October 15th – Sunflower Bar
Bernadette was no longer attracted to Michael. This would not have been a problem if they hadn’t been married.
“I am no longer attracted to you,” Bernadette announced one evening during the advertisement break which separates the first half of Coronation Street from the second.
“Is it the bald spot,” Michael asked, “or my belly that’s put you off?”
Bernadette could not be so specific.
“Do you want a divorce?” he asked and she laughed at the very idea of this, for they were almost forty five years wed, and where would she find a second husband at her age?
“Tell you what,” said Bernadette, “if you done Roy Orbison’s voice every time you spoke to me, and I kept my eyes closed, I could probably stomach the idea of giving you the odd wee kiss.”
So Michael practiced doing the voice of Roy Orbison both speaking and singing ‘til he had it down to a smooth T, and Bernadette kept her eyes closed every time he came near her, and pictured the face of Harrison Ford, but with Roy Orbison’s voice, (for she found Harrison Ford a far superior fella in the looks department), and the pair of them muddled through for another few years.
October 16th – Belmont Road
Inside my grandmother’s head the memories have come loose and topple like library books slipping from their shelves. Yesterday is only just happening now and tomorrow, so far away, it can only be approached backwards with both eyes covered.
“Who are you?” she asks, and we don’t know if it us she’s misplaced or her own glad-faced self at fifteen or twenty.
My grandmother walks round the house touching every item of furniture lightly, as if she’s afraid the sofa, the curtains or the kitchen sink might, at any moment, bolt away from her fingers. Her eyes twitch like Christmas tree lights, flashing suddenly on and then blankly vacant. Only the piano does not struggle her. They sit together like old friends taking tea. She makes it sing. The piano returns the favour. She does not require sheet music, never has. Her fingers run the length of the keys, itching the grace notes out and, even after the piano is gone, still dance up and down any flat surface, anticipating music.
We do not need to test this miracle. We know her fingers still speak sense.
October 17th – City Hall
I should apologise for my behaviour earlier this afternoon at the annual Senior Citizens’ table quiz. Of course I know the name for a baby hare is a leveret –who doesn’t? Of course I can also correctly identify the Portuguese flag and pick Bruce Springsteen from a line up of newsprint celebrities. It was wrong of me to say, with forced confidence, “foal,” “Estonia,” “isn’t that your man from the Antique’s Roadshow?” This was a form of lying similar to theft and meant that our team did not win the annual Senior Citizens’ table quiz this year, or the resulting box of Black Magic chocolates.
We could definitely have won if I’d wanted to. But I didn’t.
In my defence let me say, I was much more intelligent than any of the other elderly ladies designated to our team. I once appeared on the popular quiz show, Eggheads. I am also a notable, local academic, (retired). I did not want to appear significantly smarter than the other ladies and perhaps end up holding the answer pen or be forced to represent our team in a tiebreaker situation. This was nothing to do with feelings of superiority on my part. It was all about fitting in.
October 18th – Palm House, Botanic Gardens
Give a man a lantern on a darkened night and he will be inclined to sing carols though it’s ten weeks or more to the big day and we are not here, in the gardens, for Christmas or any such every year celebration, (birthday/anniversary/Halloween). We are here to read poems in a greenhouse with the lights out and the prayer candles casting their shadow souls on the cold glass.
“Magic,” we say under our breath for fear the clicking cockroaches will hear, or the damp-winged moths. For fear that, in naming the moment, some small and precious part of it will slip down the back of the plant pots and be lost.
“Special,” we say, much louder with our mouths, and our eyes, and clapping, hugging hands, because we are Belfast folk and “special” does not blush is in the saying. “Special” is something we can almost explain to the people who are not here, who do not know what it is like to be darkly through a glass, just for a moment, absolutely magic.
October 19th – Great Victoria Street Train Station
Margaret and Dianne Lowry
Remember the day you took the train home –all the way from Bangor with a change at Central Station- and somewhere outside Antrim could not hold your eyes up.
“I was only out for a minute,” you said, “a quarter hour at most.” Yet you woke up half an hour later, all the way through Ballymena and heading for the North Coast at a righteous clip. The panic of this was like a loud gong going off in your ears, both ears at once, and you wondered about pulling the emergency cord, though this technically wasn’t an emergency –no loss of life or close threat had occurred- but still, this was dangerous new train territory, chugging through the sheep green lands which split the difference between Ahoghill and Cullybackey.
Out you got at the very next stop, knitting in one hand, Marks and Spencer’s supper in the other, and hitched your way home with a man who delivered heating oil locally. Imagine the surprise of you, such a small, little lady with knitting, thundering up the cul-de-sac in an enormous lorry. All the neighbours’ curtains twitching, while we waited patiently for over an hour, at your usual station, missing the arrival of you.
These were the days before mobile phones.
October 20th – Waverley Station, Edinburgh
Yesterday morning I left my husband on the train somewhere between Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Just outside Leuchers I realised that I’d misplaced him and hopped out at Dundee where the station attendants, Billy and Willy, (honestly, I’m not making this up), were most attentive.
“Phone Lost Property straight away,” said Billy, and wrote down the number for both Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
I phoned and discovered that it was almost impossible to speak to Lost Property until my lost item was twenty four hours missing.
“Please register your lost item online,” instructed the pre-recorded message. But there was no husband option in the drop down menu for commonly misplaced items, (phones, wallets, umbrellas, electrical goods).
“Have you fitted a tracking device to your husband?” asked Willy and I had to admit that I hadn’t. Neither had I backed up any of our best moments.
“Do people often hand in lost husbands?” I asked.
“50/50 chance,” said Billy, “the general public aren’t as honest as they used to be. Next time, make sure to back your husband up.”
I knew then that my husband had fallen into the lost fifty percent.
October 21st – Dundee
The Strand Arts Centre
Now I am old I no longer care what people think of me or how they place their hands across their mean little mouths making tiny shield when they whisper about what I am wearing, or not wearing, or carting round town in a shopping bag. I go to public events and scoop the free biscuits straight into my handbag. I don’t event wait ‘til no one is looking. I lift the plastic cutlery from the chip shop counter –great handfuls of disposable forks and spoons-to save on the washing up liquid. I go to literary readings early because they are usually held in warm places. I fall asleep before the reading begins in earnest. (This is the best way to enjoy a literary reading). Sometimes I snore. On other occasions I do not move so much as a half inch for the entire duration of the reading and I know the people on stage are wondering if I have died on my stackable plastic seat, sitting upright with a handbag full of custard cream clutched against my lap. I know they are also wondering if they should stop reading their poems and daft short stories to check if I am dead or not. They never do. Someday I will be dead rather than sleeping and all my stolen biscuits will most likely go to waste.