Saturday, 19 February 2011

Water Worlds

The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

I MUST HAVE BEEN NO OLDER than five when I noticed the rain rushing down the driveway in my mother’s garden at such a volume that it could not be absorbed or carried away quickly enough to keep it from flowing into our garage. In Bermuda we had sudden rainstorms, often with extraordinarily violent thunder and lightning, and if the Island had been having one of its frequent droughts, the ground would be packed down as hard as concrete. All moisture would puddle and flow, absorption might happen gradually, and saturation would take a great deal of time.

And I crouched in my bare feet, in my Bermuda shorts, in our garage as several inches of water collected on the rough cement floor. The water, I recall rather well, was warm, and there were bits of sand in it. It had a slight texture besides that of pure flowing water. I found some pieces of wood, remnants from the roof beams of the garage (it had been only recently constructed to replace an open trellis with stephanotis vines on it that did nothing to protect the car), and tried to get them floating. Some were too heavy, some too thick, to sail about easily on my own private inland sea. Some, however, became ships and boats.

As the rainwater continued to drain into the garage, the currents within it would move my wooden ships about. No need for me to guide them with my hands. Like some sort of lazy god I could watch my creation work itself out. Some of the ships sailed safely to ports within the garage, others snagged on the uneven parts of the floor, and a few were carried right out of the garage door and down the driveway to the lower road behind our house.

Many of my Eldridge relatives have served in the Royal Navy. A cousin is an officer in what remains of Britain’s navy at this moment. It is worth noting he was on HMS Manchester last summer when she was sailing off the shores of Bermuda during Hurricane Igor, in case the Island needed help when the storm had passed. As it happened, no help was requested, and one assumes none was required.

The closest I have come to boating was a spell of rowing a relative’s punt (called Swampy) in Hamilton Harbour on a weekend. My plan was to build up my scrawny body. It did not help.

On my travels I have seen a good deal of water, salt and fresh. I have sailed across Lake Michigan on a car ferry to Beaver Island. I have driven up a fairly shallow stream in the mountains above Salt Lake City in a Ford Bronco SUV, which was hardly kind to Nature. One of the most incredible rainstorms I have witnessed was in Hurricane, Utah, in about 1994. That is a desert area, usually dry as a bone, where tumbleweeds rolled down the gravel-coated Main Street and orange dust blew about and coated everything the colour of the landscapes in John Wayne’s western movies. One afternoon I was in a car with a friend at the junction of Main and State Street and a microburst opened above us. We pulled over to the side of the road and slowly moved into the parking area outside a Taco Time fast food outlet. The world vanished as the rain poured onto the Hurricane Valley, and in a minute there was a foot of water on the roads and low-lying areas in the centre of town where we were attempting to shelter. If the water had been much deeper it might have been a flash flood, but it was able to move quickly enough to even lower ground at the south side of town. Still, it was rather exciting, rather frightening.

Having lived through several major hurricanes in Bermuda, complete with tornados and water-spouts and deluging rain, I can answer the frequent questions I get regarding the Bermuda Triangle with my general theory that it just happens to be a part of the western Atlantic that has frequent and often sudden storms, and it is a busy area for shipping and air travel. I’m almost certain that there are no more UFOs near Bermuda than there are anywhere else. Wind and rain happen, waves happen, things go down.

Last Wednesday we had a spectacular day. It was so bright and sunny, and fairly warm, that we took the dogs for a walk by the River Coquet. We even sat in the sun and talked about the sparkling light on the water in the River and out towards the Harbour entrance. The dogs ran about at the end of their longest retractable leads and returned with clean feet. The bank of the River has been under ice, snow or mud since last autumn. This was the first walk there since then.

Since Wednesday, we have had steady rain. It is snowing on higher ground, but we’ve only had some sleet on the coast. Howling winds. Dark skies. Wet footprints (dog and man size) in the hallway.

To summarise: Summer of 2011 was on 16 February this year, and it was lovely.

This afternoon we went to lunch at The Fleece Inn up in Alnwick. The landlord opened the doors at noon and had a coal fire going. On a cold, rainy day this was appreciated. It is an old pub, full of character. It happens to have a men’s toilet (the Americans might call it a restroom) for customers only (reads the sign) that is the most hideous public bog I have ever come across. The walls seem to be running with moisture, the urinal is along two walls with a stinking trough at one’s feet, and the red-tile floor is puddled. The single cubicle does not lock. I am rather surprised that a business would present itself so badly, even if it may be that most of the lads who use the toilet are off their faces and cannot focus on anything at all. I can only guess that the toilet is so ancient that it is “listed” and cannot be renovated or replaced; it is caught up, trapped, in history. I like history well enough, but I don’t care to paddle across a toilet’s floor to reach a smelly urinal. To use the cubicle, to actually sit on the commode, one would have to push on the door with one’s feet to keep it shut while one did one’s business.

I recommend The Fleece Inn, but do relieve yourself before you leave home.

I can never decide whether my dreams are the result of my thoughts,
or my thoughts the result of my dreams.
D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

It is a little after five o’clock in the evening. I woke twelve hours ago having a peculiar dream about North and South Korea. In my dream the North had finally lobbed some sort of nuclear bomb at the South. It has not been mentioned during the day, I’ve not watched the telly though. I imagine the booming wind and the rattling sleet on my windows at daybreak may have turned my dreams to thoughts of war, or my thoughts of war to dreams.

There's high, and there's high, and to get really high -
I mean so high that you can walk on the water,
that high-that's where I'm going.
George Harrison (1943-2001)

It’s full moon just now and the water in the Estuary is as high as I have ever seen it, perhaps a foot more and the road to Warkworth will be awash. The pastures on the other side of the road were puddled this morning, and are pond-like tonight.

The sky is dark as I write this, the rain is merciless. I know there’s a spring and summer out there. The snowdrops are up and blossoming, the daffodils are several inches high. We don’t really do crocuses up here, not the way they do in, say, Hyde Park. We will have wild bluebells and then the cultured plants. I usually invest in daisy-like seedlings and petunias. Most years I am inundated with flowers on my side of the courtyard.

One has to remember all that when it is this grim. In this Water World.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Tea and Therapy

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.
Graham Greene (1904-1991)

IT IS MY HABIT, for better or worse, to hurry home from certain occasions and experiences that are interesting to me and to scribble hand-written notes on the subject and to write up conversations word-for-word. When it is convenient, I type the notes up and keep them as work-papers in my computer. Eventually, the particular event may be revisited. For me, this is a kind of therapy.

And so it happens that I have fifteen pages of typewritten notes created from impressions gathered at a November birthday party spent with about a half-dozen friends of mine, and a subsequent afternoon tea party in December to celebrate a book that one of the same group had just had published. This happened in 2002, and the notes have been waiting to see the light of day (and reason) for over a year. The birthday party will have to wait a while to be recreated, but the gathering of about twenty friends and acquaintances for a literary tea is about to go down on the printed page. I'll call it "Tea and Therapy" and hope to amuse.

[This article first appeared in Defenestration, an online literary magazine, in June 2004.]

You are going to meet some of my friends and a very odd therapist. If my lay friends are peculiar, and they really are, it is my experience that one of the strangest people I have ever encountered is a psychiatric therapist. More than a psychiatrist, this gentleman is a psychoanalyst, with, I imagine, a wall covered in diplomas and, I trust, a file full of "Thank You!" letters. My own therapist knows him, and recommends him as a colleague and an amusing personality.

I first met this curious fellow at a combined Christmas high tea and book launching, so let us go there now.

Several of my friends attended the party, and I've known the host - a Bermudian writer who specializes in local history books - since he wrote about the ghost that haunts a home my father lived in for a time. I had not appreciated that my friend, the writer, was in therapy. His guest of honour was his therapist.

When I walked into the rather grand old Bermuda home, I was met by the anxious author of the book being launched (or dedicated, autographed and handed out at least ... no books flew through the air) who warned me that I could not under any circumstances review his book in the newspaper. It was not because of my poor reviewing skills on other occasions; it was simply that the book was a personal effort, not for commercial sale or profit. Rather, a gift to the author's friends and, I think, selected family members.

The book featured family photographs with captions, the writer was identified and his picture shown on the cover. It seemed obvious to me that it was hardly a secretive document.

"It's about my sexual awakening," whispered the host.
"I see. I can imagine you don't want that reviewed!" I tried to create a bit of humour to lighten the atmosphere. Actually, I'm a bit of a smart-arse and I couldn't resist making the remark.
“A very limited number of copies and all will be handed out personally,” and he pointed to a cardboard box much bigger than a breadbin.

In a large room with an open-beamed ceiling and a blazing log fire in the hearth, the author started signing books from the box and passing them along to each of his guests, who were sipping tea, and nibbling finger sandwiches, slices of cake and dainty pastries.

Every adult at the party, and quite likely the two youngsters present, eventually received a copy of the book, autographed and personalized. Each recipient seemed to examine the cover, open the book to the dedication, flip to a page or two at random, and then would slip the book onto a side-table or onto the floor. There were no public or private readings aloud from the text itself, and the book was not openly discussed, if at all.

The dedication in my copy indicated that the writer appreciated my "wonderful messages", which the author had detected in my weekly newspaper column.

It is not my intention to review anyone's sexual awakening here, except to say this one detailed by my friend was loud to the point of having his neighbours at a noted boys’ boarding school banging on the walls and, apparently, was more than satisfactory for all concerned. As I am a bit hard of hearing, anything at increased volume gets my thumbs up!

Playing at being a therapist, I now sense that the book that I will not review was discussed with, and encouraged by, the author's own therapist. It reads like the revelations you might offer to your professional confidant and close friends, if not all your immediate family. The therapist had been invited to the tea for the wisdom and encouragement given the writer, and I don't think he had the meter running for the hour he spent with us all.

My friend with the tell-nearly-all book must have spent a fair bit of money for his therapeutic publication. It is a beautifully designed and printed hardcover effort. I rather liked the story too. The writer entertained his readers, added to the body of artistic literature in Bermuda, and had some therapy in the bargain, all under the watchful gaze of a psychoanalyst. And what a curious fellow this analyst turned out to be.

I was eventually introduced to the honoured party guest. A firm handshake, as you'd expect from a medical professional. He had his wife and two teenage daughters with him. I met them quickly, more handshakes and first names exchanged (and forgotten, I’m afraid).

"So you are Ross Eldridge?" asked the doctor. "I read your column in The Mid-Ocean News each weekend."
"Don't be put off by that," I replied. "I'm not such a mad or bad person in real life." (I forgot that one should never use the words "mad" and "bad" and "real life" around those in the psychiatric field.)
"But, Ross, you don't look at all like the photograph in the newspaper by-line." It's true, the photograph was many months old and I'd grown my hair longer and had quit wearing my reading glasses.
"It's me, it really is!"
"Is there a copy of this week's Mid-Ocean News here?" asked the doctor. There was. He looked at the newspaper and looked at me, and again at the newspaper. "It really doesn't seem to be you. Are you sure you don't write for another newspaper?"
And I thought to myself: "Here's a conversation to write down tonight!"

After that introduction, I sat on a sofa with my tea (in a cup and saucer that had arrived in Bermuda in a barrel of sawdust or flour on a sailing ship more than two centuries ago, which made my hands shake to think on) and noticed that our host-author was engaged in loud conversation with the wife of the psychiatrist. I could hear the words quite clearly. She was talking to my friend while listening absent-mindedly to a mobile phone held to her ear, and looking around at the party guests. That might indicate a broad mind, the kind I lack, the ability to multi-task.

"I say," she said to the author, "did you celebrate Hanukkah this year?"
"Well, no. This is my only party this month. It's for Christmas and, besides, I'm not Jewish."
"I understand. Hanukkah was very early this year."
One of the daughters gasped and asked, quite audibly, "Mummy-Darling, doesn't that mean Christmas will be early this year too?"
"I'm afraid so."
"So early! So early!" The young girl looked to be close to tears.
Her sister, however, turned to the analyst, asking, "Daddy, what jewels are you getting us this Christmas?"
"They will have to be rubies or emeralds, of course. It is Christmas after all!"
"I do so adore rubies, Daddy."
"For myself, I'm thinking of getting some star sapphires. One can get so lost in star sapphires. I might even have a diadem made for me." The analyst reached up and posed his fingers like a crown on his head.

I'd met quite a few therapists over the years, but never one like this. Of course, he was not sitting behind a doctor’s desk or alongside a couch on this winter’s afternoon. It seemed that psychiatrists might be people too. Weird people! The daughters, who I probably should not lampoon bearing in mind their ages and delicate sensibilities, then seemed to forget about jewellery and precious stones.

"We sat next to two virgins on the flight to Bermuda," one daughter informed us all.
"Yes, one was seventeen and the other twenty-five," chirped her sister.

At this point, I very nearly had to be a nosy reporter. "How," I wondered, "did they know these fellow passengers were virgins?" I restrained myself and figured that they probably simply asked, and were given clear answers to their rather personal questions. This sort of thing might not be strange in the First Class Cabin on British Airways.

The best part of an hour having passed, the psychiatrist and his family grouped together and prepared to take leave of the party, clutching their four copies of the book we'd received in a kind of Holy (or Unholy) Communion. Kisses and thanks were exchanged with the host; they were that kind of guests.

I thought the party would surely grind to a halt. Could a group such as this continue to function without a resident therapist? Yet, there were a few more public offerings and notes for me to take.

One guest was trying to convert an elegant young woman to the Animal Rights Cause. Cleverly, he used the description of the person stroking a warm bunny's fur to inform her how such things lower our blood pressure, get us in touch with nature, and benefit us in so many ways.

"Yes," replied the well-dressed woman, "I quite understand that. I have a fifty-two-inch mink coat and I love to stroke it." [I have a sudden memory of my blue, lucky rabbit's foot that I lost while on holiday at the seaside in England as a little boy. My luck never really recovered from that.]

The PETA activist immediately looked nauseous and almost speechless, and stuffed some angel-food cake into his mouth hurriedly with his stubby fingers. I know that eating is often a symptom and result of anxiety and distress for some of us. The man was somewhat overweight. "This needs hot custard! Hot custard!" and then there was a horrified silence.

When it came time for me to leave, my host whispered again the words he had inscribed in my copy of his book.

"I got the inspiration to write my story partly from some things I read in your newspaper column. I feel you are sending me messages. Thank you for the messages!" The host did not kiss me goodbye.
"I am not that kind of guest, or it is not that kind of party," I thought to myself. "But what do I know? I only write a newspaper column, not a tell-nearly-all book."

I'll mention all this to my own therapist.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Abstracts & Brief Chronicles

This I wrote in 2005, about a year before my grandmother died at the age of 104. She spent her last few years at the Westmeath Residential Home, shown above. This article appeared in FRESH YARN, an online magazine.

THERE WAS A MAN, a composer of poetry, without a chin. He had lost it to a cancer. He kept some of his mind, however, and recognized an opportunity when one came along.

My grandmother, at 103 years of age, watches the other residents of Westmeath slip away, and most go down in the elevator to the ground floor, and then out the back entrance. I think you know what I mean here.

The man, the poet, stayed on longer than most; he seemed a prisoner of the past in the present. He had passed around a book of some of his poems that he had written during a love affair that had ended unhappily eighty years earlier. In his present deformity, he could hardly read them aloud easily, assuming poetry is to be spoken, heard and perfectly understood. I never heard him try. He feared facing the public so damaged as he was, this poet, and his only excuse for using what was left of his face was a certain hunger that remained. There was no starving to death by choice or through circumstance, only hunger.

His craving never eased as he allowed himself to be caped and covered by a large, moisture resistant cloth, because no matter how carefully he spooned his food towards his throat, it tended to slip down from where his chin once had been. He didn't want help with his difficulties.

He would walk up and down the corridor in the Intermediate Wing, such a tall man, he had been in the British military and it showed. An officer, I believe, but I didn't see the obituary.

For a time, a contemporary of the poet with his own cancer came to visit him and they were able to converse quite satisfactorily. There is much to be said silently between friends. And the friend from the outside died first. After that, the poet often got lost. Which door on a corridor might be his room there on the upper floor? How many paces to get you to the place where you belong? Right turn? Left turn?

The poet's room at Westmeath had a view through a south-facing double window directly opposite the door to the corridor. He found his room on his own at times, more by luck than calculation. Often he would step into another room and be ordered out with a "Go to your own room!" When he did end up in the right place, he could go and look from his windows to see orange trees, oleanders and a jacaranda across the lawns and below.

One morning, the poet raised his window, pushed out the screen, and slipped away to the concrete below. He did not die immediately, but days later in the main Hospital.
His was a big body, he'd kept himself active: upright posture, no bending over a cane or walker. He'd have needed to push very hard to go through the window, and to go quietly as well.

My grandmother was not sure who might have gathered up the poet's clothes. His late friend had been his only visitor. Copies of a slim volume of his love poems had circulated among the residents who were well enough to see them -- if not to understand the revelations and sentiments -- but the poems slipped away too. I am wondering if, when my grandmother moves along, we might come across the poet's work, tucked away in a bag or parcel, or below some underwear she no longer requires. She wears diapers now. Perhaps hidden with something of hers that we had not known about.

The residents at Westmeath do not discuss those who have gone down in the elevator a final time. Rather, there is an empty seat in the dining area for a day or two, and then a new face arrives that few notice. My grandmother is the only resident on that floor with a functioning memory. She tells me all the gossip. She knew her neighbour, the poet, had slipped away, and how. We spoke of him for no more than a minute, and then she moved on. I found I could not leave it behind that easily -- I've tried to write poetry myself -- and wonder if these words on this page will mark the point of a departure.

I've assured my family members that I will not write about them -- as if they really had important or necessary secrets -- in their lifetimes. I'm afraid of losing my own memory, or my ability to convey my words. Sorry, folks.

Since she turned ninety-eight, my grandmother has lived in Westmeath. Five years have gone by; we've observed one crisis of health after another, one departing face after another. This former grand home is a desirable residence for seniors, with monthly fees that suggest some luxury of food, excellent medical treatment, care-giving, and companionship. Of course, I would be correct in admitting that most of the residents haven't a clue where they are, many don't even respond to their own name being voiced. It might be wasteful to feed them anything but macaroni and baked beans. They do better than that.

My grandmother has lived on and kept her senses because, I believe, she has many visitors. She reads the newspapers, does jigsaw puzzles, and converses about politics and religion, and -- very reluctantly -- how it was to work as a child in a mill in Lancashire. The memories of the cobblestone streets of Harle Syke are not lost -- we can pick things up where we leave off, and go into details. Sometimes I have to draw her stories out. We are hearing of events that most of us, in her family, had not a clue about. I feel I must mark these, get them on the page.

It is the latest missing face in the dining room, noted succinctly, that gets left behind as my grandmother and I continue our own journeys back in time, and in the present whilst draped in a cloak, a patchwork of everything that has happened 'til that moment. We don't look far ahead; I have no idea if my grandmother has given my uncles her preferences for when her funeral comes. Around me, she wishes aloud that there were a crematorium in Bermuda. So do I. When she is tired or bored, I offer to open her bedroom window just as I'm leaving. I'm making a joke. She says: "Don't bother, it might rain." I leave smiling, and she waves me out. That's what you do at 103.

Another writer showed me some of his poetry this week. I had felt impressed to try and contact him after many years. He had been a long time friend of my parents, an employee of the same bank where my father worked, and a neighbour for forty years. His late wife brought flowers each week from their garden to my mother who had such bad luck with her own. I felt that if I did not see the man immediately, I would have to admit, head bowed, to the memory of the poet: "I didn't see you, old friend, while you lived among us, but now that you're dead I wish I had."

So, I telephoned the elderly man, now in his nineties, and quickly told him I was coming 'round to see him the next day, and gave him a time. I felt sure he'd have settled for a telephone call if I'd paused on the line, and I wanted to avoid that. I still wondered if he'd be at home when I turned up, or hiding away, not wanting to answer the door.

As children, we had visited the couple often, until the wife died, and I always went to the kitchen door -- in Bermuda it is unusual to use a front door, no matter how grand the occasion -- and rarely stepped inside. Rather, we might be offered a cold drink on the back patio and a look at the friends’ cats. This week, with one part of me in the past and another part a bit worried about the present, I went to the kitchen door. It was closed, but there was a doorbell, and I pressed on it. I heard the "pong" inside.

A voice called out my name, "Ross, you'll have to go 'round to the front door, the back one's jammed shut." I walked through the garden, noting how overgrown it was, and how the house was in poor condition. The shutters were closed, and had missing slats and hung crookedly, paint peeling off them.

The closed shutters were not all that surprising as our police force and security people now tell us that we should not only close and lock our homes when we leave them, but also when we are home. We should lock ourselves in. As a boy, I believe I could have walked in and out of two dozen houses in our neighbourhood without worrying anyone and not needing to force a lock. I could call out: "It's Ross!" without frightening anyone. I might be given a biscuit and a glass of milk, from a real bottle, milk with the cream on the top. If it looked like rain, I'd take the neighbours' laundry in from their clotheslines if they were not home, or were taking a nap from the humidity of a summer day in Bermuda.

I rang the bell realizing that I'd never been through the front door at the old friend's home. His wife grew African violets in the reception area so many years ago. Those did not interest me then, though it might have been an emotional moment to find them now. The main door opened, and I saw it had been pushed into the closed position by several large bricks wrapped in cloth on the floor. We got the door open, and the reception room had no plants at all in it. Things change, I thought. Shaking a very firm hand, I stepped into the darkened room.

I was offered several seats, as my host settled back into his own reclining chair. I sat near him, and directly faced him. I knew he was blind in one eye and had limited vision with the other eye. We both felt awkward, and I wondered what to say to get things going.

"How's your health these days?" was how I started. I'd noticed that besides his firm handshake, he was well-dressed in clean, casual clothes, and had nicely cut hair -- more than mine -- and a trimmed moustache. There was no odour in the room, and I know about those from visiting my grandmother in her upscale residence. There was no dust on the coffee table in front of me, but there were several boxes on it holding medallions and ribbons below glass lids. I knew enough to appreciate they had been awarded to my friend's wife by the Crown.

"I'll start at the top," he replied. And we got through headaches, dodgy hearing, a blinded eye, sore throat, tummy troubles and gall bladder surgery. That was as low as I wanted to go. I mentioned that he'd certainly trumped any aches and pains I might confess to. And then I asked how long it had been since his wife had died. He told me the exact date and time, 17 years earlier, and in the darkened room I noticed that the house was not furnished the way an elderly gentleman might do it.

Everything was set in its place, upholstery was worn and split, photographs and portraits on the wall remained from the days I'd seen them as a child -- old men with beards, now I noticed they'd been done when the subjects were much younger than I am now -- and the paint on the walls was peeling in sheets. Curtains slumped next to the shuttered windows.

Odder still, were several quite lovely cigarette boxes and lighters -- his wife had been a smoker, and died of cancer -- I wondered if the boxes might contain cigarettes still, 17 years later.

There was something different, unusual: The dining room table was heaped in bottled water containers. He offered me a drink: "Water or Sprite?" He explained he took a diuretic for his blood pressure and peed a lot and needed to replace the fluids. The water in the tank under his house was not potable, and he only used it for laundry and flushing. He used bottled water for everything else.

At that moment, he went off to pee and I opened my knapsack and took out a newspaper and slices of plain cake and fruitcake, and rested them near all the water bottles.

"What's this?" he asked at his return.
"Ah, I brought the newspaper, thought I'd read it to you if you wanted."
"Can you leave it for me?"
"Of course."
"I figured you probably were told not to eat cake, and you could enjoy some."
"Oh, yes."

The spell was broken. We talked about old times, really old times, when their home was built a few months after my parents' place. Neighbours that we shared. We quickly realized nearly everybody of his -- my mother's -- generation on that street had now died. But we raised them up for an hour.

This old family friend revealed that he only went to the grocery store once every three weeks with a volunteer who took him in her car. I asked: "Fresh vegetables?" and he shook his head. "Many visitors?" and he shook his head again. I'd noticed a radio, but not a television. He listened, he said, to call-in radio shows. I told him that I found those too confrontational. I confessed to having a home computer, one nine years old now. "I mostly write these days," I offered. "It's a compulsion. I have to get things down on the page."

He reached over to a table at the side of his recliner and drew several pages from a yellow pad. He studied them carefully, put a few back and finally handed two pages to me.

"These are some poems I wrote recently." He explained. "Would you like to read them?"
"Of course, let's have a look."

They were written in impeccable handwriting, in ink -- he had been a bookkeeper at the bank so many years ago -- and two lines into it I realized they were comedic. The first was about his poor, worn out body with everything broken or bent or missing, and all written in clever rhymes, and going south of the gall bladder that we'd discussed earlier. He'd written it very recently. I was reminded of a famous gravestone that reads: "I told you I was sick!" Might it be Mark Twain? No, don't think so, but worthy of Twain.

The second poem was a commentary on the loss of innocence in Bermuda: Crime, gangs, fear, high prices, shortages, rude children and their rude parents, and endless industrial disputes. In the poem he had not written in so many words that he missed his wife, though as I read his couplets, I appreciated that he missed her more than anything else, but was glad she had not lived long enough to see these days.
The house they had lived in - closed and shuttered against time, the master of all thieves - is still as it was the day she died, only the dust has been removed.

I did not offer to open any windows. This poet had almost completed his love affair with his wife; it was still evolving.
When I left, returning another firm handshake, I warned I'd like to come back soon.

"Yes. That's OK, Ross," he said.
"Don't forget the cake."
"Oh, I won't!"

Walking out of his garden that was so unchanged, I passed the house my mother lived in for 40 years until her death in 1992. I knew it had been rebuilt. The house itself had been rundown but the land was valuable. The hedge of bougainvillea and hibiscus that I'd planted for my mother was now so high and thick that I could not see the house behind it. I saw some children's toys in the driveway.

And I walked to the bus stop. Feeling good about love.