We see her every Saturday morning in Morrison’s. A diminutive woman, in her eighties. She is usually sitting on the bench inside the main doors waiting for her son. Her son, a taciturn man with a long goatee and a mass of tattoos, does her weekly shop with her. Sometimes, what must be his daughter, a pretty, gipsy-like, young girl tags along. We greet the elderly woman. Happy New Year, we say. She smiles, revealing a haphazard array of teeth, chipped, broken and greying, but all hers. She is wearing a see-through pink raincoat. It reaches down past her knees. I’ve not been out, she says. It’s the dizziness that’s worst, she says grinning and leaning against him. I’m on the highest number of tablets you can get. Still what can you do? Old age doesn’t come alone, does it? Still you have him to help you, he says. Oh, yes, she says, looking adoringly at her son at the till, piling her food into bags. Hi, mate, the son says to him, yer alright? He waves assent. It’s love, you know. Love.
I walk behind the temporary manager, a giant of man, listening as he dispatches orders to his new recruit. The new recruit, like the manager is in a striped shirt and trousers. His shoes, long and pointed, curl up at the toes. The back of his neck is red. I want that sorted, the manager is saying, pointing at the aisle. What the tinned veg? Yes, the big man says, if it hasn’t been ordered, order it!
The moon was a half-circle this morning. Shining white. A young man was dragging his suitcase down Great Darkgate Street, its wheels making a rasping sound. He also had a large rucksack and a holdall. He stopped outside Slater’s Bakery to hoist them higher on his back. Should I offer him a hand? I thought, as he caught my eye. Sometimes I just don’t want to break the silence. In a moment he had walked on. A moment gone. A moment of kindness lost. I’m sorry. Next time.
They’ve been doing this series on the radio about notable people who have died recently. The other day it was Brian Friel. He spoke for half an hour, a kind of memoir, a looking-back over his life. A lovely voice. Soft. Irish. Brogue. He did a kind of mock interview with himself, delivering the kind of questions he must’ve been asked over and over again. (I paraphrase here.) What is your favourite of your plays, Mr Friel? None, he replies. What writers influenced you as an author, Mr Friel? No one. What effect do you think the Irish Tax exemption has upon writers, Mr Friel? I’m thinking of my lunch. What post-modern, existential relationship does Heidegger have upon your writing, Mr Friel? I am an old man…… Then he began to tell a story about going fishing with his father. He tells it in great detail, the fish they caught, the lake and the song that they sang walking home. Then he admits that there was no lake, no fish and no song sung. It was a constructed memory, and yet, for him at least, it has become truth. He wanted it to be so, so it was.
The sun is out, casting a sharp, clean light upon the wall of the White Horse. I felt joy yesterday. How do you feel today? he asks. OK, I say, I feel OK. And that is good enough. I am content.