Saturday, January 05, 2008

these fragments

Painting his room today, I pushed with such vigour that I broke the handle of the paint roller. I walked down to Bunnings to get a new one. Outside the store I bummed a cigarette off a staffer on his break, then I headed towards the little bridge where my son and I usually stop to rest on the way home from grocery shopping. Two young boys were hoisting an old shopping trolley up over the bridge railing and as I got close they pushed it over, watching it fall, laughing.
"Hey, don’t do that," I said. "You might hit a duck." They looked at each other and smirked at me--old fogey killjoy--before running off.
I sat down on the stoop where we like to cool our heels and watch the ducks, where we unwrap packages of crackers or wash strawberries or refill our water bottles. Last time we were here we sat eating rainbow Paddlepops and he made me laugh by declaring,
"Mum, I love the ice-cream feeling."
I agreed it was a pretty good feeling. After a while I said,
"It was nice seeing Arabella at Blueys yesterday. What was the name of that other kid you both used to play with sometimes, do you remember? You know, that boy with the really big blonde curls?"
He thought for a moment.
"Shirley?" he offered.
Shirley???? Where on earth did that come from? It still makes me smile. I later remembered the boy's name was Jack.
It had started to sprinkle. When I pointed this out, he stopped licking his icecream long enough to muse,
"Rain...rain is just the thing I need."
Today I sat thinking of these fragments, and thinking of the line from T. S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland, which I’d come across in the Joan Didion book I was reading over Christmas:
These fragments I have shored against my ruins.
It's a line that gets in and repeats itself in your head.
Down at the end of the footpath I could see someone heading my way in a motorised wheelchair with a little orange flag fixed to the back. A man in a leather stockman’s hat drew alongside and stopped, and I realised I had seen him around town before. I thought he was old, never having looked so closely, but now I saw under his hat that he was young, maybe 30, and looked a bit like the younger Mel Gibson.
Car accident, maybe, I thought. Poor bugger.
He wagged his finger in an exaggerated way at my cigarette.
"I know: it’ll stunt my growth," I said.
"Sh...ort," he said, so I guess he had seen me around town too.
He stared at me so I pointed over towards the ducks.
"The ducklings are brown," I said.
"L...ight br...own," he agreed. Words were mountains his mouth had to climb. It seemed hard work going up, but a breeze coming down.
"I thought ducklings were meant to be yellow," I said.
He shook his head. His gaze fell on my new paint roller.
"My little boy’s away with his dad," I said. "I’m painting his room."
Then he said, "Are you s...apped?"
"Sorry?" I said.
"Are you s...apped?"
"Strapped?" I suggested, confused.
"Are you s...apped?"
"I’m sorry." I felt myself cringing. "More information?"
He abandoned the attempt.
"Are you h...appy?"
I nodded with relief.
"Actually it’s my birthday today."
He wished me a happy birthday and I thanked him.
A party of three middle-aged people was walking up the path and I turned my toes to the side to make a couple of inches more room as they passed between us.
"You’re right," one of them said to me, without looking at either of us.
I put out the cigarette.
"I don’t really smoke," I said. "I just...miss him."
He gave me a kind look. I rubbed my neck. "And I think I’ve done something to my neck painting," I said. "I can hardly turn it."
"P...oor b...ugger," he winked.
"T...ake off y...our g...lasses," he said.
"Sorry," I said. "I’m just really tired."
I raised my big sunglasses and parked them in my hair. "See?"
"Y...ou’re h...andsome," he said.
I laughed. I’ve been called a lot of things but never been called that before.
"So what’s your name?" I asked him.
"My brother’s name is Marco," I said. "I’m Gianna."
We shook hands. His warm hand gripped mine with a strength that surprised me.
"Well, I’m off, I guess," I said, gathering up my things. "I'll see you around. Have a good day, eh?"
"I...’ll tr...y," he said, grinning. He gave a wave and set off towards the bridge, his orange flag an arrow pointing back at me, as if to show me the way home.