The old man and the cup.
(c) 2017 J.D.Saward.
There was nothing else she had left to do, in her sweet and abandoned life, than to massage away his pain. [And meanwhile, in other lives they found a way to be free.]
The Old Man and the Cup – Prelude to ‘A Compelling Case’
His visitors tell him he should be more careful to get rid of the mice which run through his house. But he listens in silence as they tell him that so pleadingly. He just grins. They assume he does not hear very well.
He thinks to himself, as he gazes at his visitors, with as vacant a look as he can contrive, “But the mice are the only beings that know me well. Nobody else comes here. Except for Sunday afternoons when you usually arrive at my door. But not always. Sometimes you stay for an hour or so. Sometimes you say you have to run. The mice are here half the day. ”
Nobody else comes here.
But then he remembers the birds.
“And yes, the birds, they linger here for a long long time every morning at dawn and every evening at dusk. And usually they check-in briefly as they fly by during the day. They hang out in the trees and sing to me, and laugh with me, and complain to me loudly about their lot. I usually reply in kind. Fortunately my neighbours are a long away so they do not hear my imitation Kookaburra laugh.
Nor do those neighbours, on the other side of the hill, hear the deep and painful sighs I make in the night.
But, I am not sure, perhaps they do hear the occasional screams.
The nightmares began way back before my memory chooses to go.
The nightmares often happen in a dark cave. No-one comes with me into that cave, not even the birds. Near the entry there are marvellous glimmering rock formations, and evocative shadows, and a sense of adventure, but further back there is just the feeling of gloom. And a terrifying lostness that reaches down into my soul and strangles my mind and veins. I wander down the steps that are carved into the floor of the cave. Sometimes a noise like the screech of a dying strangled parrot is heard but when I look around I realise I cannot see at all. That is the nature of the cave. Sight is left outside along with my shoes. Sometimes I wonder why I have to remove my shoes before entering the cave, and sometimes – in or out of the dream, I am not sure – I remember the temples of Chiang Mai.”
She leans over and motions for him to notice that the people in front of them are leaving, and she wants to move forward a bit. She wants him to hear the monks more clearly as they intone their hour-long prayer. They slide forward on the marble floor, trying to make as little movement and sound as possible. She inclines her head once again to the altar, and mouths the syllables of the prayer. He imitates her as best as he can. After a few minutes he has to re-arrange his body. His legs are not as young as hers. She can bend, he cannot. She laughs at him sometimes, but never for long, before she gives him a helping hand. He wonders if there was a time when she was not part of his life. But he cannot remember much back past Tuesday.
As they leave the temple he places a twenty baht note in the donation box. She smiles. She had taught him the value of the coins and small notes a week or so ago. Twenty baht is a good donation for the monks each day. This coin here is ten baht. Give it as a tip for coffee and cake. This one here is one baht. In some parts of the city somebody will be happy to receive this, but a Falang giving it as a tip is an insult. Keep the one baht coins until we are homeless, my dear. And she laughs. This note here is one hundred baht. Some people work all day for one of these. In this part of the city your coffee might cost this much. She keeps the thousand baht notes in her own purse. He does not need them. He would only forget he has them. Or give them to the Tuk Tuk driver as a tip.
Walking on the wobbly pavement he stumbles. Careful honey, she gasps. He smiles. I’m OK, don’t worry. Where are we going now? I want some pizza. Yes, honey that is where we are going. Don’t you remember?
He clutches in his shoulder bag the gem she gave him, and he knows inscribed on it is her name, and a date, the date she arrived in his town, back where he used to be. But he cannot remember that date, not even what town that was, only a vague sense that the place he used to be was different somehow. Different to where he is now.
But he does remember her name because every morning, as they awaken in bed, she peers into his eyes and softly whispers, “Melanie, darling, my name is Melanie. Today don’t forget, OK?”
And a tear drops from her eyes onto his naked chest and he holds her, and motions for her to take off her nightshirt and she does, she always does, and he gazes at her body as if he has …
[paid content] ….
… and she gasps as he enters her and she knows she is as blessed as he.
They’ve given him six months. Perhaps only three. Or it might be as long as a year, or even two. The lab tests were pretty clear. The disease is spreading and it is too late to intervene.
“I don’t care”, he mutters, as he sweeps the driveway in front of his porch. “Why should I care about anything like life and death when she is… somewhere… somewhere I cannot remember the name of right now. I think I remembered the name of that place earlier today, when I was shaving my face, but now, I am looking for that name everywhere in my mind but I cannot find it in there. I wish I could, but then again what difference would that make. And what difference does anything at all make now? She is gone.”
“In the cave as I wander down and down and down, blindly, having left my sight and my shoes up above, some pieces of dust from the roof fall onto my head, and I brush it all off with my hands, and somewhere far far far below, even further than I have ever gone, I hear the sound of a plane taking off, and something like a waterfall, and the soft tinkle of a temple bell, and I wonder again, how can that be?”
She is never far away. Even now, as he sweeps the driveway with the little broom she bought last year at the Sunday Market in the village, she watches from above. Her tears fall down from the heavens, cascading down like a waterfall and they land on his head and he brushes them off and he seems to hear a sound. She wonders if the doctors will be able to help him after all. She knows she did her best. She massaged his disease into relaxation every day, even before he knew it was in him, causing the indeterminable pain. There was nothing else she had left to do, in her sweet and abandoned life, than to massage away his pain.
And another round of tears falls, and he notices a bird is squawking in the trees above, one of the black parrots he thinks, but when he looks up