Thursday, July 16, 2020
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
I've been sorting through a few things to fill in my isolated days. Who hasn't? I found a short story and I thought I'd share it here. I wrote it when I was in my late thirties.
The glass was slippery, Ricky recalled, skidding back to his childhood in his memories.. This particular glass had a smooth milky opaque surface, and a regular pattern of tiny multi-coloured dots. It was awkward for him to hold, but he'd wanted it.
Even his mum couldn't hold it easily with one hand.
"Why did I buy these stupid looking things?" she'd said. "I should toss them out." She kept saying she'd get rid of them but she hadn't. Ricky liked the look of them and they held a lot of drink.
"That's too much. Here," she'd said to him more than once. She'd make a sucking snapping sound with her mouth. She was cross again. "I’ll do it," she snapped, "as if I haven't got enough to do around here-"
When his mother was outside at the line, Ricky had wanted a drink. He’d also wanted to watch the cartoons on TV. He knew he should have his drink in the kitchen but he'd made a nest of cushions and his special baby blanket on the floor in front of the TV.
He got one of the spotty, slippery glasses that his mum said he should be careful with. They were at the back of the cupboard with the Easter and Christmas mugs from his granny. "Cheap and nasty rubbish," his mum always said later when granny wasn't around to hear.
He poured his own cordial carefully from the heavy bottle in the fridge. It welled and splashed at first tip, but he wiped it up. He was careful not to rest the container on the side of the glass because he knew the glass might tip over. He didn’t fill the glass right up to the top because he didn’t want to spill it.
Carrying the glass of cordial, he walked with concentrated slow-motion through to the lounge. He held the glass in front of him, eyes darting from glass to doorway, trying to watch where he was going, but when he looked away he somehow tilted the glass so the drink almost ran over the edge. Neatly pacing, feeling his toes on the ground, he took painstaking tiny steps on the tortuous route to the next room, six adult strides away.
There. He sipped a bit of drink then placed the glass safely into the middle of the coffee table behind him. Not near the edge. "Not there, in the middle! Here." This was what his mum always reminded him. He might knock it over otherwise. He clambered into his nest, pleased and proud. He hadn't given his mum any bother. He didn’t have to trouble her and hear "What now?" if he called "Mu-um?" his high voice undulating with request.
Then his mum called sharply, "Ricky! Get the door for me! Hurry up!"
He jumped up to get the back door and in his haste knocked the table. The drink washed over the table, onto the floor on the far side. The slippery glass was rolling, rolling over the table then it smashed on the hardwood floorboards.
"Ricky? Ricky! What have you done now?"
He heard the backdoor and the alarming rush of air and temper as his mum flew into the room. He darted around the table, bare feet losing their grip in cordial,
"Leave it! It's too late now! You've done the damage. What have I told you about those damn glasses?"
Keeping her feet outside the puddle, she reached out, gripped his forearm and dragged him back. He’d felt sharp pain in his bottom and legs as glass jabbed into the ball of his foot near his little toe. There was lots of blood.
"Stop crying now,” his mother had said more gently. “Come on. It's never as bad as it looks."
Crimson splats dripped on the floorboards as she'd hobbled him back into the kitchen. His mother had bathed his foot with cotton balls soggy from Dettol and water.
"Oh, it's all right!" She’d held his face in her hands, smiled at him. She’d kissed him and lifted him onto the table. "Sit there and I'll get you another drink. Don't worry about the rotten glass. Stupid looking things." She was quite sure she'd got all the glass out, she'd said.
That memory of his own childhood had flashed through Ricky in the seconds after his son, Luke, accidentally nudged the glass off the edge of the bench. A wine glass. They both looked blankly at the spreading red pool on the floor and the glass, on its side, with a jagged piece out of it, but its stem intact.
Then he remembered when he'd seen the celebrant through the window. He saw her over someone's shoulder. On one level he couldn't help noticing, as you do. Her dark hair, lacquered into place, was just lifting slightly with the pace she was making, striding with her brief case to the next job. It's how it had seemed. That bit of hem on her long black skirt was coming down. You'd think she'd have fixed it. He hadn't been able to stop cataloguing the details and felt guilty. "I think we're talking about a very special person here," she'd said in a voice like liqueur during the service, her head on one side, her eyes roving around the crowd. Then she'd timed the pause while the mourners drew breath and Janine's sister in the front row released an enormous sob which hung for a while in the dust motes shining in the sun.
“Mind!" said Ricky. "Go round that way and get the mop would you Luke?' Luke was eleven. Ricky crouched and picked the two sections of glass out of the puddle.
"Forget it, Luke. You can't stop shit happening."
He'd only had a mouthful out of that glass and there was no more left in the bottle. Ricky wasn’t sure he could manage through the night without it. He'd saved half a bottle from the night before. He was rationing it. He'd consciously re-corked the bottle after he'd had his two and a bit glasses. He was sensible about it.
Luke was filling a bucket. Good lad.
"It's not a good time to give up drinking," some friend had told Ricky, a couple of months back. They'd shared a bottle of wine on a Tuesday morning. Janine had been asleep and it seemed like a good idea. "Nope. Not a good time."
He hadn't had such a hectic social life since he was a teenager. The visitors with their cakes and casseroles had propelled them along. But that had stopped now. Life was supposed to go on after some respectful pause.
"I've got it dad." Luke mopped the floor and Ricky cut vegetables into even strips, wondering whether he ought to go out and buy another bottle. Maybe later, after dinner.
Alyse, Ricky's thirteen year old had turned silent. Like Luke, she was helping out. Doing the washing. Setting the table.Taking over where Janine's mother had left off when she decided it'd be better for all of them if she went back to her own house.
Alyse was briskly setting out place mats and cutlery. She put out bread and butter plates, folded paper serviettes, tucked them under the knives on the plates.
Alyse's hair fell in golden glossy blobs. Ricky sometimes had helped her to get the knots out when she was little. She used to hold him round the waist and press her face into his tummy while he smoothed out the tangles. He'd hold her head gently so he wouldn't hurt her. There'd be a hot damp patch on his cotton business shirt where she'd been breathing. Now she glanced up occasionally at The Simpsons on the television as she set the table. They’d watch television while they ate.
Ricky was still painting the house. He hadn’t finished it in time, even though he'd tried to. He'd been keeping the garden weeded. The garden was a clock reminding him. He'd never really bothered with it except for this last year. He’d thought it would be good for Janine. Some sort of compensation for their up and down life together for the last sixteen years. Like most people's lives, he supposed.
He'd really upset his mother-in-law when he'd refused to go and have one last look at Janine in the funeral home.
He'd felt a curious ecstasy after the funeral. He was ashamed of the feeling of relief after weeks of lying next to his dwindling sedated wife with her body swelling hideously and her bones sticking out, never sure when death would strike or whether it already had.
The day of the funeral came blue and sunny with odd drifts of vaporous clouds in a warm deep sky, odd, metaphysical conditions that he couldn't help noticing. A compilation tape of all Janine's favourites blasted at the crowd while they gathered outside the bizarre red carpeted hopeless mechanised temple.
They'd all gone back to Ricky's afterwards. He didn't know who'd organised the barrage of food and alcohol but it had all happened. The sun shone and he’d sat on the front veranda and held court with Janine's basketball girlfriends, wondering how he could be intermittently laughing and getting drunk, then suddenly being slammed by violent engulfing waves of unthinkable loss. Getting giddily plastered on wine and that putrid jasmine blooming by the front door.