Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Thursday, April 30, 2009


We were trying to reach India via Heathrow: we were guided onto a curious, prolonged series of shuttle buses that hurtled us from one corner of Terminal 5 to another for no time-saving purpose that we could identify.
During the third shuttle excursion, when my fury increased and I began to think we ought to be arriving in India shortly instead of careening around the airport towards yet another bus, I observed a small sign above the window.
The letter D was appropriately faint, perhaps rubbed by a frustrated hand to suggest we were not the first victims to pass that way.
D'Anger, certainly.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

We Can See Clearly Now, the Pins Are Gone

A word on yesterday: Spouse was ordered to keep still, and an electric saw roared into life, split open the plaster cast on his arm and revealed a dry, withered but much relieved limb.
I am faint of heart: I stared into this corner and that one as the doctor extracted pins from Spouse's wrist bone. I looked at the ceiling and the floor and the various wall posters, and at my shoes, which I noticed were in need of a thorough polishing.
And when it was over we made our way gingerly across the car park. A steep, grassy incline separated us from the bus stop- just the sort that Spouse likes to roll down on a blue-sky afternoon, when children are watching with open mouths and eyes as large as teacups.
For a reckless moment we considered that route- walking, that is, not rolling- but one of us might have lost our balance. Spouse is still rather one-handed, despite his farewell to the metal invaders.
There will be time enough later for rolling and tumbling down hills of grass, and for that I am glad: but glad is a weak, pale word that conveys little of how we feel. Brimming, perhaps. Brimming with the possibilities.
And my shoes still need to be polished.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Secret Language of Vending Machines

I was wholly absorbed this afternoon in watching a fellow watching a vending machine. As he examined its contents, both the sugar-laden and the salty variety, he was all the while laughing. He wore an enormous grin as he squinted through the grimy glass at all the dangling , displayed treats. And he laughed. He laughed at the packets of peanuts and the bars of chocolate and the day-old sandwiches; but what he found mirth in remained classified.
I was not very much alarmed. Truth be told, when I reflected, I was eager to learn the laughing man's secret, to know the joke and to find amusement, however faint, in brightly lit snack dispensers in an otherwise prosaic and commonplace bus station.

Monday, April 27, 2009


"What shall I wear?" Mater, who was getting ready to go out, lamented into my ear. I could not see her congested wardrobe of clothes from where I sat on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and I had no inkling of the possibilities.
I thought that a foolish answer would complement the question.
"Wear a pair of jeans," I remarked, knowing full well that my mother owned none and that she would rebuke my suggestion to the effect that I had never met her in jeans and never would.
A silence followed; it drew on for a degree longer than I considered necessary.
"A neighbour gave me some jeans yesterday," Mater said in a voice that wobbled. "I actually plan to wear them sometime. How did you know?"
It was Mater I called from the Emergency Room where last month Spouse lay prone on a gurney behind closed doors, attended to by medical staff.
It was Mater who picked up the telephone, who deciphered my strangled words of anguish and the bad news I delivered.
"I needed to hear your voice," I explained when I could.
Mater replied, "I needed to hear yours too. I've been crying for half an hour, and I didn't know why. I felt something bad had happened."
And there we were.

Friday, April 24, 2009

In Which Mater Listens To Some Advice

"I had a funny dream," Mater said, prickling my attention.
She has been on leave from work for twelve months due to a shoulder injury. That period of uncertainty culminated in a recent diagnosis which might have quite settled the matter as regards her eventual return. A peculiar hand of cards has, however, been dealt to my mother at this time: her employers have calculated recent losses and analysed the recession in Ireland, and have decided to provide a redundancy package to those who volunteer to leave their position.
The prospects certainly seem gloomy for those souls who intended to hold onto their jobs but for Mater, with one vacillating foot already out the door, it comes as an aptly-timed offer.
Still, she wavered. Her friends at work, a stable routine, an altogether human need for a sense of purpose: for weeks she weighed these against the improbability of ever again being able for a normal working life.
She tossed and turned in slumber, wondering what to do. Then one night, in the wee hours, she had a dream in which Tom Waits paid a visit to discuss the redundancy money and ultimate decision.
Tom Waits, fine character that he is, has growled many a money tune- such as ''Til The Money Runs Out' and 'On The Nickel' and he is legendary for his habit of purchasing clothing in thrift stores, so I was hungry for details about his attire and general appearance.
"He was in a nice suit, with a black shirt," Mater recalled. "He looked very well. He had a spiral notepad and he was making little notes all through the conversation. He did a lot of writing."
And Mr. Waits' urgent monetary suggestion?
"Accept the offer," were his words, "but don't spend money you don't have. Invest it. Be careful with it."
"But I bought a ticket to see you at your concert last year," my mother artfully responded.
Tom Waits just smiled; then he vanished. Presumably he had sailed off to another dream to dispense his inestimable advice.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Raggedy Man

I was obliged recently to take a train to Boston. The appointment fell at a most inopportune time but happily Spouse, as much in need of company as I, decided to go on the excursion too.
In Boston at the designated time I pushed open the door of the Immigration office, noting the sign that sternly banned cell phones, food, liquids and cameras.
Being in possession of all four I hastily passed my backpack to Spouse and suggested he wait for me across the street in a small cafe I had seen. Off he went with a step more wary than usual: my ever-careful, ever-confident Spouse reached the other side of the road after altogether too much contemplation.
Shortly thereafter I completed my task, exited the building and went to meet Spouse.
I passed a man of curious appearance as I drew near to the cafe, and I cast an eye over the fellow. He bore a tremendously disheveled beard, a threadbare jacket and the legs of a pyjama suit; his hair sprouted in thick, curly, tangled bunches atop his head and had not seen a hairbrush for many a day.
Then our eyes met and I realised that I was married to the broken fellow.
"The cafe was closed," said Spouse. "So I thought I'd just walk about a little and wait for you."
We began walking. It was fiercely cold. I took another look at Spouse, replaying it all: his beloved, three-week-old, luxurious, beautiful dream of a jacket had been cut open by paramedics, and rendered useless. We dragged his old jacket from the closet, glad to have kept it.
He could not brush his hair because of eight staples that held his skin together and, too, because his hand was bound in a sling.
His hair was long only because he had not reached the salon- one that is next to our home- on a Saturday that is written for us in indelible ink.
He could not shave on account of a dreadful wound on his cheek.
"I went to the cafe," said Spouse, "but the sign said they don't open for a while."
Spouse told me that he had rattled the door handle before he noted the hours; a worker inside looked up and saw Spouse, instantly understanding the latter's need to get inside where it was warm.
The look he gave Spouse was one of deepest sympathy and helplessness.
"But not for being injured," said Spouse. "For being homeless. He thought I was homeless. I saw it on his face. He wanted to help."
And throughout the day, as we walked arm in arm around Boston, I observed many a look of pity from passers-by, but also a significant number of bright, reassuring smiles from those who thought that I was terribly kind to take a ragged, one-armed homeless man under my wing.
"You're doing such a good thing," the smiles said.
If they only knew.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Good Days, Bad Days

This Sunday afternoon, much in need of a little musical refreshment, I played 'Blue' by Lucinda Williams- a collective favourite tune of both Spouse and myself.
I quite reasonably expected a reaction from Spouse other than bewilderment and a vague sense of recognition, and other than the strange query: who is this? What song? as our beloved singer warbled what ought to have been comfortably familiar.
Spouse has, at least as long as I have known him, demonstrated an uncanny, consistent ability to recognise a song from the first note or two, and the lack of such is a wholly terrifying prospect.
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