An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Maps of absence

"We are all haunted," said Shaun leaning conspiratorially over the table and flicking the ash from his cigarette, missing the ashtray entirely and spattering the waxed surface with a liberal grey dust, " and we are all haunted by the same demon." The five men around the table looked each in turn at the others and a slow communal nod followed. "But," said Shem seriously, "we do not talk of it --- our stalker if you will." Another communal nod. All knew whereof the twins spoke and none would articulate the word.

Shaun lit another cigarette and took a mouthful of coffee. Eddie was steepling his hands and staring intently at them. Eddie more than anyone knew. Farmboy gently put his arm on Eddie's shoulder and rocked him. "Do we have to?" he asked quietly, looking The Boss directly in the eye. "We don't have to, of course we don't, but ..." and there The Boss left it hanging ominously over the table. His elbows were on the table and his head was between his hands. "But that film last night ...".

"Does it do any good not to talk of it? Ignoring it will not make it go away nor make it easier to live with and we all have to learn to live more at ease with it. Besides, if it strikes we'll not be able to talk of it. We have to agree to watch each other's backs. We have to develop protocols for the eventuality that it gets one of us." Shaun pushed his chair back from the table and rocked it back, he spread his hands and spoke again, "Well that's how I see it. What do you guys think? We can always drop it if you want."

Nobody stirred. The silence, the restraint, was palpable. A kind of mental static charge continued building until Shem discharged it with "When we were kids, just 6 or so ..." An unspoken group assent was signalled by every head coming up. All were suddenly ready to talk or if not to talk then to listen.

"When we were kids, as I said, we used to go and visit mum's sister once a month. We were only bits of kids. It was a lovely place. Lovely, but scary for a kid. Probably scary for an adult come to that. It was in its own grounds - neatly tended and I remember the sun shining. Inside though, in the wards, in the day rooms, it was a nightmare. Lost people, empty people, sitting, standing in corridors, wandering so clearly aimlessly. Were these really people? They looked like. But they didn't act like. Not scary like to make you run away but ... it just filled us with horror. A horror that, even then, we couldn't speak of. Later we went to visit dad's brother - same deal, different hospital. Barley Lane - known locally as the nuthatch. What was mum thinking of?"

"And," broke in Shaun, "she just told us that Rose had "problems with her nerves". And with the drink. Oh yes, they all had problems with the drink all right. It's a family trait. Every one of them, but one has to wonder whether the drink was a symptom or an escape: a cause or an effect? That was our first exposure. The first we knew of it all. I think we both knew that that could be our fates too and feared that it could be our destiny." As a man they all nodded together. It was, evidently, a common experience. "Our granddad" said Eddie. "My uncle" said The Boss. They had all been to the same place. And this was their first exposure to the demon. Not, I am afraid, the demon drink!

The Boss spoke next, a catch in his voice, a tremor even, "So we have all lived with the possibility of madness overtaking us? The likelihood even?" Nods all round. "And then, as if that weren't bad enough, we all found our friend big A? Or rather had him thrust upon us?" More nods, more vigorous this time.

"Those images of the scans that they showed in the film though, those CAT scans, it's not the same thing at all is it, the big A? It's almost as though it were the exact opposite. Rose lost her mind: Bobby lost his mind. But with Alzheimer's it's as though your mind - or your brain - loses you. Those CAT scans are maps of absence. Black holes where the person used to be. A shell is all that it leaves: a hollowed out thing - not human - not as we know it. Without words, without language, how are we human? Especially those of us who live in words - in thought - in our heads? Without words how are thoughts possible? Rose, I'm sure went inside. Bobby too. But, where was Iris? Gone! Absent. No more."

"Can we drop this? Please? It isn't helping Eddie - as far as I can see we all keep watch on each other ---- and then we decide what to do. Is that OK?"

Silence.

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