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.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:52 PM
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