Tuesday, April 29, 2008

By The Bootstraps

(published 'Silver Wolf' 1994)

She kept quiet for most of the day, except when she resorted to dark corners of the house and sobbed her heart out.

When she invited me to live with her, I was in two minds. How could I be confident that I was the one to pull her up by the bootstraps?

Relationships, in my experience, had tended to drag people down. And wasn’t I evidence of that very rule?

For years now, I’d visited Vera for quiet Sunday teas. Little more than a nephew visiting his aunt for understated conversations on dark afternoons. Except she wasn’t my aunt...it just seemed that way.

There was nothing more to it. We had originally met at night school and decided to score a few bonus points in human contact, before our results were totted up.

I was too old to be her nephew in normal circumstances, but the age difference was not impossible. I gave her flowers every time, for the price of a tea. But I would’ve given her flowers without the tea. And she would’ve supplied the tea without the flowers.

I forget now what we talked about. Sometimes it was what preoccupied the Sunday papers. Or library books we had exchanged the week before. Or, even, the weather which, needless to say, was gloomy whatever the time of year.

I’ve forgotten those conversations, since co-habitation has forced me to watch what I say even to the extent of surrendering what I once said to oblivion. A mind has only room for one set of obligations and emotional etiquette. Living with Vera brought into focus her utter sadness. She had successfully concealed this during Sunday teas. Now, I was made aware of the failed suicides carried around inside herself during the dusting, mopping and culinary duties which she assumed at the slightest excuse.

I began to blot out matters I once broached in preference to small talk. Such topics must’ve really brought her low. World news had been depressing at the best of times. And bootless badinage thankfully ensued.

Once television had run itself into the ground with interrupted jokes and even crueller slapstick, once the soap operas outgrew themselves with meaningful morals, I talked louder, mixing my own speech rhythms with those on the screen - in the hope that she wouldn’t notice.

Then we tried to switch back to ourselves: clumsy attentions towards each other... wordless shapes which weren’t really our bodies at all, perhaps... fumbling forms of darkness...

Predictably, Vera was begining to die. She was older than me, after all. We held hands, neither of us speaking... and, towards the end, it was for dear life.

I still don’t know which of us spoke last. And knowing that has no point in any event - thankful only that we had been given the chance to make such unlikely love.

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