'Another morning. I avoided being drowned in melancholy'
IT WAS one of those mornings when nothing seemed to matter except the shortening day, the cloudy sky, and the falling leaves, as I counted my years again, and counted each aching bone in my body again, and fingered the flabby muscles on my arms.
Economists on the radio were arguing about budgetary projections; the same old cut and thrust of a world where I don’t fit in. That’s how it begins: another wave of melancholy rising in the guts; a sense that I don’t belong in the here and now.
But then I saw an image on my computer screen of tiny pebbles lying in a gully on Mars. And according to the news report, the image suggested the existence of a river on Mars long ago. I am always amazed at the vastness of space and the amount of people and planets that have already withered, and yet in this moment and in this day, I am alive.
The thought dispelled my melancholy and I headed up the mountain for a walk, almost a gallop; flab swinging like a dozen handbags from my bones as I sweated along the Miner’s Way.
At the summit I found the leg of a small bird in the dirt droppings of a seagull. I don’t often examine the shit of birds but he was an enormous gull and he dropped his load just ahead of me on the mountain track near Spion Kop, where the coalmine used to be. Spion Kop is the name of a hill in South Africa where the Connaught Rangers once fought during the Boer War.
It was a blustery morning of grey and white clouds tossed in the sky between me and Sligo Bay, which I could see in the distance, as the ugly windmill towers hummed above me and a hen harrier hovered between two propellers watching for prey. At least the windmills don’t seem to bother them.
A hare passed me running so fast that I could hear wind behind it and could see his terrified eyes. Then dogs came, ugly and straight at me, their eyes bulging, and finally a man slithered down a slope of mud and scree; a distraught man, maybe 50, and asked about the dogs. I was tempted to lie, to side with the hare. But he was too human in his bewildered state, and tattered coat, and he clutched a sally rod to walk with, so I told him the truth.
In fact, he was as lost as I was; an ageing lorry driver without a job, and terrified of listening to the news, or of life without anti-depressants.
When I returned to the fire it was 11am. Branches outside my window laden down with rose hips worried me, as they knocked in the wind against the windowpane.
I was in my old office trying to light the stove and the smoke was coming down the pipe because the wind was from the northeast. It’s only a northeasterly that goes down the pipe. So I climbed to the roof and covered the top with a bucket but that didn’t work. The room continued to fill with smoke.
The ladder belonged to the builder who looked in and asked if was I finished with it. “Jesus,” he said, when he saw the smoke, “you’re like a kipper in here.”
Soon he will be finished his work on the new room. Then he must go off and build a shed for an old woman in her 80s, who still cuts her timber with a chainsaw. A woman who is old enough to remember the Messenger magazine; a little book of religiosity, the red covers of which girls once used to redden their cheeks long ago, before rouge was affordable on the mountains of Arigna.
Of course if I keep walking the hills I will become as thin as a kipper. And later, in the leisure centre, I was consoled by the fact that there were bigger bellies in the jacuzzi than mine. Bellies like gigantic eggs so white and firm that I was tempted to poke them to see if they were made of skin or shell.
And so another morning passed. I had avoided being drowned in melancholy. Yes, I had skimmed the waves, but I had also seen Mars on my computer screen, waterless, spinning about up there in complete silence. And just to know that I exist and Mars exists, at the same moment, is somehow enough to keep me going.