Monday, 11 March 2013

Journey I – Invalid

I sit at my desk and try to make a start. I look at the blank paper in the typewriter. Bollocks I think, and get up to make another coffee. I go to the sink and unscrew the top of the pot – it’s one of those aluminium jobs, with the chamber for the ground coffee in the middle. I’m not sure what they’re called – the Spanish call them cafetería, with the emphasis on the ‘i’, but it never caught on in England. When I said it that way people just assumed I didn’t know how to say cafetiere correctly. I drop the bottom part in the sink by accident and it clatters about. The sink is a big old ceramic thing, shallow but wide, with a wooden draining board propped up over one end. I lean there on one arm and wash the spent grounds down the hole.

Having got the coffee and water into the pot in the correct order I light the gas under it and go and stand in the doorway. It’s one of those stable door types, so I can lean on the lower half and look out at the world. It’s quite late. I’ve slept in again. There’s a movement in the trees opposite, across the river – some vividly coloured birds, maybe parrots, squabbling on the fronds of that huge fish-tail palm on the far bank. I survey the rank tangle on the steep fern-encrusted bank below it, and then at the water-worn rocks below that. A small iridescent heron sits on the edge, motionless. There’s a guide to local wildlife somewhere on the shelves I noticed earlier. I suppose I’ll have plenty time to look at that in due course. My coffee starts to burble and I realise I haven’t put the milk on to heat

That first morning, they carried me in unconscious apparently and I slept for three weeks. I woke up on a sofa in the late afternoon, looking up at a timber ceiling and the brass light fitting swinging almost imperceptibly at the centre. Three flies were orbiting it, not in circles, but in oblong, swinging patterns, then two of them would appear to get into a tussle in mid air, then resume orbiting as if nothing had happened. Tra-la-la. Tearing my attention away from the flies I let myself take in my surroundings. I felt safe. That was one thing – nothing to worry about. It was warm and light and the air felt fresh and fragrant and there was a peaceful hubbub of life going on somewhere outside.

I tried to focus on the things around me, the maroon, red and blue blanket covering me, the pale sofa I lay on and the identical one facing it a few feet away, and the woven rug and small dark wood table between them. The table had a blue mug on it. I vaguely remembered drinking from it at some point. I peered into the light coming from the neat, square, deep-set window opposite, behind the other sofa. I could vaguely see leaves and bright yellow flowers translucent against the glare. I looked back into the dim interior, at the cool, solid whitewashed walls, the sturdy chimneybreast and the fireplace by my head and the ashes of a recent fire within. I lay back heavily and then, with difficulty, heaved myself round to look behind the sofa where I lay. There were shelves with books, a vase, a small plant in a ceramic pot, some glasses, other stuff. I couldn’t support myself any longer and let myself slump back.

‘Oh, you’re awake’ said a woman’s voice from the far end of the room. I looked along my body with difficulty, my chin pressed into my chest. Again I heaved myself up and propped my head on the arm of the chair. There was a little red cushion. I stuffed it under my shoulder. My whole body ached. I just had no strength at all. I tried to focus again. There was a woman with long dark hair doing something in what appeared to be a kitchen area at the other end of the room. The sound of metal on china came through very loudly. I watched her moving about for a while. She had very dark shoulders and she was wearing a full orange dress. I thought I knew her from somewhere.

After a few minutes she brought a glass of yellowish liquid over and put it by my head on the table. Then she picked the mug up and stood there looking at me, her head tilted a little. She was mostly in silhouette so I couldn’t see her face.

‘There’s some fresh lemonade for you there, and I have some bread and butter if you feel like it later. It’s on the work surface over there. Now, I have some other things to do but I’ll call in later to see how you’re getting on.’ And she turned and went back to the kitchen, put some things in a bag, placed a broad-brimmed hat on her head and left through a door on the right – the stable door I mentioned before. I’d wanted to ask where I was and how long I’d been here but couldn’t get the words out. In any case, I had the suspicion I’d asked before and forgotten the answer and I didn’t want to look silly.

It took me a while to really get to my feet, but by evening I was sitting up and felt ready to have a look around. The lemonade helped. It was very good. I noticed the top half of the door was open and I concentrated on the noises from outside – I could hear crickets and frogs and birds, and wind in trees and water rushing, and waves maybe? I wasn’t sure about the last thing. With a lot of effort I moved unsteadily over toward the kitchen. I had to take a break half way and sit on the arm of the sofa. There was a long rush mat on hard stone tiles running from the door on the right to a small vestibule on the left, where there seemed to be another door straight ahead, another on its right and a steep staircase, or more like a ladder really, on its left going up through a hole in the ceiling. I decided to explore upstairs another time, when I had more energy. I lurched across the way and supported myself on the kitchen bench. Everything went out of focus for a moment and I nearly went over but steadied myself. I saw a wooden stool and pulled myself over onto it, breathing deeply. There were a couple of gas rings, a little oven, the sink, a lot of things on shelves on the wall and another small window above. I saw drawers and cupboard doors below but couldn’t summon the energy to investigate. I looked down at the stone floor and knew I had to get back to the sofa. I readied myself, and threw myself in that direction, hoping the momentum, I suppose, would carry me. Sonia found me down there on the rush mat a few hours later, snoring peacefully.

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A life backwards

It's in the nature of blogs of course that you come across the latest postings first (or you find yourself in the middle.) Normally it doesn't matter but if you want to read my novel in order, the first installment is as you'd expect, the oldest posting.
Thanks for your patience.