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day by day: a blog

August 11, 2007


mansur.jpg [illustration source: Tashrih bi al-Taswir, by Mansur, 14th century CE] 1) My sister, Kate, and I were sitting outside a Starbucks™ in Mountain View, talking. Behind us was the store, in front, the mini-mall's carpark and a gas station. To the left ran a stream of cars, on the right stood a shuttered supermarket covered with posters written in Chinese. A young guy in a truck drew up within a foot and a half of my toes. He swung out of the cab. A brown baseball cap emblazoned with a sign for "Ollie's Hay". Shades. Cropped ginger hair. And a Lenin beard, and a blue T-shirt, and jeans and flip-flops. We heard the electronic squeak-swish of his doors locking and the clack-clack of his shoes as he strolled past us and opened the door to the coffeeshop. A little while later, while he was still in the store, the truck's engine started. Then I heard the locks clunking open. I stared at the vehicle and listened carefully. Yes, the engine was definitely running, but there was no-one in the cabin. Just then, the guy came back, cup in hand, hopped into the driver's seat, reversed, and then put it into first and squealed away. My sister and I had been talking about our great-great-grandfather's recently-revealed murders and suicide. "Did he have a remote control starter on that thing?" I interjected. Kate paused for a moment to think. "Yes," she said, "yes, I think he did." We smiled at each other, and she waved her hand in the air, as if to say "Oh! These young people!"

2) Instinctively, I flinch whenever I hear the chop-chop-chop of a helicopter's blades thudding above the Stanford campus. It almost always means one thing: a very sick child being whisked down to, or up from, the roof of the university's children's hospital. When you have young children, the world can feel serrated. The night that Hugo was born, they put us all briefly in the ward where premature babies are kept alive with light, heaters and oxygen. A fearsome-looking biker, still in his leathers, and his wife in a gown were there too. They looked like they were in their mid-40s. (How old they then seemed to us.) It was 3 o'clock in the morning. They were watching a pair of glowing tanks, in each of which tiny fingers the size of a rolled-up stamp were waving helplessly in the air. Uncertain about whether to say anything or not, we just nodded grimly at the couple as I helped Siri to a chair. She was exhausted and silent. Hugo was beside us, inside another glowing tank, wearing a white woollen hat. The doctor had said it was "only a precaution", and so it turned out. But at that moment I wanted to sob into my palms. That was when the biker-guy came over, laid his hand on my shoulder, and very gently held out a Polaroid™ camera to me. "In case you want a picture," he said. I looked up at him and then at his wife, who was smiling at us sadly. "Thank you," I said, straightening my back and taking the camera slowly from him as if it were something alive. "Thank you very much."

3) "Not to discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in those about us, and in the very brilliancy of their gifts some tragic dividing on their ways, is, on this short day of frost and sun, to sleep before evening...." Scared, I remember that I snapped the book shut.

4) Kate, two and a bit years younger than me, works as a physiotherapist. She sucked some iced coffee up her straw and listened patiently as I discoursed to her on Saturday afternoon about the Holmes horror and about our family history. I gestured towards the largely empty carpark. "He was so mad and so meticulous. After he shot her, he smoothed the sheets on our great-great grandmother's bed." I looked round. She was looking thoughtful. "Sometimes people find the world such an unbearable place, and so painful," Kate said, "that they think it must be unbearable for everyone and they want to ease the suffering of the people they love. So they take them away, too." I nodded mutely. Inwardly I felt so dumb and abashed that I feared I would not be able to prevent my head from sinking onto my chest. if she did, how would she know that I hadn't fainted?

5) Manfully trying to disregard the areas of softness and sag on my naked, vulnerable flesh, I stepped carefully into the bathtub almost like a pensioner venturing out on the year's first ice. I gave the cheery, Pixar™ plastic curtain one quick flick. It glided across the opening. Hidden behind a shoal of grinning "Nemos" and pouting "Dorys" I felt safe, steady on my feet. I saw plenty of lemons on the tree outside our bathroom window. At the bottom of the bathtub a small brown spider was standing completely immobile. "Tonight," I whispered with a hoarse smirk, "Luca Brassi sleeps with the fishes," and I turned on the water. There was a soft roaring all around me, drops began cascading off my hair and face, and, as I turned up the flow, that spider's life started to end as it was engulfed by a sudden, vast tide of steaming water. It whirled once around the plughole, moving its legs vainly, before disappearing into the rusty, occluded depths of the drain. I looked up and started to sing in the shower.

Posted by njenkins at August 11, 2007 11:11 PM

With the exception of interspersed quotations, all writing is © 2007-09 by Nicholas Jenkins