These days all my friends are very young children and very old ladies. The situation is complicated since I can't hear with my right ear, and none of my friends can really communicate in linear, legible paragraphs. Sometimes we all end up talking concurrently out of impatience, incomprehension of social graces, or forgetfulness.
Our conversations are like circles within circles, optical illusions that lead nowhere, they get messy quickly, loose threads of conversation sticking out like our chatter was a frayed ball of yarn, wound up in a hurry. Dialogues that look like baby's first wall painting, done in very berry lipstick all down the hallway, looping back on itself with the occasional recognisable symbol appearing startling, at random.
I thought about a starling, sweeping over the pond in my childhood, as the train rattled by, at the bottom of my garden making the fencing wobble.
At tea time, when we all come together, it's like the Mad Hatter's tea party, only we don't say the 'm' word, it's a little insensitive, and more over everything's relative and more over everyone's a relative, and people shouldn't go pointing glass fingers in glass houses. The web of kinship that sews us all together is not exactly clear, since she can't remember who I am and I can't hear her mumbled explanation, and nobody knows who invited her in the first place.
As waitresses multiply and come and go and extra plates are continually ordered and continually disappear down the table, I take the time to look around at this collection of women, staggered like the evolution of man, an illustration over tea cakes. There's a tragedy etched into them. They're unaware. They went through the war and came out the other side, the other side where everything looked the same but everything was different. Different from how they had been told the world would look in the capital 'f' future, that capital 'f' future of space travel and self-cleaning fabrics and endless technology. Endless technology they don't understand, though they try to get a grip on mobile phones, and try to respond to text messages which always read garbled, and try to understand computers but it's hard to understand computers in one hour a week at an underfunded library a bus ride away from where you live.
Where you live, is just around the corner from me isn't it? Oh, you've moved have you? When? Really, that long ago? And there was me saying to whatshername that we were practically neighbours, you know whatshername? You do. Lovely girl, tall, dark hair, goes out with that fella from the pub. Nice lad, shaved head, looks the spitting image of his Father. And you, you look just like your Mother, you do. Same eyes you see, same long face, I think you're very handsome. Is she your Mother? Oh, she's your sister? Oh well you look nothing a like. Well, I can't see it.
Older women do have sex, sex in their heads at least. They find gentlemen friends at the charity shop where they volunteer, who come and take their hand and remind them of what it felt like when they were nineteen and blushing on the promenade, talking about a certain handsome chap just as he strode over, looking dashing in his dress uniform, epaulettes glinting in the sun. A gentleman friend who makes her remember how she felt when she got a letter from him, far away in India, and how she felt when he came home on leave on tore her skirt in a fit of lust and how they rolled around and broke a vase in her Mother's little house on the Wirral, and how she blushed to herself and smiled uncontrollably the next day as she picked up the pieces and mended that ripped seam. And how she felt when she got that telegram.
A gentleman friend she maybe met at the supermarket, she's an independent woman still, who approached her at the deli counter to say what lovely eyes she had. A gentleman friend she introduced her friends to at the Church social, they all said he was a real catch, and she blushed. But blushes turn to bruising on the heart, I hear of an elderly lady arranging her wedding (nothing much, nothing special, it's her second time) who learns the day before the service, that her gentleman friend dropped dead that morning. And so she enters another fifty black years.
Sometimes, in the middle of the night, at about 2am, it must be the mail train that comes by at 100 miles per hour because everything shakes. We've had things fall of the wardrobe before, and I always say to Bill; "Bill, did the Earth move for you? No! It was just the wardrobe." Have you met our Bill?
You will live as long as it takes for you to really learn pain, until you can speak it like your native tongue, until it's your first thought, your initial reaction, primary response, your frst answer to every question. They say the Lord only gives you what you can handle, it's just that some people can handle too much.