On Monday I had a wee cardiac scare, one that saw me admitted to hospital. This was oddly concidental, as on Sunday I'd sent a note to a blogger in Brooklyn on how I couldn't understand why so many Americans were worried by the thought of so-called “socialised” medicine.
And here I am, having just been the recipient of the astonishing level of care available at our public hospitals.
That's all pretty much an aside, alhough it does,perhaps, explain why I was reclining on a bed, wearing a god-awful hospital shirt, and looking at my bare feet whilelistening to Blood, Sweat, and Tears on my baby 'pooter (an Acer notebook. My best friend). I'd read a hundred pages of an old William Diehl book, “Sharky's Machine”, and set it down, thinking about how much things have changed 31 years: the book was published in 1978. No talk of cell-phones or PCs.A ham-fisted description of a circuit board. The scandal! shock! horror! of charging for phone sex... ear sex, he called it.
But time spent in hospital is hard spent. It goes slowly. And so it was that I set aside my book and my baby 'pooter, and looked at my bare feet. Fascinating. Pale, off shaped things. I saw that I still have a scar on my left foot, and I suddenly (as suddenly as anything happens in hospital) realised that the scar was fifty years old. This astonished me. The scar's between a couple of toe bones: it's where I stuck a pitchfork when I was six or seven. Just digging away in the sandpit, with a rusty old garden tool I'd found under the house. It went clean through, and pinned my foot to the ground. I vaguely recall that it hurt, and I certainly recall being concerned when father fainted as he watched the fork being pulled from the wound.
But 50, or possibly 51 years old! When I consider what I've acheived since that fork impaled my foot, I realise I still have time for two more major life mistakes, and to make another 6,000 or so trivial daily mistakes. Hoorah!
Daniel Vettori, the captain of the New Zealand cricket team, has just taken his 300th test wicket, and scored 3,000 test runs. Jenny and I have followed his career keenly, having seen his astonishing talents and abilities when he was first selected for the Black Caps 12 years ago. Well done, Danny.
LISTENING TO: Blood, Sweat,and Tears"Best Of" album. Not a dud song on the disc.
READING: Nothing new - finishing the Diehl book, which is hugely entertaining (were we really that naive?) and the extraordinary "Shadow of Ravens" that i mentioned the other day.
WORD OF THE DAY: HOME. No place like it.
Poems and love-songs had surrounded them, and the air had grown thick and heavy with their togetherness and familiarity. Mary had drawn constantly, pencil and charcoal flashing over notebook after notebook, all of which she wrapped for mailing back home. Adam’s camera had been busy, storing dozens of images for future use.
They’d wanted him to come with them to the gully, to the small island in the dry creek bed. It was an hour’s ride down to the south-west, and Mary had wanted to capture the strata lines that made up the wall of the gulch. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of years of geological life, exposed by a flash flood two years ago.
Henry’s life was now splintering into thin fragments of time. His eyesight jerked, an old silent movie clattering away in a country hall hung with the bunting of an old Empire.
Arizona’s horizons had silenced them all. They’d spent so long in the closer confines of their own precious river valley, bounded by a skyline that was no further then 10 miles away at its most distant that this great vacant bowl of sky baffled their senses. But there, in the gully, the horizons were just a hundred metres away, standing tall over them, crushing them. They’d been there twice before, riding out, leaving the horses at the top of the gulch and scrambling down the twenty-foot high cliff to the creek-bed.
He sat in the line-shack, and looked around him. For something they called a shack, it was big and comfortable. Three bedrooms, excellent kitchen, great stone fireplace. He stood to throw another log on the fire, and sat immediately, dizziness blurring his vision. Later. He’ll put the log on later.
This landscape was foreign and confusing. This country was foreign and confusing, despite having come into their living rooms on a daily basis for decades. They were far from home, and Henry knew that he would have been a different person if he’d been born and raised here. The size of the sky scared him, making him think too often of the eternal finality that waited him. It made him smaller than the man he‘d always imagined himself to be.
Six months, he thought. It had now been more than six months, and for the past few weeks he had been measuring his life in minutes. Six months, he had once thought. Such a luxury. Now, six minutes? The blackouts and headaches warned him that it may be.
Time to go home, to see Charlie and Wolf and John and Sybil the Sibling and the Paradox, and Floss and Joe Know and who knew? “You go on. I’ll be all right,” he’d said. And so they rode out together.
He knew they needed their times together, that Adam needed his time with Mary, that she needed Adam’s strength. He was so proud of the boy. Clear, steadfast. And, in his right eye, a fleck of gold among the green. Henry’s heart is swelling with love. His vision clouds with black motes, dancing in front of his eyes, a mad dervish, a fandango of fate.
This landscape was hard, harsh, and unforgiving. It brooked no mistakes. Henry had grown in a small town surrounded by soft green fields that could sustain ten milk-cows per acre: this land was hard pushed to feed one beast over five acres. The individual paddocks and pastures were immense, the grass scattered and scrubby, the cattle lean and hard. At this time of years snow, hard and dry and gritty as sand, spotted the ground, caught on clumps of mesquite.
Six months, he thought, gazing out the window to the massive butte on the Western horizon. Gone. Time means nothing to me now. And this is a good landscape to discover that: as old as god, these bitter plains and gullies and gulches and hard-scrabble acres have baked and frozen and thawed and prospered and died under countless seasons. Buffalo and snakes and hawks and coyotes owned these lands, living from one heartbeat to the next, never and yet always aware that they could be dead in an instant, but striving to live and to thrive for their offspring, for the next generation.
“Go on. I tell you, I’ll be fine. I have coffee and toast and honey, and I need some time to think, anyway.”
Their love for him hurt now. It was a physical pain, stabbing him like a knife, a liquid gash through his heart. His instinct now was to go away, to walk into the night, to let nature claim him, to die now, to let the wild dogs and buzzards return him to the world. But he owed them a good death, just as he’d always striven to give them a good life.