse started the engine, before I rolled the window up, before we resumed normal motion again.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:31 PM
Thursday, December 10, 2009
I addressed and decorated a handful of Christmas cards this afternoon: because I required Mater's assistance in a related minor matter, I dashed off a few appropriately merry sentiments while the telephone rested between my chin and my shoulder.
As I scribbled, I listened, in part, to Mater's chatter about a significant birthday celebration and what the day had so far brought. At least, I thought I was half listening; I now suspect that the listening percentage was a great deal higher.
"Do you think," I sought Mater's wisdom after a minute or so, "that it's okay to write HAPPY BIRTHDAY on the front of a Christmas greeting card?"
"Not really," said Mater. "Why would you want to do that?"
"I don't know," I said, "but I've done it just the same."
I threw that particular reject to one side and began again with a measure of determination while I quietly lamented the effort, the stickers and the various coloured attachments that had been lost.
I got the greeting right the second time, having first begged Mater for some seconds of silence so that I could concentrate on the words.
"Do you think," I soon asked Mater for another serving of advice, "that it's okay to spell the month as 'Decemember'?"
Mater, much as I expected, did not think so; but she had very decided notions on the subject of attempting too many tasks at one time.
"I'll try this one more time," I said through my teeth, "but if N. doesn't get a card from me this year, please tell her when you meet her that it wasn't for the want of trying."
Mater promised to do just that.
Frequently the best intentions get no further than the front door; one can only hope that the gist of the sentiment, at least, does not go astray.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:21 PM
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
On the phone with Mater;
she said "please hold a minute"
and set down the receiver
with me still chirping in it.
I whistled, then, she heard it-
across the kitchen whistled back-
returned my call with gusto;
both, we have the knack.
"Be there in a moment,"
called Mater, as she hurried;
I was happy whistling back and forth,
I wasn't worried.
But soon I took more notice-
the song had turned quite strange:
Mater sent back all my whistles
without a trace of change.
The whistling notes I whistled,
Mater matched them all-
whether I whistled three notes or six,
she'd duplicate my call.
Note for note returned to me-
I answered every one;
How did we synchronise so well,
as we had never done?
Mater came back on the line,
said, "verily I'm here."
A single thought occurred to me
and filled me with a fear.
"How much whistling did you do?
While we were parted so?"
I asked quickly this of Mater
who said she didn't know.
"I whistled for a bit," she said,
"but not for very long."
"Why do you ask? Did you not like
to hear the whistling song?"
I said to Mater that I thought
she performed a lovely show:
but- oh!- that all the later notes
were my very own echo.
No wonder they matched me song for song,
that we sounded so aligned-
I performed a duet with my own self;
how deliciously refined.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:41 PM
Monday, December 7, 2009
Mater connected to the Internet today when I recommended to her a brief segment of film I thought she ought to watch online.
"I'll watch it at the same time," I said over the telephone, "so that we can follow together."
I suggested that Mater indicate to me when she was about to press the start button so that we could begin and so that we could be synchronised.
Mater's usual formula, when I make such requests, is to press the start button and only then proceed to fumble about with a pair of enormous headphones, and then attempt to connect them to the computer; by the time the wires are untangled and the headphones are in position over her ears, and Mater is able to sit still and listen, the video has drawn to its conclusion. We either begin again or I slide off to make a cup of very strong and very sweet tea.
This time, Mater was unruffled and ready- and oh, so proud of her foresight. She intended to surprise me with uncharacteristic composure.
"I've already got the headphones on," she boomed over the telephone. "I'm ready to play."
I offered words which she could not establish the nature of- the headphones, of course, were enveloping her ears and muffling my comments.
"Pardon?" Mater prised the headphones up slightly in order to hear me better.
"You don't need headphones," I repeated, as gently as I could to soften the blow that must fall. "I'm sorry. It's a silent piece of film. There's no sound."
And for one long and particularly deflated moment, there was no sound from Mater.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:32 PM
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Spouse bought some coloured crayons and paper. He surmised quite reasonably that drawing, and colouring between the lines, would rejuvenate his injured left hand. Being primarily right-handed, Spouse determined that the other really ought to be utilised, and so away he went each evening to a quiet corner with his sketch book and a brightly coloured volume of cartoons from which he selected scenes to copy.
After numerous pictures emerged over a period of days, each one better than the one before it, I commented to friends about how marvellous Spouse was at replicating pictures with a weaker hand.
When I mentioned it to Spouse, he hastily corrected my assumption.
He confessed that he had so enjoyed the simple and soothing act of drawing that he thoroughly forgot the original purpose of the activity; and he had, all the while, been merrily sketching with his right hand.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 2:42 PM
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Spouse, as is his habit, calculated the matter without need of pen or paper: he estimated that all the walking I did in the last four months, back and forth to the local library, was the equivalent of hiking from one end of Ireland to the other.
"Keep that up," he said, "and you can do the return trip as well."
In truth, the route to the library offered a consistently more hospitable environment: I stumbled through no bog lands on my path, nor was I obliged to scale shapeless mossy hills, or pick my way through fields of staring sheep, or take shelter from blinding sheets of ice cold rain.
But now that I think of it, certain books I hauled seemed indeed as though they must have been torn from the side of a cliff on the Atlantic Ocean, so weighty were they; and there was the faintest, stinging hint of salt water in my eyes as I struggled home with arms numb, fingers aching, hoping that the enormous volumes of paper were worth the trek.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 3:11 PM
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
My assistance was required: there was to be a raffle draw at the museum during the hour of lunch, and my fellow volunteers would be obliged, they said, if my fingers were to pluck a name from the canister.
It was explained to me with an amount of eye-rolling that one board member- not present that day- had insisted that at least four persons observe the event so the drawing of the ticket could be considered wholly legitimate.
"I'll do it," I said.
One of the ladies held the container so that I could reach inside. My hand fumbled among the tickets, grazing the papers as they crackled and rustled like feet skittering easily through layers of fallen leaves. Folded, fallen leaves emblazoned with the names of winners and not-winners.
"But tell me," I said, suddenly, "who should I be hoping for?"
I saw six raised eyebrows and realised that I would have to clarify my question.
"I have to think of someone in particular. Someone you'd like to see winning this. Who should I have in mind?"
All three ladies considered for a moment before echoing a name- "Paula"- in unison.
"Right," I said. "I just wanted to know."
I extracted a single ticket and handed it over.
Paula's name reverberated once more around the room but this time with a hint of disbelief.
As demonstrated, one must have something or someone to hope for, otherwise the simple action of withdrawing a piece of paper would be rendered, if not meaningless, then dull.
Wholly legitimate? Certainly it was; still, I wonder what the absent board member would have thought of my methods.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:12 PM
Monday, November 23, 2009
Mater made a snowman
one grey November morn.
She hummed a bit
and made a wish
and her new chum was born:
it blinked its button eyes!
and Mater was so glad-
"let's shop for shoes!
No time to lose!
There's bargains to be had."
Off they went for footwear,
but the snowman, right away,
began to tire
and thought it dire
to look at shoes all day.
Through the streets they wandered
(and Mater got some looks);
the snowman said
"this melts my head-
I'm off to browse for books!"
So Mater shoe hunted solo,
and had fun just the same.
She missed her friend
but in the end
she never knew its name.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
"Don't," I told myself for two weeks straight, "don't go to the library for those three days. Remember it. They'll be closed for renovation. Don't forget."
"I won't forget," I said, and I surely meant it. Over and over I told myself, all but writing the dates on my hand.
So it was with a measure of amazement that I stood, books under arm, mouth agape, outside the library, under an enormous banner ten feet long and three feet high that fervently declared the library was presently closed.
"Well," I said. "Well."
I did not know what else to say. I thought about the two or so miles I had walked already, and I thought about the way back. I sank onto a stone wall, attempting to gather my thoughts and, while I was at it, give myself a little talking to for such a dreadful lapse of memory.
I noticed a tiny old woman striding closer to me; I noticed her from a distance. She was clearly bound for the library, eyes on the concrete.
Myself, I had halted some fifty feet from the doors, but the little woman took longer to comprehend the situation. She marched, unseeing, right up to the automatic doors before she noticed they were not obeying her. She took a startled step back and raised her eyes to the sky and to the banner.
To my utter astonishment, she let out a very loud and anguished expletive, the tiny woman with the book bag.
"Closed!" she shrieked. Her head whipped wildly from side to side, as though somebody would come forward and admit that it was a practical joke, just a joke, and would she like to step inside now?
I perched on the wall for a while: now that my own disappointment had ebbed somewhat, I took note of other patrons as they approached, and I observed the rainbow of ways that people react to change and adversity and dismay. Some, visibly affronted or embarrassed, pretended they did not want the library at all, that they just intended to walk up to the doors and back home again; others sought explanation or assistance or a sympathetic eye from other confused souls; still more slipped surreptitiously around the back in hopes of discovering another entrance.
It held more fascination for me than any book I could have collected that day.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:37 PM
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
My mother, whenever possible, reuses envelopes: she and I have been known to send the same battered packet back and forth across the ocean to one another until our respective post offices will no longer accept the condition, and we are obliged to locate a fresh envelope.
My uncle got a parcel in the mail this week, and he telephoned my mother the day after with a single burning question: did she, perchance, send to him a book?
She did, she said.
He had spent a long while, he said, turning the package upside down and inside out, shaking it furiously in case a note was lodged in a corner. But there was no note, not a whisper of a word. There was no return address and the writing, being in brisk capital letters, was unfamiliar and impossible to analyse.
My uncle thought and thought about who might be most likely to send a mysterious parcel. It troubled him a great deal. He wished to settle the matter and thank the sender; but there was, of course, not a shred of evidence to hang a suspicion upon, had he such an inkling to begin with.
At last, unable to either fathom or forget it, my uncle leaned forward and began, slowly, to scrape the address label from the parcel. Off went his own name and address, and concealed under it, that of my brother- a most convenient and fortunate clue that led him straight to the culprit.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:02 PM
Monday, November 9, 2009
When I rang, Mater turned from the television and answered the telephone.
"I'm watching a film," she told me. "It's really good."
I wished to know the name of the really good film. Mater tried to oblige, but memory failed her. Fragments of names of other films came to mind, but the title in question was not forthcoming.
"Hold on," Mater said, determined to solve the puzzle.
She called to her cousin across the living room. "What's this film we're watching?"
I caught a muffled reply of hemming and hawing and, eventually, of not-knowing.
"We can't remember," she confessed, shocked. "And you won't believe this, but it's a film about Alzheimer's."
I was forced to believe it; and I left her to savour the remainder of the nameless piece of really good cinema.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Until we began our expeditions in house hunting, Spouse and I had no inkling of the various tangled tricks that real estate agents get up to.
Agents typically access an available property by means of a common key; the key is supposed to be left in its original place squirreled away in a quiet corner of the yard.
The trick is this: in order to ensure that an agent successfully procures the house for his or her own clients, they thwart all attempts of subsequent agents to view the house. The key frequently departs the area tucked snugly inside an agent's pocket. Interested persons arrive with hopes high, but cannot gain entry, and they cast wistful glances in the windows, shrug and surrender, and go home.
We waited last week to view a house. It was the middle of the day but we had been beaten to the post. As per the rules of house-buying etiquette, we shuffled about in the garden with our agent, kicking at stones and counting weeds and subtly weighing up the condition of the neighbourhood, while the earlier-birds explored the house with their agent.
The potential buyers seemed to take quite an age, but at last they stepped out of the house and pulled the door shut behind them. Our agent waited to collect the key.
"Key? What key? No, there was no key when I got here."
Our agent stood on the doorstep and asked once again for the key, refusing to believe that she and her clients had scrambled in through a side window.
Then raucous laughter broke the woman's poker face apart.
"Oh! This key! Here. Yes, yes. I totally forgot I had it!"
She threw open her palm like a cheeky flower, and displayed the shiny implement.
"That," she said, waggling her head gravely at the horrific state of the world, "is how keys go missing!"
"I bet it is," I fumed under my breath.
But that is not, and never will be, how houses are fairly and squarely acquired.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 2:58 PM
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
At the entrance to the city library, perpetually perched on the edge of a timber bench, there sits a little boy all made of bronze. Clutching an open book in one age-worn left hand, crouched in a posture familiar to all readers, engrossed as he is in the upturned page, the statue is the epitome of books and the endless stream of adventures to be found inside them.
I must confess, however, that his right hand vexes me: he grips a bronze hamburger, out of which he has taken a single bite.
I stride past the bronze fellow and his book almost daily; and I yearn, every time, to replace the troublesome hamburger with either a delicious, nutritious bronze sandwich or a shiny bronze apple.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 6:00 PM
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
I am a speedy walker, but the other day, while jog-walking to the library, I was forced nearly to a halt behind a shuffling, stooped old man in a cloth cap. I caught up with him on the footpath but was lamentably unable to overtake.
I was in no particular hurry; I took minute steps at a reasonable distance behind him and expected that our paths would soon diverge.
He was preoccupied with shielding his face from the sun with a piece of paper, and he did not notice my shadow.
On he went, and on I went, and on we went more or less together. He pressed four traffic light buttons that I otherwise would have pressed, and drifted through four pedestrian walkways that were on my route. I trailed after him at a pace not really a pace, one that defied all scientific law.
I started to consider that he might, after all, be going to the library, a point almost two miles from where we had met.
The old man turned left at the library. I, relieved, swung right, with enormous strides, and tore away up the street.
I spent a curious-shaped amount of time inside the dusty vaults of the library. And when I did, eventually, set out again, I was alarmed to find myself slowing to a worm's pace behind a shuffling, stooped old man in a cloth cap- a fellow who looked positively familiar and whose gait was unparalleled.
It was a long walk home.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:19 PM
Monday, October 26, 2009
Sibling and I,
we must be grown up:
we argued today about money.
"Please take it from me,"
"No, I couldn't, you see."
I think the whole scene was quite funny.
Brother and I
used to find it peculiar
to watch adults haggle and clash.
"No, don't be silly," they'd say.
"Please, allow me to pay!"
-back and forth back and forth with the cash.
Sibling and I,
we're not yet grown up:
Brother vowed to succeed in the end-
I'm to keep my eyes peeled
For he says he'll conceal
Some clues in a parcel he'll send.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:43 PM
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
On Saturday Spouse and I sat down to dinner with a friend. It might have been a simple affair, but six years had passed between gatherings- our various jaunts around the country had seen to it that such meetings could not easily be orchestrated.
We greeted our friend inside the restaurant, and ate and talked and clung stubbornly to our table late into the evening, long after every spoon and scrap had been removed, and in spite of the waiters silently but fervently imploring us to stand up and go elsewhere so that our place might be given to others.
We had more, many more words, but ones that would have to wait. Soon, we said, then strode across the parking lot to our respective vehicles. The lot was vast, with endless lines of shadowy wheels sandwiched together.
It turned out that at least two of those cars were aligned in a particularly fortuitous and telling way: we were parked side by side.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 1:35 PM
Monday, October 19, 2009
I was struck with the thought of volunteering at a local museum, and I strode across town to rave about my merits as a potential assistant.
"I'm extremely organised," I said to the lady who greeted me and led me into her office. She looked at me over her glasses, considered my promise and my proposal.
"Well," she said, beaming, "we'd love to have you here with us. Just write your name and telephone number on this piece of paper and we'll call you."
Alas, I failed the final hurdle; stumbled, I did, over the last and oldest trick in the book.
"I'm sorry," I said, after squinting at the blank paper for an eternity.
She looked at me inquisitively.
"I don't actually know my number. It's new, you see. I might have it written down somewhere. No, that's an old receipt for cheese. I know it's here. I think there's a 4 in it."
There followed much fumbling in my bag, much furious blushing and much graceful patience from the other side of the desk.
"Don't worry," she insisted. "I don't even know my number. I never call it!"
True, and kind of her to say so; but I doubt that it would slip her mind in an interview.
I, nonetheless, eagerly await the decision of the board of directors.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:40 PM
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Our roll of aluminium foil is drawing to an end; we will shortly run out of the sturdy silver wrapper.
"It seems like only yesterday we bought this one, and it's almost gone," I remarked to Spouse.
"Do you think we'll have to go out to the store and buy another roll?"
Spouse thought that we probably would.
I wondered if the aluminium foil aisle had altered much since last we wandered among the rolls.
"When was that- six years ago?"
Spouse stated that it was in fact seven; he then went on to provide a detailed account of that particular era, reminding me that we purchased the roll just before we moved into our first apartment. Then, some years after that, off across the country we went with it before eventually hauling it home last August.
"They don't make them like they used to," Spouse said.
I was inclined to agree.
Here today, gone tomorrow.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:54 PM
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
We were on an expedition to buy a toaster. The shelves sagged with all sorts of toaster-like objects but no prices were visible on any of the items we sought to know more about.
Spouse turned to a customer standing nearby and considered for a long while the appropriate next move. The fellow, a Japanese man, was involved in a similar struggle to locate those wayward prices and was, one would reasonably presume, as much in need of toast as I.
"Do you know the price of this one?" Spouse asked in Japanese as if nothing were out of the ordinary.
The fellow began to reply quite honestly, in Japanese, that he did not; but in an instant the yen dropped. His expression underwent a significant transformation; he took a step backwards, displaying all his teeth in perfect shock.
"But how?" he gasped in Japanese. He was thoroughly and genuinely astounded.
They talked for a few minutes. The Japanese man shook his head repeatedly. But he was very happy all the same for the strange encounter.
Spouse chuckled to himself during the journey home. He had internally debated whether to speak up and indicate that he spoke Japanese, but thought to proceed with caution in case the customer should be startled out of his wits.
Mercifully it turned out well; the fellow, dazzled, glided away to tell the tale to his wife and children in the next aisle.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:13 PM
Monday, October 12, 2009
Spouse and I are routinely outnumbered and outbid in this shark-eat-shark world of house hunting.
It became startlingly clear one weekend when we compiled a lengthy list of houses for sale and motored around to have a look.
There we were, poking around a perfectly acceptable house, when another couple stepped boldly inside and- the horror of it all- they too set about exploring the house, with an eye to claiming it.
Feeling smothered to a degree, and having seen enough of that particular construction, Spouse and I zoomed off to see the next available property.
Once on the premises, I made a comment or two about adding this bit, or removing that wall, and we were getting quite into the rhythm of the expedition when we glanced up to note the arrival of another couple. They too were seeking a house to buy; but they looked, I thought, awfully and devastatingly familiar.
I narrowed my eyes. It was Them.
Somebody somewhere made a little joke about being followed, and much raucous laughter ensued.
"Let's go," I hissed to Spouse. "Quick. Let's get to the next one before they do."
They gave the impression of being two wheels behind us but, no doubt, it was a ruse.
I have lofty thoughts of being so far ahead of the rascally couple that I am already ensconced in my armchair in my living room the next time they try an hour of house hunting: they will breeze through the door, cool as cucumbers, weighing up the possibilities, and I will say, grinning, "so sorry. I was here first. Tea, anybody?"
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:04 PM
Thursday, October 8, 2009
We returned the new toaster- the enormous, ominous, thoroughly perplexing ticking toaster that drew every crumb of pleasure out of toast making- and we brought home another, somewhat humble, appliance.
The instructions are, admittedly, rather lengthy; they promise that the machine can perform housework, pack lunches, answer the telephone and lock the doors at night- the latter being a necessity given my lingering fears that the other toaster will come back to haunt us with a familiar tick tick tick at the living room window one moonless night.
In tiny, almost illegible print, beneath the assurances that it can do laundry and wrap birthday presents, it also claims to make toast; and that, we decided, was good enough for us.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 12:49 PM
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
"Minus one minute and counting," I said. "Slowly rotate the second dial- the second!- don't adjust the other five- two degrees to the left. But be careful."
"Copy that," was Spouse's prompt response.
"All systems ready," I said.
"Standing by," said Spouse.
The machine then sprang into action with an invasive, highly audible, most unsettling tick tick tick.
We waited anxiously amid a whir and blink of red beams and green lights and mechanics that we ordinary mortals could not hope to understand.
tick tick tick
I said, grasping the tome of an instruction manual with two hands, "on page 309, paragraph 71, it states that at the end of the shade function cycle, the indicator light should go off imminently and you should, if you performed the entire procedure correctly, hear a bell chime. Be most careful when in direct contact with this machine as severe bodily injury is likely on account of the heat source."
tick tick tick
"I see," said Spouse. "Do you think we ought to be wearing protective clothing, then? Goggles and gloves?"
"Well, I'm really glad we plan to take that six-week seminar. We can't do this alone. We need professionals."
"I agree. We're not made for this. It's what Mater would refer to as complimicated. Get ready. Don't touch anything until the bell rings and the display goes completely blank."
tick tick DING
"Ah," said Spouse as the very note sounded, "there we go. The toast is ready."
"Extract the toast with caution," I said.
"Copy that," said Spouse.
"Would you like butter," I asked, swiping droplets from my brow and mourning the era of simplicity, "or marmalade?"
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 3:02 PM
Thursday, October 1, 2009
I succumbed to a bout of curiosity and learned that our old apartment is still available.
I read the landlord's advertisement with the practiced eye of a skeptic: he, after all, was seeking a new tenant for financial purposes. Until two months ago, we actually lived there, and no amount of wool could blinker our eyes.
Spouse and I read the piece together.
Sunny, it said.
"Funny," I said. "I don't remember it being a particularly sunny apartment."
Spouse, who had been reading faster than I, interrupted.
"Patio. Did we have a patio?"
"We did," I said, trying to recall.
"Really? A patio? Where was it?"
"Well," I said, slowly, "remember that slab of stone outside the kitchen window? The bit we shared with the next-door neighbour? I put a dead chive plant out there once. There wasn't enough sunlight in the apartment to keep it alive. It's still there, as far as I know."
"I do," said Spouse. "I remember the chives. Poor things."
"That was the patio. I think," I added, "that that's the one he meant."
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:46 PM
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Spouse and I took the train to San Francisco, settling into a corner and staring out the window for the journey's length. There a tree, there a creek, there a turnstile shop.
"What?" I sat bolt upright in my seat. I startled Spouse.
There, on the other side of the railway tracks, was a store with an enormous painted sign:
"Mater was right all along," I said, in purest wonder.
Long ago, on a train in Ireland, Mater made a curious remark about public restrooms and having to bring one's own turnstile to enter the cubicle.
She meant only to suggest that when we reached our destination we would both need coins to pass through the turnstiles and use the station's facilities; but I got a good laugh out of the matter anyhow, and, in strict accordance with my style, I was quite unable to let it go.
"Where would we get our own turnstiles?" I laughed at her. "Imagine dragging them around the city and on the train, just in case you need to use a restroom."
I told Mater about it as soon as I could; and I suspect that I made her day.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Regarding a Toaster:
From which, one time,
fierce flames propelled
and licked the crumbs
and frightened me, much;
A toaster which,
(wheat and white,
rye and raisin)
thousands of miles
and several years apart,
returned to California
to retire silently
and without warning.
Amid a heap of orphaned crumbs
I stood, bewildered,
clutching a piece of
and not-quite toast.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 12:08 PM
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I read, while scouring a newspaper, a curious note about a skeleton.
Ancient Skeleton Found, it said. That caught my eye easily enough.
The world has a long and colourful history, and my thoughts, reasonably enough, tumbled back in time to the crumbled remnants of churches, man's first footprints, the twilight before the dawn of the modern age.
Ancient, they said. So I examined the article.
It was with a twinge of disappointment that I got to the bones of the story: the skeleton was estimated to be about one hundred years old.
There are, I believe, quite a few men and women older than the Ancient Skeleton, and they are driving cars and reading newspapers without need of spectacles, and generally going about their business without the notion that they ought to be on exhibition in a museum.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 11:48 AM
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
My brother went off to France amid a chaotic chorus of Farewells and Au Revoirs and Bon Chances. I heard the commotion. When my brother- who lives with Mater no longer- came to the telephone for a few moments, I chimed in with a few hearty greetings of my own before our mother took over again.
I heard her call goodbye as my brother slipped noisily out the door into the evening.
"So," I said, "he's away to France for a few days."
"He is," she said.
Eight or nine minutes later she dropped a faint hint about motoring to the airport the next morning.
My sibling could hardly, I reasoned, be returning so soon; something was amiss.
"No," Mater said. "He's not going yet. He just went home to his own place for the evening. He's leaving for France in the morning. I'll be taking him to catch his flight."
"But- wait a moment. You just said goodbye to him! Several times! In French, no less."
"Oh, just for the spirit of it," was the answer. "I'll say goodbye again tomorrow."
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:36 PM
Monday, September 21, 2009
It was all cogs and wheels turning at Mater Headquarters this weekend when the new satellite dish was called upon.
My brother made a desperate telephone call from Paris. He had worn out his shoe soles hunting for a Hippopotamus Restaurant; he knew it was nearby, had wandered in vain up and down such and such a street, and the hungry tourist gave up at last and contacted the old homestead, firmly believing that his mother, in Ireland, could assist by way of the dish.
"Hold on," said Mater. She tapped a few buttons and fed a few fine details into the machine.
"Proceed directly to 9, Rue Lagrange," said she soon after, wondering to herself what was a Hippopotamus Restaurant, and what was a Rue, only certain that her son was far from home and in immediate need of them.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:43 PM
Friday, September 18, 2009
Mater's brand new Internet connection is up and running courtesy of a satellite dish perched on the roof of the house.
The floating disc is, by all accounts, a monstrosity.
"It's ginormous," Mater said. "All this technology. I'm not sure if I'm in my own home or at the United Nations headquarters."
More swiftly than ever, Mater is, by such thoroughly magical means, empowered to investigate details that concern my days; she can, for instance, tell me about the nearest thundercloud or the most convenient local store in which to buy a pair of shoes. All these notes she obtains from the comfort of her swivel chair, long before she finishes the day's first cup of tea.
Mater Headquarters: a domain festooned with an array of enormous satellite dishes, a guarded control tower, and a shivering flag- the latter bearing a single protective eye and emblazoned with the letter M.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 3:07 PM
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I had an episode with my ear and a minor surgical procedure was necessary. Over the telephone, to a concerned relative, I sketched the scenario.
I remarked on the most difficult aspect, that the least sound from the medical instruments had been tremendously magnified- hardly surprising, given that the event took place inside my ear.
"So the doctor likely didn't hear any of what you heard," my relative mused with a little shudder.
"No, probably not," I agreed. "Just me."
"It's like that old saying," she continued, "if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?"
My relative, it has to be said, is a good deal better at offering soothing words than she is at delving unsolicited into tangled abstractions.
"It depends," I answered, unable to resist, "but you forgot to mention something important."
"You didn't say whether anybody was in the forest at the time. That's a crucial part of the riddle."
"Oh," said my relative softly. I could tell, through a bandaged ear, that she was laughing and that there were tears dancing in her eyes.
"Still," she pressed, in an instant of enthusiasm she would soon come to regret, "it was a good allergy, wasn't it?"
More tears followed, but they stemmed from me this time.
"Yes. Yes it was," I said when I was able. "It was very good. You could even go so far as to say it was a good analogy."
If a well-meaning relative mangles and melts words without meaning to, where only one functioning ear is witness to the blunder- did it happen?
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 1:19 PM
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Spouse and I went house gazing with the hope of finding a corner we might like to own. We determined before setting out that we ought to maintain composure during the search, and keep a steadfast grip on logic. Too much emotion, we knew, would overwhelm the senses and cause us to admire and desire each house we set foot in, thus obscuring our view of reality.
Just houses, we said. A collection of walls with a tiled lid. Bricks and mortar, and the various other elements that provide the framework for a dwelling. We were simply going to see some buildings.
Despite my best efforts, by sunset I had torn out two redundant sinks and replaced them with bookshelves- oak would be excellent, I thought- and added a fence around the building's perimeter- "just a low fence, but we can't have passers-by stamping on our lawn. We have to establish boundaries!"
I had nurtured to life an entire garden of blooming flowers and a bed of onions, quite the envy of all the neighbours- who were, it must be said, companionable people, tripping over themselves encouraging Spouse and I to feel welcome. I had two sets of friends come to visit from afar- along with streams of glowing remarks- and I gave the interior and exterior walls a fresh lick of paint for good measure.
They are indeed just houses until, accidentally, one entertains the faintest fragment of possibility- and the what-ifs and the we-coulds and the wouldn't-it-be-nices all come curling out of the shadows. Then one imagines the doorbell ringing expectantly, and the hint of a vegetable garden on the wind, and all the days and decades ahead that one might have in that house. And in that one. That one, too. And most definitely that one.
The trouble lies not in the appreciation of a single splendid house, but in the longing for all of them at once.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Through the streets of an Irish city I was striding with a friend. We observed a car backing into a small space on the side of the street. Behind the car was a parked motorcycle; the driver did not see the obstruction, and down went the motorcycle with a clatter.
The driver got out of the car and examined the scene. It appeared that nothing was broken- so far as one could tell, anyhow, given that no dents were visible and no fragments of metal had detached from the machine.
Still, it had been a mighty collision, and one could not surmise what mechanical elements had been affected. My friend and I stood nearby, and we wondered what would happen.
The driver, it seemed, was not particularly concerned, for she set the motorcycle upright, returned to her car, locked the doors, and strolled on down the street as though nothing extraordinary had taken place.
My friend and I were having none of that nonsense, that rude disregard for the property of others. My friend was a visitor. It was my country, and I supposed I ought to know the protocol for such curious circumstances.
We reached a solution together.
We scribbled a little note and slipped it inside the fellow's helmet. The message stated that, should he find any trouble with the vehicle upon his return, such and such was the licence plate number-and the colour, and the model number- of the errant car that had struck his motorcycle.
That was years ago but I wonder to this day what crossed his mind when he went to put the helmet on and got a bit of notepaper stuck in his ear; and I wonder whether he needed to use it; and what it felt like for the thoughtless driver to have the covert deed mysteriously return to haunt her.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 2:09 PM
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
I had long wished to go to my friend's home: we had met just once, in California, and her house was in the woods of Northern Maine. I could not wait to reach her door, to greet the mailbox that had connected us for so long, through hundreds of hand-written letters that brimmed with both our lives. It was a most notable occasion.
We drew near to the house: I had seen it only through word-pictures, through my friend's deft sketches, when I lived in Ireland, and, later, California.
After almost four hundred miles, we coasted up the driveway and Spouse brought the car to a satisfied stop. I could hardly draw breath for the excitement. I wondered: behind which window was my dear friend peeking? I glanced about for familiar signs of her.
"Wait," I said, remembering something crucial. "She's not here. It's the wrong house."
"She moved. I forgot. She moved to another house. This is her old address."
"Moved," Spouse echoed numbly. No, it seemed he could not quite believe it either.
"I'm sorry," I mumbled. "I forgot. But the good news is that she only moved about a mile away, so we can go there instead."
And we did. It was a most notable occasion.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:14 PM
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Out the window I looked, across the yard and into the shed: a bird was beating its wings uselessly against the filthy glass, perplexed and stricken. It only had to turn, once, and see the enormous doorway and path to freedom. I sat with my cup of tea and considered performing a rescue. It was a familiar sight to me when growing up in Ireland; the creatures always, in the end, discovered the mistake and streaked with thumping glad heart into the sky.
This one fluttered and flapped and made powerful efforts to extricate itself from the puzzle.
Turn, turn, I whispered. There's the door, there's the sky: see them.
And then, a slick black shadow stirred underneath the window pane, among the cans of paint and old sweeping brushes and rusty tools.
The family cat was lurking: she had but one green eye, and it was trained, I knew, on the sparrow. The cat quivered, set her paws in line for a leap. The bird, busy trying to make sense of the obstruction, saw none of it, but continued to dash itself miserably against the glass.
The cat sprang; but by then my teacup had been abandoned with a clatter. I lunged at the cat just she flung herself on the twirling bird. I caught the cat in the air.
The bird, disturbed at the commotion, saw the cat, saw the human, saw the door with the blue sky beyond, and vanished in a moment. The cat wriggled in my arms, jaws still ready to receive lunch.
A small cloud of intermingled feathers and hairs made its exhausted way to the floor. The cat understood, suddenly, that I had cheated her. She gazed into my face with a terrific loathing shining from her single eye. A feather was plastered to her mouth; my hands were covered in cat hairs.
She scrambled away from me and snaked off, a dissatisfied black curl in the grass, and did not talk to me for the rest of the afternoon. And I was not sorry. I knew that she would forgive me by dinnertime.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:24 PM
Thursday, September 3, 2009
I bumped into a bee this afternoon; I collided with him as I galloped to the library. He was hunting for flowers, I was thinking of books.
We did a little twirl around each other to avoid a calamity- his dance was slow and lazy, mine less so- and both emerged unscathed from the encounter.
I recalled, anyhow, being on a bus years ago and observing that one of my fellow passengers was a bee. The bee was minding its own business, as we all were, and as bees usually do. Then some fellow, no doubt fresh from the School of Flimsy Notions, decided to thump the bee with a magazine: but it was a half-hearted thump, and he hit the creature just hard enough to cause fury.
I watched the bee gather strength and vexation and set its last sights on bare limbs; quite possibly mine were under consideration. I watched the oblivious passenger settle deep into his seat, unroll the wordy weapon and proceed to read the contents, thoroughly satisfied. He forgot about the bee.
I climbed off at the very next stop and walked the rest of the way home.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 3:18 PM
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I met Spouse at his office and we went to keep an appointment at the bank. We chose a blistering hot afternoon, and had hardly crossed two streets when fatigue began to set in.
We both, our brows shiny with moisture, began to regret the excursion, but it was too late then to turn back.
We shuttled along side by side.
"You did," cautioned Spouse, "remember to bring your identification, didn't you?"
"I did, I did," I gasped, wishing for a cloud or a convenient corner to take shelter in.
But it was, I added silently, no use carrying that thing: neither of us in the least resembled our pictures anymore. Somewhere around B street Spouse's chin had morphed and melted, and by the time we stumbled onto L street my hair was plastered to my scalp.
We had the appearance of two nervous stragglers on their way to rob a bank, not to open an account in one- but they could keep their money: all I wanted then, in all the world, was a cold breeze and a chair made of ice cubes.
Our identity cards, emblazoned with images of dry and placid faces, remained chilled inside wallets. We were troubled by the sun, and thought we would never be comfortable again.
As we staggered along W street I could no longer tell which one of us was Spouse and which one of us was the bank manager. Anyhow, it mattered not- there was, after all, that lovely pond just yards ahead of us on Y street, complete with laughing ducks, and paper sailboats made of ice cream.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Mater's weapon: simplicity.
While I attempt to mercilessly quote to her some loquacious lines from Macbeth- a tangled process that involves choosing, sorting and uttering, with no guarantee that I could find the same phrase next time- Mater has, of late, been relishing the single-word format.
She has been watching a commercial on the television; she is enamoured with a certain catchphrase, and blasts it on my ear fifteen times before I can manage to stutter out my own lines.
"Simples!" she chirps like a triumphant little bird.
I shiver at the fall of the word- there is no telling why the brief punchline troubles me so, and my only error was in expressing my loathing- but I proceed, anyhow, with my unsolicited recitation of Shakespeare:
"Hours dreadful and things strange; but this sore night
Hath trifled former knowings."
"When the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle's lost and won."
The lone word pelts me, fast and furious, exceedingly irritating, raising my hackles. It dilutes whole sentences, reduces literature to a useless torrent of letters that my mother drowns out with a single victorious breath.
At length, we compromise: I will close the door between Mater and Shakespeare, and she will never say it again.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 3:09 PM
Monday, August 31, 2009
I was assistant in a clothing store when I was sixteen. Look Smart was the name of the establishment; it was a suitable title. My boss promised all customers that they looked wonderful in her skirts and blouses whether or not they actually did. I would quietly whisper the truth if I thought the colour or the shape was not suitable. They would, usually, thank me for my honesty and dash away to leave my boss shaking her head in frustration.
"I don't know. They never buy, they just try on," she would mutter. "God forgive me."
One afternoon while we idled without customers the door flew open. A red-faced woman burst through.
"I need help today," she said. Then she noticed the vast racks and rails of clothing, and blinked in confusion.
"You do make keys here?"
My boss, a brittle woman with a grim deficit of people-skills and a limit to her English, grumbled her answer.
"You want a dress?"
"No. Just keys."
"We don't carry shoes."
"KEYS!" cried the woman. I thought she might back out and run away.
"Blouse? You see what we have! You go and look!" She waved an irritated hand.
The exchange was terrifying to the bewildered woman; my boss, ever curious about strange people, was climbing all over the conversation. I could not get a word in.
"Is this a lock smith or not?" she pleaded.
"Nobody is called Smith here," my boss said, but she stared at me anyway, on the off chance that my name was secretly Smith after work hours.
"I thought this was a lock smith's."
"We're called Look Smart," I said, explaining the root of the error. "We sell clothes."
"Oh. I see."
She took one more glance around the store, as if a corner for making keys might be tucked away among the sweaters, that we were just not telling her about it.
"Fine," she muttered. Outside she craned her neck to see the name of the store, enough to see the foot-high mistake, and she sidled away up the street.
My boss shook her head.
"They never buy anything. God forgive me but they never buy anything."
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 3:41 PM
Friday, August 28, 2009
We decided to acquaint ourselves with the new neighbourhood, and we had, anyhow, nearly run out of milk. So we set off, at twilight, on foot, to the supermarket.
As we drew close to a crosswalk there appeared before us a man, elderly, with a rather distinct head of hair.
It struck me as peculiar- he was all of a sudden striding in the very same direction as Spouse and I, yet I was certain he had not been in front of us moments before.
He kept walking, through the red light and to the other side; we waited for our turn.
After a moment or two he stopped, turned around and gave us a long, hard stare that I could not fathom.
Then, seeing that I saw, he quickly turned, slid up the street, and feigned great interest in the next building, which happened to be a gym that was closed for the evening. He looked at the building, and paused beside it, and examined it carefully, as though he might venture inside.
His steps were jittery, and I had the impression that he wished to turn around and look at us again. I could not think why.
I said to Spouse, "he looks like he's watching us."
"Strange," replied Spouse in a whisper.
After a spell the fellow must have vanished again down a side street, or else I simply forgot about him; we somehow reached the supermarket without giving the strange character another thought.
It was, by then, about half past ten at night.
We collected the few things we needed and waited in line at the checkout. That was when I felt a disturbance on the nape of my neck. A customer was idling close enough that I could feel the presence.
Still, I thought, we're in a new place, and people come here from all over the world with their different habits and ideas about personal space.
So I let it go. But just the same, I stole a fairly reasonable glance at the customer who was applying pressure to my back.
He carried only a bunch of bananas, which I considered an odd purchase at such an hour. Hardly was it what I would call an emergency item, worth venturing into the evening for.
I got a terrible shock when I recognised him and his hair.
"Spouse," I whispered, "look."
Spouse looked. "Yes," he nodded. "I see."
Then Spouse saw the fruit, frowned, and evidently thought the same about the acquisition of bananas at night.
We both wondered, silently, how our new friend had reached the store, or how he had arrived at the same checkout to end up one step behind us.
"I think," I said under my breath, "it's not a coincidence. We should run the moment the cashier gives you your receipt."
"Or we could go very slowly," hissed Spouse, "and see what happens."
"We don't want to find out what happens. I'm pretty sure it's not an accident. We might be stuck here. We don't want him to follow us home."
Spouse nodded again.
We braced ourselves.
"But," I added as our purchases were swept into packets, "be ready for him to drop the fruit and change his mind when he sees us running. I somehow don't think he wants bananas."
Spouse accepted the receipt, returned his wallet to his pocket, and gathered the bags.
Then we fled. We ran all the way home, bags flying and colliding with our legs, and we gave the fellow no chance to work out what on earth had happened or in which apartment we lived.
It might have been all perfectly innocent; but we got, nevertheless, a good jog out of the expedition.
I myself still strongly suspect that those bananas were returned to the shelf after we tore out of there and left a bewildered stalker to drift home, curl up with his Stalking Manual, and wonder where he had gone wrong.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 10:44 AM
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
We paused at a traffic light, and a young Chinese man crossed the street in front of the car.
With a long white cane he slashed the air, probing all the possible obstacles that might be before him. The cane slid from side to side, and up and down, and it tapped the road gently.
At length the pedestrian shuffled away around a corner. The light turned green and off we went.
"Do you think," I said, "that he was completely blind?"
Spouse, only half-listening behind the wheel, was not certain of my meaning.
"The fellow with the cane," I said. "I was just wondering if he was completely blind, or if he might have partial vision. He seemed so young."
"Oh," said Spouse with an amiable shrug. "I didn't actually see him. Where was he?"
"He walked right in front of us! He was waving his cane all over the place!"
Spouse shook his head. No, he had not seen such a person.
"How could you possibly miss him?" I demanded, flabbergasted. "How could you not... see... a blind..."
My words dwindled away there and then. I considered the matter. Evidently, Spouse did the same, for he gave me a most curious glance, which I returned twofold.
"That," I decided at last, "is enough discussion about seeing and not-seeing," and Spouse agreed it was far better left that way.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 12:27 PM
Friday, August 21, 2009
"Slow down a moment," squealed the car.
We had not seen it in weeks: it was fresh from a long, mysterious trek across the country, had just been delivered to our doorstep and was in a most frightful panic.
"I feel dizzy. Tell me: where on earth am I now?"
"California," said Spouse, heaving a box from the trunk.
"Wait. That's not right." The car appeared to frown in the intense sunlight. "Didn't I start out there- I mean here? Years ago?"
I remarked, while clutching a vacuum cleaner and a beaver-bitten chunk of a forest in Maine, "welcome home."
"But how?" exclaimed the bewildered car. "Didn't we drive together, the three of us, across deserts and mountains and purple plains, all the way to Texas? Didn't we do that?"
"We did," said Spouse, a trifle wistfully.
"I was ever so hot there. And we stayed a while- and then, just as I was getting used to everything, off we went again- east, wasn't it?"
"East," muttered Spouse, his arms full of cardboard.
"Then- then what happened? I remember lots of snow, whole flurries of it, and being jolted frequently by strangers- and a long, strange while in which nobody at all came to visit me. I had aches more often than not. Then what did we do?"
"Then," replied Spouse, "why- then we came home."
"Home," said the car softly, winking and sighing as it settled a bit, finding its feet on familiar land. "Ah, yes, I remember Home."
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 3:44 PM
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
We rely solely on the internet to provide a telephone line. Woefully, getting a connection in our new home took ten days, approximately a cup and a half of perspiration, and two rival companies seeking our patronage. We were left high and dry.
In between, I tried to talk to Mater, to calm the onslaught of questions she was bubbling with regarding California and my surroundings, but with a fragile internet connection it was akin to shuffling through a mud swamp with one's ears plugged with bits of tree bark.
My mother could hear my voice without fail, but of Mater's words I gathered no more than six seconds at a time before a silence fell and I found myself with a seemingly dead line; she would resurface moments later at the tail end of a good story or a query.
We developed a plan soon enough, and it worked, so to speak, in this manner.
Because she could hear me, I suggested she make ready a series of questions to ask rapidly during the time I could hear her until all was hushed, which I would indicate respectively with "I can hear you now," and "stop, you're gone again."
To an eerie silence I would then chatter the answers at my own pace, interrupted by the occasional glimmer of "hmmm," or "I see," whereupon I would shout, "I hear you- talk to me quickly!" and Mater might fling out another question or two, or tell me something she had just remembered, until her voice vanished and it became my turn to converse at length.
We carried on that way for days upon days, getting rather adept at resolving the issue and formulating a pattern by which we had, I think, a halfway-decent level of communication considering the set of circumstances we found ourselves in.
Ah, but then.
Then I lit upon a new method of occupying the silent moments. Instead of furnishing my curious mother with details of the new neighbourhood, and whether I was suitably attired in sunblock, sunhat and sunglasses, I read, aloud, entire sections of a book I had just added to the collection. On my first excursion to the nearby downtown, I found an old and lovely copy of Macbeth. It carried the scent of old libraries and worn pencils, and upon it was scribbled here and there thoughts of a reader from some forty years before.
I have for years threatened Mater with the complexity of Shakespeare's tragedy, a story I am particularly fond of and which, I hasten to note, my mother is not.
Delighted with my purchase, I was, and I set about reading bits and pieces of the play to my mother as the faulty telephone line held her hostage.
"I can't hear you right now," I would say to Mater with a smile she could see all too well, "but I'll just read a bit of Macbeth now, and if you want me to stop at any point, just say the word. Stop me whenever you get tired of listening. I hear no arguments from your end. Well, then, on I go!"
And on I went.
Oh, poor Mater on the other end of the line, struggling to be heard through a thick silence. From time to time I caught, I thought, a momentary fragment of her voice, a glimpse of "-op readin-" and then she was gone again.
All is well now: the book has been shut, the telephone is functioning, and we have resumed normal discussions pertaining to sunblock, sunhat and sunglasses, the quality of the neighbours, the various rooms of the apartment, Spouse's early opinion of his new place of work, the chance of thunderclouds on any particular day...
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 7:25 PM
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Ask me not how or why, but Mater got a computer game the other day- a driving game in which she found herself zooming and weaving wildly all over the place. My mother is a perfectly good driver on the real roads of the world, and she was bitterly disappointed with the number of bumps and crashes and collisions she suffered crouched in front of the screen.
The trouble, she lamented, was that the necessary tools were awfully small. Her motoring was affected due to all that erratic fiddling with the keys and moving the mouse and pressing things and clicking buttons while attempting to keep the car on the track and the game in progress for as long as possible.
"I can't use this game at all," said Mater as she struggled again to locate the buttons, and she retired from the computer with a sigh.
My brother arrived at Mater's place this evening: he bore a grin, a steering wheel and a set of pedals- all the equipment a woman might need for fine-tuned virtual driving.
Soon the new implements were connected to the computer and negated any need to fuss with buttons.
Thus established, Mater went motoring once more, and she motored well, thanks to an industrious and quick-thinking son who saw that for every problem, great or small, there is an answer to be had.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Our has-been, once-was neighbour- I never knew him to park properly. We have since, mercifully, left behind his crooked-eyed, wobbly sense of direction and most extraordinary failure to conquer the luminous lines of the emptiest car park.
At first I spared the fellow scant few thoughts on Moving Day. I was too busy, awaiting the enormous truck that would sail in like a fine white horse to rescue two dismals in distress and hasten the few sticks of furniture to California.
At length the vehicle drew near, turned into the driveway and squeezed, with the necessary overlap, into one and a half parking spaces.
Our neighbour, on his way to work that morning, thumped downstairs, noted the disturbance and tried to guess what it was all about.
Who was moving? In or out? And why? To where- or from whence they came?
So many queries, so little time. He swivelled his head a number of times, eyes darting here and there- but he found no clues. He hesitated, frowned, gazed up at certain windows, shuffled with measured slowness to his own pitifully-angled car, certain in the knowledge that all would be over and done by the time he returned.
From the living room window I read it all, the curiosity and confusion, the desire to know the news.
I turned to Spouse.
"He wants to know who's moving," I said with unrestrained glee. "Look- he's annoyed he has to go to work and miss all the gossip."
"No," murmured Spouse solemnly. "I think he's just wondering who on earth is worse at parking than he is."
Aye, the fellow stole our space more often than not; but he never took Spouse's canny wit.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Late afternoon in August we wedged our persons into one corner of an empty train carriage, wrapped arms around enormous articles of luggage. We slid from the railway station and watched, deliberately, as the town began to melt from our sight.
Not for us the anxious question of the front door having been locked, nor the fretful uncertainty of whether appliances had been properly unplugged. In all the world we could lay claim to no door. Our belongings had been thoroughly detached from their respective electrical sockets, bound, as were Spouse and I, thousands of miles westward.
With no fixed abode and nothing certain before us, we allowed the town to dwindle corner by corner, retreating from the familiar streets amid a painter's palette of thoughts and whirlwind possibilities.
Two weathered fellows soon made themselves comfortable in our compartment. They bore the dismayed, tangled hair of the homeless- still, who were we to remark on such things?- and threadbare, grubby vests through which peeked vast expanses of haggard skin.
I imagined we gave the impression of being on vacation; but our fellow travellers understood, inexplicably, that we were going far and would not return. A spirited conversation blossomed.
"You're doing a great thing. I bet," one neighbour jabbed a finger at us, "I bet you're making the best decision you ever made." His eyes were alight with the thrill of it all, and he sounded convinced of the words.
His companion nodded, and slurped from a paper cup. "I couldn't do what you're doing. Never. You guys have got bananas."
"Bananas," the first echoed soundly. "Yup. Plenty of bananas."
Over and over the raggedy companions assured us of our boldness, and of the rightness of our boldness, and that we were in possession of a healthy supply of bananas.
Our paths at last had to diverge. Shouts of good luck and take care and scraps of advice tumbled with us onto the platform as we hauled the burdensome bags to the next segment of our adventure.
With the fervent well-wishes of strangers, and the proverbial bananas- a dash of courage enough to set out on some railway tracks and leave the known world behind- with these our journey could begin in earnest.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 11:50 AM
Monday, July 20, 2009
I hail a passing crow,
count fare for
and two miles west
as the crow flies,
if you please."
The feathered one
points a wondering wing
at Spouse and I,
at our belongings
which sleep snugly
on our backs.
"Just the one way?"
Our pilot is curious.
His beak gleams-
in it I see reflected
our journey faces,
our adventure faces,
long shut away
to gather quiet dust.
surmises his passengers,
shuffles his feet,
fluffs his coat of black.
"It's hard to keep still
in an enormous world."
"I see," nods our crow.
and all that."
Spouse and I
the obliging crow's back.
The fields and fences,
the twisted roads
that led to friends,
all evaporate underwing.
A fragment of history
we carry with us
only the best parts;
the rest falls away
as it should,
as the crow flies.
I'll be writing only occasionally over the next couple of weeks as Spouse and I try to get organised and make our way to California.
I intend to be back on track and on regular writing schedule by the middle of August, with a fresh batch of Crumbs From the West - I mean Corner.
Stay tuned for more woolgathering!
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:16 PM
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Mater once had a day out with a visiting relative, years ago. They explored the shops, then paused to snack on some cream cakes and tea in a little cozy bakery that Mater knew.
The pair perched by the window, a fine vantage point to observe the heart of the city.
They chattered and caught up while the afternoon sunlight twirled on their teaspoons, while people flitted past burdened with shopping bags or shopping lists.
Then a shadow splashed across the tiny table.
Mater and her friend glanced up, and instantly their teacups froze mid air.
Another relative- one who had not been informed of the visiting one's arrival- was peering intensely through the glass, hands cupped around her face. She was scrutinising the array of cakes and tarts on display in the window. She did not expect to see two familiar faces.
The pair inside were stricken twofold: in the first place, the relative had travelled from another country- her visit was therefore significant, as was the fact that nobody had bothered to mention it to the other. In the second place, the cat was about to be out of the bag in the most dreadful way possible, and the meeting that everyone had sought to avoid was imminent.
The disposition of the other relative, being less than cheerful and slightly more than crusty, tended to provide for awkward situations, and family members thought of her as the proverbial landmine. Volatile and bitter as the poor woman was, with never a soothing word for anyone, a verbal clash on the street was the last thing Mater and her companion wanted.
They did not breathe; they twitched not a hair as the older woman stared and squinted, a permanent scowl etched into her features. They were close enough to count the wrinkles on her face.
There was only a thin and unreliable sheet of glass between the horrified friends and certain trouble.
It was a mercy, then, that the woman saw before her nothing but cakes and sugared buns and scones with raisins: for, after a long moment, she turned away and continued her stride along the crooked street. There was no chance she had seen and ignored the pair- the force of her personality and the magnitude of her pride would never have allowed such a thing to happen.
The duo could hardly dare to believe their fine fortune. Shaken and thoroughly rattled by the awful scene, they gathered their belongings, paid for the tea and cakes, and dashed away on the off-chance that their luck was fleeting, that the old lady would realise, half a mile away, that she had noticed something odd- or decided that those cakes looked mighty delicious after all.
How curious that we look and look but sometimes do not see what is under our very noses.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 3:52 PM
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
We were shopping when a terrific commotion began, and a cacophony of wailing struck our ears. It was at its peak by the broccoli and the string beans.
The source was a little girl, one of a purple hue, who appeared to loathe everything in sight. She shared a shopping cart contraption- fashioned in the shape of a car, complete with steering wheel- with her brother: the pair sat inside as their mother pushed them from vegetable to fruit.
Save for the woman's grasp on the handle I might have thought the children were travelling alone- the parent frowned at the various items and examined their skins for blemishes but never glanced at the bellowing toddler. The girl child grew more vexed by the minute. She roared and she howled and she never took a breath, which caused her to turn the precise shade of an eggplant.
Still the mother continued to inspect the shelf items. The screams threatened to topple the tower of juicy apples. The floor quivered slightly.
I observed the boy, encapsulated in the car with his sister as she issued forth a resounding volley of complaints: he was silent, and his small fingers were plugged with resignation into his ears. I had never seen the like of it in an infant.
At times we cannot get away from the noise and the rattle of everyday life. Proverbial fingers in ears becomes the solution of choice. Our weary hero blotted out his insistent sibling's bawling: being unable to run away, it was all he could do.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Some fellows wreaked havoc on neighbourhood streets this week, tearing around the city I live in and behaving like rascals.
According to my local newspaper those persons were deemed to be vandalists. Aye: vandalists.
To tell the awful truth, I am increasingly more concerned about the grammar vandals. They are many, and their work- ventures in which they plunder the language- is a silent streak of mayhem and catastrophe.
They ought to be apprehended, or at the very least, we ought not to consider them for literary positions at newspaper offices.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 12:45 PM
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
I was ten or so years of age; the class was studying a story for English Comprehension, and I was thoroughly uneasy on that Friday afternoon as the school day was winding down.
The piece was one of numerous formulaic entries in a collection of tales designed to encourage morals in children and keep the latter occupied for months on end.
The particular story featured a plucky girl who had received a shiny cassette recorder for her birthday- a popular gift in that era. She stayed home to experiment with the gadget while the family went out; one would hope it was just for milk and potatoes, and not for anything celebratory in the girl's absence.
Burglars shortly thereafter found their way into the house. They tied the child to a chair and set about ransacking the home. Ah, but never fear: our resourceful young heroine had a plan. She pressed a couple of buttons on the machine and deftly committed the robbers' voices to cassette.
Later that day the local police applauded her bravery.
"Well done, Miss," they boomed in adventure-story fashion. "We recognised the voices and have been trying to catch those rascals for months. They'll be in jail for a long time now."
As I recall, some reward or other was dispensed to the girl for her quick thinking.
My difficulty lay not in the implausibility of the crooks being captured on the vague basis of their voices, but in another area entirely. I could not let the matter go.
I had never in my life raised a hand in class to pose an unsolicited question; indeed, I had enough trouble lifting my hand to answer one. On that occasion I was bothered enough that I propelled a trembling set of digits into the air.
"Excuse me," I squeaked. Everybody swivelled in their chairs at the unfamiliar voice.
"Why didn't the robbers take the recorder too?"
A leaf dropped from a tree in the yard outside, and I heard it brush the ground. I thought it to be a perfectly reasonable question, hardly deserving of such a stony silence, and I had been certain that my teacher would offer an answer: an educational textbook could not be structured so flimsily that a child might tear it asunder with a gentle query.
My teacher cleared her throat.
"Well," she said slowly and very carefully, "here's what you can do. You can all write a few ideas on why you think the recorder wasn't stolen by the burglars. Do it over the weekend. I hadn't given you any homework but that's one for you to do. There you go- you can thank The Elementary!"
Her teeth flashed a triumphant grin. The mention of homework implied, by her tone, tears and punishment and frustration.
The bell rang then, and we were off and away. I heard grumbling voices; I heard my name mentioned in sour measures; I felt furious eyes all around; and I still had no answer to my question.
I made up my mind then and there: the whole painful business of speaking up in class, of asking questions, of challenging the bothersome bones of a text- I had my fill of such matters. I had tested the water, and I found it lacking in any sort of reward. I resolved to keep my thoughts, novel or otherwise, all to myself over the course of my school life.
I kept my word.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:49 PM
Monday, July 6, 2009
I might need to bring a parachute the next time I visit Mater.
Her little cottage was once well above road level, when traffic was scarce and the hum of an occasional car was akin to the fleeting presence of a bumble bee.
The local council repeatedly resurfaced the stretch of road over the years, plugging up potholes and repairing marks of wear and tear, the evidence of which is multiplying as more cars utilise that route.
They add a fresh layer of tarmac- and the road rises another negligible degree, and Mater's house appears to sink little by little.
I suspect that one day soon, in order to observe the road from her living room, my mother will be obliged to stick her head out of the window and crane her neck at a most curious and unsightly angle.
"Aren't you worried?" I asked of her.
"We might get flooded," she admitted warily, "if the house is in a pit. They might have to add a drainage system to fix that when the time comes."
I was, in truth, a great deal more concerned with how Mater would easily exit the property, and I told her so.
"Think about your house twenty years from now. You won't be able to get out," I insisted. "You'll be trapped in there. You'll be living in an enormous crater, high walls of stone and tarmac and mud all around you, not a scrap of sunlight to be had anywhere, cars rushing by overhead- and I'll have to float in on a parachute just to see you, and perhaps be winched out by helicopter. I suppose we could both be winched out once in a while so we could go on shopping expeditions together, but it would impair life just a bit."
"I didn't think of that," said Mater, who scribbled a note to herself to contact the local council to see what could be done about the grim future I detailed.
"I'm glad I could help," I replied; and that was all we said about it.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 2:08 PM
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
We took the car for a run one day. It had been idle for two whole months while Spouse recuperated, and we were concerned about the well being of our trusty transport.
Exiting the car park was a loud affair: as the tyres peeled away from the tarmac there came a great sucking sound, followed by a bang that brought us leaping forth from the car certain that shreds of rubber had been left behind. All seemed well enough at that moment; the tyres had simply become one with the ground through extreme conditions. The car had sat immobile through the tail end of Winter, through Spring and then the first faint traces of Summer. An earthworm, dazed, squirmed in the sunlight, wondering wherefore was his shelter.
Off we went, then, and immediately detected a troubling noise from the depths of the machine.
"Why don't you get out," Spouse said to me as we puttered into an empty car park, "and run alongside the car. Try to find the source of the sound and if it improves with speed or as I'm driving along."
I obliged by climbing out and jogging along at a reasonable speed. I attempted to discern the exact qualities of the strange clamour, and determined that it rattled less the faster that Spouse rolled. I hastened to keep pace with Spouse while keeping an ear trained on the noise. Spouse drove at various degrees of velocity and once or twice even overtook my weak human legs.
At last, exhausted, I made my way over, paused for breath and spoke to Spouse through the open window. Then I observed a police officer observing me, analysing my behaviour.
Her car had crawled with measured stealth in the direction of what she perceived as an oddity.
"Are you all right?" she called to me.
"I am, I am," I mumbled. I was mortified. "We're just checking out our car."
I pointed to the front of the car to indicate engine difficulty.
I suspect she understood. She nodded, anyhow, got back into her vehicle and, as quietly as she had appeared, drifted to another part of the car park. Nevertheless I imagined that we still held her attention.
Spouse, not having heard the brief exchange, was inclined to continue the test; but I sat in and said firmly, "let's go. She thought I was in trouble."
"Trouble. She probably thought that you were abandoning me in a desolate car park."
I had, after all, been chasing a runaway car, struggling to keep up; one could hardly blame the eagle-eyed police officer for choosing the more likely scenario as a means of explanation.
Mortified, yes, but glad, too, to see somebody looking out for us.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:34 PM
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
For years I had a covert and clandestine secret about bread. Nobody in the world knew it: whenever I plunged my hand into the packet to extract some bread for toasting, my fingers slipped past whatever slice sat on top, and scrambled instead for the one lurking beneath.
I was under the impression that the second in line was safer, more hygienic, less prone to worldly germs and the wrath of other hands. Were I the fortunate first one to tear open the packet, then the top slice was considered pristine; but it was a rare occasion and I usually stumbled upon the packet long after it had been torn asunder, slices all turned to face the sun, crusts mangled and the wholesome alignment obliterated.
Great was my surprise, then, when I one morning observed my sibling taking his share, and I felt that something was amiss.
Upon peering into the packet I recognised the very same slice I had discarded earlier; but surely that could not be right because my brother had since had a hand in there. The top fellow ought to have been eaten, but there was a familiar crust before me.
I stared at my sibling as he scraped butter, thick and yellow, onto the bread. Now that I thought about it, he did always seem to rummage in the packet for a longer spell than seemed necessary- as I routinely did.
I donned my detective cape and took a glimmer of a chance.
"Do you," I posed the question to my munching sibling, "ever take the top slice of bread?"
His chewing halted, his abashed expression said a score of words.
"I don't like the top slice," he mumbled eventually through toast crumbs when it became evident that his plan was revealed.
"I always go for the one beneath. Just a habit, I suppose. I prefer it."
"Ah ha," I said; and a few moments later I admitted my own truth.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:36 PM
Monday, June 29, 2009
It had the outward appearance of a fire engine, but Spouse and I heard only the toothsome chimes of an ice cream van. We heard strawberry-sweet chirps as the speedy red truck made a dash, lights twirling, to rescue some stricken soul.
"How is that possible?" asked Spouse as we watched it streak up the street, past the library and out of our sight.
"It looked like a fire engine," I said, "but it was singing the wrong tune."
"I think," said Spouse carefully, after a moment, "that there is an ice cream van very close by. The fire engine was actually silent. All we heard was the ice cream van, all we saw was the fire engine, and we put the two together."
I concurred, but I mourned the mystery all the same.
We belong, not to a world in which fire engines might jingle pleasantly like ice cream vans, but to a society of short-lived adventure and too-brief moments of wonder; one in which the spell of possibility is frequently extinguished by a blunt explanation.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 1:09 PM
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Just a jug. Just a teacher's water vessel. Mind you, I have seen much in my day, though it is all drawing to an end: I will soon be retired, either smashed to sad smithereens in a cardboard box or consigned to a dimly lit cupboard of forgotten artifacts. The teacher for whom I served a purpose is due to hang up her teaching hat. She wore that proverbial hat for forty years. To tell the truth now- and I have little time, for they soon will come for me- the hat was an ill-fitting one.
The children- four decades of them- knew what I knew, and year after year I watched, helpless, as little ones crumbled under her brittle authority, as the spark in their eyes flickered and grew dull, as curiosity was extinguished. We all watched as she pulled and tugged endlessly on that hat, forcing it to suit, willing it to be right.
The hat was wrong. It impaired her judgement, caused her to bellow caustic words in a broken-glass voice to bewildered youngsters who perhaps wriggled a little too much in their seats or cast an eye to the leafy trees beyond the window. She never withheld the option to humiliate, preferring that resource to the softer tones she might have employed.
The hat was wrong. She framed one of the brightest boys as a severely challenged and skill-deficient fellow, assured his poor mother that all hope was lost until a professional second opinion propelled the child, to the teacher's chagrin, into a higher class. The teacher never quite recovered from the grievance, offended as she was by the decision and by the sight of the boy lighting up her television screen, a contestant on a national quiz show, several years later.
The hat was wrong. Her mantra was "She Who Holds The Chalk Holds The Power." I ought to know; I was closer to her than any soul, and I sat on the desk as the months turned into seasons and the seasons fled and children grew and escaped from her charge, and a new line of wide-eyed infants filled the vacant seats to learn through the medium of an icy glare that their teacher's relish for control superseded a regard for gentle enlightenment. Yes, I saw it: the merciless grip on the chalk, the barely-repressed glee with which she castigated and lectured and dished out discipline.
The hat was wrong. And this week, her very last with the teacher's hat, as she picks me up and fills her glass with water, I detect an altered air. Her hand trembles slightly; a sigh here and there. I wonder at those times if she comprehends what she has done to the generations of boys and girls who got away as soon as they could and took with them no traces of joy for books or words or learning or rules.
Did it dawn on her at last that frightening or embarrassing children into obedience, or ordering them to read books for punishment was no way to make them return, years later, to speak of inspiration at her retirement party?
The hat was wrong. She chose it, I suspect, for all the wrong reasons- power over knowledge, dominion over effectiveness. She gained the upper hand over the smaller people of the community but I wager it rings hollow today, for at the curtain fall of one's career the edges are blurred no longer, the picture becomes sharp as a razor, accentuated and unequivocal. The men and women who declined an invitation to the farewell party- or the local artist who could not bring himself, when asked, to fashion a painting in her honour- their absence will stand like punctuation marks, pronounced and tremendously telling.
The hat was wrong, and it is entirely too late now for the students that passed through the school and went on their way, altered forever by a teacher who held the chalk without knowing what it meant.
The school will fall silent soon, the rooms stifled and sunlit while Summer rages on outside, only the faint whisker-noise of an occasional mouse fragmenting the heavy silence and causing a chalk cloud to swell momentarily. The phantoms and shadows of the past make no sound but the air is thick with their presence: they haunt every room.
I will be sent away, and the teacher will not return when the green leaves fade and perish and swirl and draw children's attention from their books. For those youngsters it is not too late. With the brief time I have remaining on this desk, I urge them to pay equal amounts of attention to the turning leaves of the trees and of their books; and I beg them, wherever they go later on, whatever adventures they embark upon, to choose a hat that fits well, that brings them happiness, that enables them to better the society they inhabit.
All that matters is that the hat should fit. I too will resign my hat but I am satisfied. I did what I knew best. I performed the task I was made for- and I did it graciously. The hat must be right.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 9:50 AM
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Driving along the other evening, we observed a young fellow walking. Walking is all well and good but this particular walker was striding in the middle of the street. The headphones plugging his ears were further cause for concern, and I said as much to Spouse before the two elements were diluted by a third, which I first took to be an optical illusion.
"He isn't," I said as we drew closer. "He can't be."
"He is," Spouse confirmed. "He is. He's walking backwards."
Nor was it a matter of two steps, as one might do, in the most extreme case, to get a better look at something in the distance- the fellow was stepping along as though not a thing were out of place, in a nonchalant attempt to get to his destination.
With that spectacle mercifully behind us, I gesticulated wildly, intending to utter a remark to Spouse regarding the folly of human beings- but not a sound came out. Rarely have I been so flabbergasted.
Words are lovely little things. When adequate, they can frame a picture perfectly, but on occasion they are known to be stubborn and reclusive and refuse to do justice to an account for the benefit of those who were not present. In the case of the young man walking backwards in the middle of the street while wearing headphones, my words might falter but my memory never will.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 2:27 PM
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Between the pair of us my brother and I decided to put the family dog on the roof of the house. It happened on of those luminous childhood days of July or August when a humble wooden ladder, propped idle against the house for a roof repair or a lick of paint, could become a handy tool for mischief and adventure.
Up and up we climbed to the flat roof above the kitchen.
The dog was entertained enormously by the unfamiliar corners and strange heights: he sniffled about from edge to edge, the furious flurry of his tail nearly enough to propel him off the roof and over the fields like a little black helicopter.
My sibling and I surveyed the landscape and scoured the immediate area for the lost objects of years gone by. It was pleasant up so high: we could see the tip-tops of trees and the ragged patchwork of farmland, and it seemed we had wandered hundreds of miles from home.
After a spell of exploration the little dog wished to return to the life of an ordinary, earth-bound canine. He inched his way to the lip of the roof, ascertained that he was at our mercy, and threw unmistakable glances of impatience in our direction.
"You'll have to wait," I said to him, distracted by the exhilarating notion of camping permanently on the rooftop.
The dog gave my brother and I one further stare that we could not decipher, and then he leaped off the roof. He sprang and landed on a garden of spongy grass. His knees were stained green for a week but he was wholly untroubled. There were no green knees for us upon descent; but tremendous was our astonishment upon seeing the flight of a brave little dog.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 6:33 PM
Monday, June 22, 2009
The librarian handed me a brightly coloured box and dispensed advice on the worth of the film. Spouse and I spoke with her about matters pertaining to the weather until a fellow came by, family trailing behind, and called greetings in Czech. The librarian responded in the same tongue; a nice character, she said, that spent a good deal of time at the library.
Shortly after, another man approached and grinned broadly at the librarian: another patron she was warmly familiar with.
She then recalled seeing our name last week on books underneath the checkout counter- items the library had reserved. I replied that we had collected those pieces a few days before and our account had thus been settled.
With all that said and done it was soon time to part ways, and off went Spouse and I.
"It's strange," I remarked to Spouse, "but that was nearly like being at the library!"
We turned around to observe our friend, neighbour and librarian lifting her lively little terrier dog into the car. She beamed at us, waved farewell one more time. It had been a grand idea to arrange an evening stroll along the river and through the park: and it turned, because the world is full of minute surprises, into an exhilarating outdoor version of our weekly library excursion.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:59 PM
Thursday, June 18, 2009
We were flying: I had the window, Spouse had an aisle seat- our respective particular preferences- and there was an empty seat between.
The person in front of me reclined her own seat suddenly and with such force that my water cup, empty on the opened tray table, flipped upside down. I was furious, livid, imagining the consequences had the vessel been full. I bubbled over with years of carefully pressed frustration. Too often I had been walloped by a thoughtless recliner who forgot that someone might be behind. I had had enough.
I reset my cup the right way up, then remarked with a loud snarl, "I think I'll put away the tray." And I did exactly that, with a shove that rocked the seat in front of me.
Spouse had a far better view of my nemesis than I did, sitting diagonally as he was from her. He was immersed in a book of Feynman's essays but looked up to see the woman plunge forward with head bobbling precariously on the stalk of her neck, then back again against the seat rest.
Spouse raised an eyebrow at me. I explained my reasons in a fast and furious whisper.
"No," I said then, just as loudly as before, "I really think I want it open." I pulled the tray down, causing the seat to tremble.
"Or should it be up?"
Each time I touched the tray, the woman lurched; and after the sixth lurch she determined to look around and find out who or what was behind the trouble. She first noticed Spouse, who was making great efforts to swallow laughter. The empty place between us gave her cause to assume we were not travelling together, so that Spouse appeared to be either a madman or, for reasons unknown, supported the individual who was shaking the seat.
I leaned forward and spoke to her, softly to begin with.
"You turned my cup upside down."
"I did? But- but I did not do anything!"
She sounded as though she believed it, too.
"You threw your seat back a few minutes ago. I'm behind you. There's always someone behind you when you fly. You have to be careful, and have a bit of respect." I had wanted for years to say those words to a fellow passenger.
She was flabbergasted.
"But I did nothing!"
"No- you did. You definitely did. My cup was upside down. If there had been water in it it would be all over the place. Or what if my meal had been on the tray? Think about it."
"But I did not do it!"
"Nobody else did it. You did it. You turned my cup upside down."
Thus satisfied, I folded my arms and settled down for a comfortable flight.
At last she turned to her companions with a whimper: "but I did not do anything!" and she cast one more furtive glance at Spouse, who could not, try as he might, climb into his book and escape from her line of vision.