November 19th 2015 – East Belfast
Then he tried to tell me that the ashes of cremated people are sent in Ziploc baggies to faraway places suffering from under-population and, when water is added to these ashes, they become an instant person.
“Hey presto,” he said, “like cake mix. Just add water.”
Of course I was skeptical. Earlier in the day he’d tried to convince me that the Red Hot Chilli Peppers were far superior to the Rolling Stones. He was full of this kind of crap.
“What about the relatives?” I asked. “Don’t they wonder where their loved one has gone?”
“They give them sand in a jar,” he replied, “just so they don’t ask questions.”
“And do these instant people look like they used to look?”
“Exactly like they used to look,” he said, “right down to scars and old sporting injuries.”
“What sort of places need instant people?” I asked and he too long to think before answering Morocco so I knew all this was just another one of his crazy lies and he’d only chosen Morocco because he knew I’d never been there before.
November 20th 2015 – The Holy Lands, Belfast
It was only November 20th but the next door neighbours already had their tree up. There it was, discoing away in the window, making the damp street flash white and red, then white again. She did not feel like Christmas in her heart or in her living room. This was nothing to do with the earliness of it.
It had not been a good year. It hadn’t even been a decent year and, if truth be told, she could have quite easily skipped December and gone straight to the January sales. But this was not an option.
Every time she went outside another neighbor had decorated their house until hers was the only empty window in the street. It felt like High School all over again. She felt her lack of Christmas most keenly first thing in the morning and took to keeping her curtains drawn, even during daylight hours, hoping the neighbours would make assumptions about her. Hoping they would take her Christmas tree for granted, and her lights and 1980s style tinsel, and a kind of warm, holy glow which she had not felt in weeks.
November 21st 2015 – East Belfast
Miiko Chaffey Martin
Yesterday afternoon because it was cold out and I had nothing particularly pressing to do, I began wrapping Christmas presents. For a short period after college I’d worked at the gift-wrapping counter in a large department store and still take a peculiar pleasure in a neatly wrapped corner or a well-folded edge. I wrapped gifts for my parents, my friends and my work colleagues and, as I wrapped, took time to imagine the process in reverse: the wrapping paper coming loose, the ribbons untying, the tape slipping away from itself like orange peel. Most of all I imagine the faces of my friends, my parents and colleagues as they discovered the gift beneath the paper.
I imagined them grinning like little children, more from the act of receiving a good thing than any kind of value attached to it. I wanted this feeling for myself. So I spent a further hour wrapping my shoes, my comb, my notebooks and pens; picturing myself the following morning in mountains of discarded wrapping paper, feeling like a person who has been blessed by another person.
November 22nd 2015 – East Belfast
The museum was not like any museum she’d visited before. She stopped one of the guards at the door and asked in a whisper, (for she didn’t want one of the other visitors to overhear and presume her ignorant), what sort of a museum this was.
“This is a museum of all the things we are trying to forget,” replied the guard.
Everything made much more sense then. The gilt frames with ordinary objects such as guns or wedding bands suspended against the gallery walls. The interactive grief display. The glass cabinets of children’s shoes and war and stuffed dogs and sepia-tinted photographs of old people in stern collars. The dead people posed like sculptures. Even the empty frames made sense to her; here were things already forgotten and passed from memory.
She thought she might visit this museum again and wondered if it was possible to donate some small item such as a book or a phrase he’d once said angrily to her in the street. She stopped the same guard to ask about donations and he looked at her blankly with polite disinterest as if he’d already forgotten her face. He was a terribly efficient guard, the best in the whole museum.
November 23rd 2015 – QFT, Belfast
When I was a very young child and my imagination had yet to come off or even wobble beneath the weight of logic, I wished for a car like the cars in movies and television programmes.
“Look,” I’d cry out in the middle of the cinema, pointing at the car on the screen and its passengers, ( normally a man and a woman, or two cops being fired upon by gangsters), “the car isn’t moving at all. The world is moving to meet it.”
This was true in part but it would be many years before I learnt about green screens and looped sets and the magic went quickly out of the idea.
Tonight I am sitting in my very ordinary car outside the cinema. It is dark already and beginning to rain. I have just watched “Brief Encounter” which is chiefly fixated upon trains but also includes several “movie” cars. I am remembering my youth and how I’d hoped that the world would move to meet. How I’d spent much too long sitting still, waiting.
November 24th 2015 – Donegal Square, Belfast
Without thinking they’d given the child her mother’s maiden name. This was Thomas. They’d grown accustomed to this name as a surname and there was no shame in a girl having a second name for a first. This practice was all the rage in literary circles: Harper Lee, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor being the first to spring to mind. They even thought it might breed gravitas in the child. They pictured her soberly at thirty five, a lawyer or doctor, wearing a particularly determined pair of spectacles.
They did not, for a moment, consider all the very many awkward years ahead of their daughter: arriving at school, for business meetings and dental appointments, always starting out on the wrong foot, always having to explain herself a woman with a man’s name. They did not think about any of this or how her name would constantly force her into frocks and feminine blouses. They simply called her Thomas after her mother’s side and loved her so thoroughly she would never consider swapping this name for the name of a less-loved girl.
November 25th 2015 – Cathedral Quarter, Belfast
This evening I have invited all my worst enemies to a pub quiz in town. Here is the geography teacher who made my life Hell in High School. Here is the dentist who pinched me when I would not open my mouth for a filling. And here are Ellen and Lorraine, who are only my enemies because they are more successful than me and this makes me jealous.
My worst enemies think they have been invited to an ordinary pub quiz. They are ordering drinks at the bar. They are fishing biro pens out of their handbags. They are hiding their smart phones under they can cheat without fear of being caught.
“Ha,” I think, as I look across the pub which is now full of terrible people and bar staff, “little do my enemies know.”
This is not an ordinary pub quiz. All the questions are about me. What colour is my current toothbrush? What is my favourite letter of the alphabet? How many pillows do I keep on my bed? I answer every single question correctly. My enemies get two or four in each round. This is not because they are knowledgeable. This is sheer fluke and guessing. I win, all by myself, with no team. This is how I defeat my worst enemies. It is not even really cheating.