And it was courage
December 30, 2011
I used to think. (Some would argue that.) That the most important question to ask was. Why are we here? And the second. Is there a God? Now, I’m not so sure of the second. Time like erosion. Has eaten away at my queries. And I’m back with the early Greeks. On the edge of a cliff. Addressing the sea. Knowing that there were no gods. And that man was alone. And that there was no explanation. Only himself to offer questions. And it was courage.
I heard a program on the radio. Why do people do good when there is no prospect of profit? When they did not believe in an after life? When there would be no reward. Good for its own sake. More courage.
My mother sits in an old age home. Tired. Her body aches with it. She wants to die. But I can still make her laugh. Courage.
Happy New Year.
THERE AIN’T NOBODY HERE BUT US CHICKENS
Mrs. Murphy leaned against the counter. Her wrinkled elbows began to bruise. Like peaches in a crystal bowl. Glistening in the morning sun. Ripening too soon. The widow looked up at the monitor that hung from the ceiling. A small pain struck her neck. Small as Rhode Island. An infomercial about losing wrinkles. Like human skin was canvass. Put up those tents. Lets’ build a fire. And roast marshmallows. A woman was having make-up applied. The woman on the television looked oddly amused. As if someone had told her a joke. Days ago. Now the punch line. Hit her right in the snoss. Mrs. Murphy didn’t get the joke. And was offended by the young woman. For being young. She doesn’t know wrinkles.
“Are you alright, mam?” Deborah Hall, the cosmetician, asked. Rubbing hand lotion. On her hands. Feeling the chafed skin on her knuckles. Abrade all your dialing cares. Growing delightful. Seeing the sun rise.
The glass is half full. Deborah was not really concerned with Mrs. Murphy but she had to ask. Mrs. Murphy was the other half of the glass. The half that was empty. Used up. Concussed by memories. Deborah was feeling unconsciously Christian. Too many Republican speeches on the television. Bombastic claims. Humbly holding God’s hand. So that He won’t get away. She would have preferred to get back to her magazine. Or continue polishing the glass counter. Or dream about… It all came down to the same thing. It was her job.
Mrs. Murphy looked at Deborah. No tears in her eyes. Too dry for that. Like kindling. Ready to start an argument. Her eyes might burst into rage. She pointed at the monitor.
“Like to see them slather a bunch of that cream under my ass,” the widow said. “Lot of wrinkles there.”
“Excuse me!” Peggy asked. Oh how she hated being woken up. So abruptly. By rancour. Or vulgarity. It offended what she believed. A drug store was all about. A tranquil hostel against the violence of the world.
Mrs. Murphy reached out and patted Deborah on the hand.
“I’m sorry dear. Just slipped out. It as if I have that syndrome. Tourettes.
“A neurological disorder characterized by recurrent involuntary movements and sometimes vocal tics, as grunts or words, and especially obscenities. Can’t control my language some times. Just have this God awful urge to let some curses rip.”
“I’m sorry, mam.”
“Ever hear of the Big Bang?” Mrs. Murphy smiled sweetly. Remembering when that smile had been to her advantage. When that sweetness was mistaken. For a deep inner beauty.
Deborah sighed. Ready to expire into another day dream. Anything to lock the old woman out of her head. She was determined not to let the old lady make her feel. Uncomfortable. Her stomach began to grumble. She shouldn’t have hurried through her breakfast.
“The Big Bang was God farting.” A strange other worldly cackle slipped out of the old woman’s lips. As if she was the mere wardrobe. Of some alien. Inside.
Deborah looked down at her knuckles. They were shining. Like pearls at the bottom of a clear pool. Of water. In Achilles’ Greece.
“I’m a conflagration of maybes. Maybe I’m rich and could leave you a special purse in my will. Maybe I am descended from royalty. And could dress you in a title. Maybe I have crabs hanging off my thighs. But why go on. When you get my age, it’s easier to remember what you don’t have. And I don’t have much time.”
“Oh,” Deborah responded.
The widow sat down on the seat of her walker. She took a breath. She looked up at the cosmetician.
“Do you remember?”
Deborah leaned over the counter and smiled at the old lady. She wanted to be kindly. She had to try. How do people get old like this? They must be born that way.
“Remember what?” Deborah asked.
“That’s just my point.” The old lady smiled. Not because she was pleased with herself. But because her face did not know what else to do. More and more it seemed as if the different parts of her body functioned on their own. According to some laws in different dimensions.
“I don’t understand.” Deborah turned her head slightly to one side.
“Well, how could you expect to understand,” the old lady responded. “If you don’t remember than there is precious little to understand. Memory is order. Order is rationality. Blow a tire and you can buy another shoe.”
Deborah shook her head as she stood up. Confused. Unamused.
“Are we having a discussion, mam? Because if we are, I have no idea what you are talking about.”
The old lady climbed out of her walker and would have grabbed Deborah by the collar if Deborah had been wearing a blouse. Would have grabbed her if she could have reached Deborah. Glanced at the young woman’s breasts. Which seemed non-existent.
“I don’t remember when I stopped remembering,” the old lady said. “But I do recall when it seemed everyone began to forget. It was right after 9-11. That disaster in New York. They took out the entire planet. Only one of us survived. We’re all in that someone’s mad dream. And you know when it all ends?”
Deborah shook her head.
“When that someone amongst us wakes up.”
Deborah was suddenly awake. Snapped to attention. Realizing that something had just zipped by her ears. Something important.
“Who?” she asked.
Mrs. Murphy turned away and pushed her walker down the aisle. She stopped. Turned around.
“Maybe, it’s you.”
The tiles on the floor lit up. Like cards dealt. In a game of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker. And the voice on the monitor hanging from the ceiling. Like a horse thief. Giggled. Someone in Philadelphia had asked if there really was a God. And the monitor had replied. ‘There ain’t nobody here but us chickens.’