Untruths that creep in and become us

March 22, 2012


When was your first memory. I remember mine. I was about 3 weeks old. There were a bunch of people crowded in the front room of my parent’s place. Some were smoking. One hung over me. Smoke rising past his ear. He was smiling. His teeth were yellow. And his eyes so large. And he was tickling me. And my father pulled him back. And told him to quit smoking.

I have this memory. But I’m told I couldn’t. Not possible for a baby that age. Maybe my mother told me the story. And I recreated the scene in my imagination. That later got lodged in the memory vault. Memories are tricky things. The world we create is not the history we lived. What are these untruths that creep in and become us? Where do they come from?

…………………………….

BREAST CANCER IN THE AFTERNOON

 

Mrs. McGuire wore a red poke-a-dot dress. Her middle name was Eunice. The dress made her look like a farmer’s wife. And the clovers of field. That used to send her into rapture. Mrs. McGuire knew all this. She was hungry for power. People trusted farm wives. Mrs. McGuire liked to be trusted. If she could have been elected. She would have run for the Socialists. They had the best tea parties. Where the young men served. Like crows on a wire. Where all the voices of the girls rattled on.

She was born in Cabbagetown. An old working class area. Of Toronto. Before it became TO. Her parents did not grow cabbages in their front lawn. Like some did. Her grandmother used to preach that folks should keep their farming to the backyard and only grow flowers in the front. It was a dictum that Mrs. McGuire never disagreed with.

Mrs. McGuire did not like her arms. They were too flabby. Sometimes Mrs. McGuire wore padding under the dress to make her hips look wider. She took the padding out of the shoulders of the dress. Mrs. McGuire’s shoulders were already well padded. Like the cell that they’d kept her daddy in.

No one ever called her Eunice. What she wondered until the day she died was why people had middle names. Names that were never used. Maybe a back up. In case you lost your first. But no one ever did.

Mrs. McGuire liked her own space. Which was not always possible given her little acorn. Alvin, her little acorn, loved television. Especially commercials. Especially infomercials. Which is why along with her need for space, Mrs. McGuire left him sitting in his stroller. In front of the television monitor. Next to the drug dispensary. In the drug store. What could be safer? While she shopped around the drug store. By herself. Taking in the sights.

Little Alvin was pleased as punch.

His head cocked up at a 45 degree angle. His eyes trained on the monitor. There was a commercial about breast cancer. Alvin was overjoyed. Gurgling with glee. His eyes were wide open. Spit ran down his chin. He kicked his feet in the air. He was delighted with what he saw. He liked breasts. Although Alvin noticed that of late he saw less and less of Mrs. McGuire’s breasts. She’d begun to complain. Especially after his teeth began to poke through his gums.

A new commercial began. It showed a picture of a woman smoking. It wasn’t Mrs. McGuire. Although it could have been. Mrs. McGuire like to sneak a puff or two after what’s his name went to work. Alvin squinted his eyes. Smoke hurt. He prepared himself to cough. But he didn’t. This was just a commercial. That’s what Alvin liked about television. It was safer.

Another infomercial. More breasts. And they were being squeezed. In a machine and for no apparent reason. Maybe they were trying to make orange juice, Alvin thought. The lady on the television was pretty. Pretty unhappy. Why were they hurting her breasts? Alvin was not pleased. He spit at the television but only managed to soak himself.

Next they showed a large park. With lots of grass and flowers. And butterflies. Alvin was fond of butterflies. They tasted good. Now they showed large stones sticking out of the ground. With people’s names carved in them. There were people dressed in black wandering around the park. Tissues hanging from their eyes. They look lost.

Alvin laughed. It was a picnic. Alvin like picnics. Especially the ants. The big black ones. Which he liked to hide in his nose. They tickled. Alvin looked around. He noticed a lot of people moving through the aisles. There was music playing over the sound system but no one was moving to its rhythm. Alvin kicked his feet up and laughed. Wat-dat-to, Wat-dat-to, Wat-dat-to, Wat-dat-to, dat dat do, da da do.

He began to shake around in his stroller.

One old lady passing by screamed.

“What’s wrong with the child?” Her hands clapped her cheeks.

Alvin clapped his cheeks.

A tall and older gentleman stooped over. Like a boa constrictor. Hanging from a tree.

What the problem was with this child.

There were hairs growing out of his nostrils. Spiders in caves. Alvin reached for them.

“Spasms!” the old man cried.

“Oh, dear,” the old lady said. “What shall we do?”

A second lady, middle-aged and dragging her own nine year old behind her stepped up.

“Why don’t you do something with your child?”

“It’s not my child,” the old lady explained. “I was just walking by.”

“Someone should call someone,” the taller old gentleman suggested.

The middle-aged woman bent over and gently held Alvin’s hands. He turned and looked at her. And smiled. And stopped dancing.

“He wasn’t having a seizure. He was just… moving to the music.”

The taller old gentleman looked up at the ceiling and listened.

“I hardly noticed it.” He smiled. Then the turned to the older woman.

“Would you care to dance?”

The older woman blushed.

“I don’t dance well,” she said.

The old man smiled. “I’ll teach you.” And took her in his arms.

And the older couple waltzed down the aisle.

The middle-aged woman and the nine year old she was dragging behind her moved on.

Alvin sat and smiled, watching the old couple move. And dreamed of pleasant afternoons when he was younger and Mrs. McGuire had danced with him. Her large breasts stuffed in his face. And the butterflies tasted sweet.

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