Saturday, March 26, 2011

Slowcoach

Up righted the child stopped wailing, its red pinched cheeks settling into the bones of its pudgy face. Watching the woman cradling the now quiet baby in her arms he felt a rush of sympathy coursing through him, his legs, useless scrawny sticks made of fat and ligament giving way under him. It’s not often that on gets the chance to watch a woman holding a child in her arms; insufferable morose creatures. Just when you think you’re in like Flynn they burn your house down and think nothing of it. Whores! Cackling hens! ‘Get him; the bastard!’ they screamed, some with such boldness you’d think their throats would burst. Miscreant! El putero! He wed a taxi-girl with mouldy teeth. His great-grandfather pinched the cheeks of her arse until they blushed, a red tide moving along her tailbone and the down back of her thighs. He was the first to cackle and curse at him like an Irish schoolboy, inciting the others, some spitting and hurling mud, others making the sign of the cross and hissing like alley cats. If only he could get him to see the waywardness of his ways he would stop his whoring. Both fish and whores, these he made do with, never chipping in for gravy or napkins. They say he was shallow, like a pebbly riverbed, someone not to be trusted or put faith in. His father said little about his great-grandfather claiming ignorance and a failing memory. He’s not the kind of man you’d want to know he’d say grinding his molars. He watched the woman and child until the child, now fast asleep in its mother’s arms, showed little sign of life, then like a man who’d experienced a miracle he scarcely understood walked away.

Lela stood at the back of the queue counting how many people were wearing hats; thirty-seven, eight wearing more than one hat, seven wearing three or more, twenty-five wearing toques and a handful in bonnets. A woman in a sunbonnet was crocheting a muffler, a skein of multicoloured wool unreeling at her sandaled feet. A man wearing a telepathist’s vest was eating a pie, apples and cinnamon crumbing the front of his jacket. A puny boy missing an ear sat astride a sawhorse, his sister tugging dejectedly on his shirtsleeve. ‘Miscreant! El putero!’ shouted a fat man with a fat lip. ‘that’s not him...’ countered a skinny man with a pencil-thin moustache. ‘Oh yes it is’ said the fat lipped fat man. ‘I’m telling you it’s not him...’ said the pencil-thin moustached skinny man. Pointing like a fat-lipped birddog the fat fat lipped man said ‘Over there, behind the statue’. ‘that’s a woman with a baby, imbecile! ‘ said the skinny man twirling the tips of his pencil-thin moustache.

Mouth open Lela waited to accept the Host, a group of slowcoaches trying to push their way past the rector’s assistant and into the church. ‘damn you!’ scowled the rector’s assistant, a man wearing a leveret hair picot jacket trying to sneak between his legs. ‘damn you all!’ The priest instructed the congregation to pray, a freckle-faced boy sitting at the front yawning. ‘stop that’ whispered the rector, his eyebrow twitching like a squashed caterpillar. ‘and sit up straight’. The congregation said ‘Amen’, the rector giving the freckle-faced boy a stern look, two slowcoaches having made their way past the rector’s assistant standing like headless chickens in front of the altar.

Lela stopped in front of the Seder grocers to gaze at her reflection in the window, the glass distorting her gentle, child-like features. Out of the corner of her eye Lela saw the alms man rounding the corner, his head flinching on the gibbet of his skinny neck. Not wanting to speak with him she hid behind a stand of rotten cabbage hoping that he would pass her by unnoticed, an unpleasant vinegary niff buttering her nose. The last time she ran into him he told her about having to sleep propped up standing against a lamppost, his cap the only thing keeping him from freezing to death. Never underestimate a man’s competence for failure her father would say. A headless chicken has a better chance of making something of itself. A man’s failure can be measure by the size of his head: little head big failure, big head little failure, follow the bumps. She never did care much for what her father had to say, his mouldy, rotting teeth making everything that came out of his mouth sound muddled and spit out.

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"Poetry is the short-circuiting of meaning between words, the impetuous regeneration of primordial myth". Bruno Schulz

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