When you’re old, your mind moves faster than your feet.
I’m sitting in the garden. Maybe I look like I’m slouching. I’m not slouching. At eighty-six a slouch is not a choice. Your bones just get comfy the way they are. Maybe I slouched once, a long time ago, and now my body is fixed this way. Maybe if I had sat up before I’d still be sitting up now. I guess these things carry through to the end. Good posture and I’d be bolt upright in the grave.
I don’t move for an hour, two hours, and I wonder what the differences are. I mean the differences between this and the other. Being still and alive, that’s what I do best. No need to move on a hot day. Only my mind moves, turned through its favourite circles, round and round, faster and faster. Old man. Old man. Old man.
The sun has dropped in on my garden. It’s so bright the neighbours must be jealous. Everything’s reflecting the light; the chair, the patio, even the china dog she gave me for the lawn. I hid it in the border but the sun has found it; I can see it winking behind the laurel.
Sometimes I feel cold-blooded, like a lizard waiting to be woken up. I think I’d be a little green lizard, twitching on the patio, blinking once a day. I’ve made the summer last a bit longer sitting out here. When I have to move inside, I’ll spend the winter with all my little suns; the gas fire, the hot baths, the electric blanket. Heat that only brings sleep. It’s better out here, being the ant under the pocket glass. Burning.
There’s a lot of sound in the garden, a lifetime of sound. There’s the generator behind the wall and the windmill thing they’ve got next door. There’s a breeze today, making the garden angry, shaking the shrubs and swaying the big apple tree. Even the grass moves, as if itching, rolling over and over. Not me, I’m still as a lizard.
Birds are calling. They claim the garden for themselves. This one’s black so maybe it’s a blackbird. It looks away, avoiding eyes, as if I’m no different to the chair or the tree. Here’s another one, small and round with yellow feathers. I never bothered with birds, all alike to me.
A new voice starts calling that I haven’t heard before. ‘Triiiiing-triiiiing, triiiiing-triiiiing.’ Very loud, very clear. ‘Triiiiing-triiiiing, triiiiing-triiiiing.’ Possessive. The other birds don’t like it.
Then I remember. It’s the telephone bird. The white plastic caller; living in the hall by the stairs. It’s a special sound, brought out just for me. Get up old man.
Maybe it’s her wanting to talk. What will I say? ‘How are you? Lovely weather.’ ‘Really?’ Haha. Checking up on me. Why would the woman call my garden? She does not visit.
I’m moving across the patio, my sandals slipping on something. Slugs, lots of them, slide away from the sun, out beyond the fence. If I followed them, into the next garden or the street, would I win the race? Everyday they’re sliding faster.
No, I’m not moving across the patio. I thought I was. I thought I was in the hall already but I’m still in my chair. It’s all happening much faster in my head, like pissing in the night. I’ll wake up and need to go. I’ll think I’m already there in the bathroom. I’ll go through the motions and then find I’m still in bed, still needing to pee. I did once, a great yellow pond in the middle of the sheet. Nothing’s embarrassing when you live alone. ‘Triiiiing-triiiiing, triiiiing-triiiiing.’ Get up old man. Up and away, I’m crossing the patio into the house.
I can’t see in here and my feet and face catch on things; carpets, curtains. I get into the kitchen but I’m still looking at the sun. It’s followed me inside, hovering over the toaster and moving along the sideboard with my hand. Burning. Let’s hope it starts a fire. The phone keeps calling, like a siren now.
Closing the kitchen door, I see there’s damp in the wood. So much time to think when you’re old. Did you know? When you’re old, your mind moves faster than your feet. Damp. Everything I do, everything, is slow. My brain just sits somewhere out of reach, distracted, getting bored. ‘Hurry up old man!’ it shouts.
Still ringing. I’m in the hall with the picture of her and the picture of the sea. Betting with myself now, will he make it? Will he? Won’t he? I know when the white bird stops. I’m past the stairs. I’ve taken my hand off the rail and I’m reaching for it, I’ve almost made it. Then it stops. ‘Triiiiing-triiiiing.’ Silence.
Back outside by the deckchair. I don’t remember coming back. The slugs have gone on ahead of me and the patio is empty. Probably just a sales call, trying to sell me a world I’ve stopped living in. A birdbath? A china bitch?
I sit down and look at the garden. There’s a breeze today.
Copyright © Jack Cooke 2014