I saw hair bands for sale. Pink, but that wasn't important
I WAS TRYING to park in Carrick-on-Shannon, which wasn’t easy because there was a big Traveller wedding on the steps of the church and the street was jammed with vans, and settled people were gawping at the bridesmaids in pink dresses.
I nearly crashed my own jeep, because I couldn’t take my eyes off the belly buttons on such a cold October day. There’s a way nomads carry their bodies that mesmerises me. Settled people show their wealth by building big houses, but the wealth of a nomad is carried on the shoulders, or hangs from the ear or wrist.
And the enormous houses that pepper the Irish countryside seem crude and ostentatious compared to the grace of a woman walking down the steps of a church wearing her grandmother’s gold earrings, and carrying in her demeanour all the pride of seven generations on the side of the road, with nothing to call property but the elegant meringue of white satin in which her virginity is packaged.
I was heading for the chemist because I had had a cold since I came back from France, and the chemist is always good for an opinion. I said: “I’m congested at night. I’m afraid it might be an infection.” She said: “Is the mucus green?” I didn’t know. She said: “You’d better see your doctor.”
I coughed later on the street, and examined the result in my Kleenex. It had that light green luminosity that the Virgin Mary statue used to display in my childhood bedroom when it glowed in the dark. There was a time when luminous Virgins were all over the place, but not any more; although the pound shop had a lot of luminous fingernails in the same shade of green on sale for Halloween.
I had stepped in to buy a hair clipper, because I was fed up with long hair. But when the wife phoned from London that night she said: “Don’t make a mess of it.” And that worried me because I always make a mess of everything when she’s away. So I resisted opening the hair-cutting machine. Instead, I tied my hair in a bun and the following morning I was with the chemist again, to have further discussions on the colour of my phlegm, when I saw hair bands for sale.
They were pink, but that didn’t seem important until I tied up my hair and examined the result in the jeep’s rear-view mirror five minutes later. It just didn’t look right and in a complete fit of frustration I went to a barber and had my skull shaved down to a number four.
“By gosh,” said Mr Scollan, as I picked up another wonderful lunch from his counter in Drumshanbo, “I see you were strimming.”
That evening, I was sitting at the fire emptying all the tissues out of my pockets and I found the hair bands. For some reason, they reminded me of my mother.
Since she passed away, I find myself clinging to small things in an attempt to hold on to her. For example, during the summer I’d go to her house and forage through her clothes, sorting what might be worth giving to some charity shop. But on each occasion I put most of the stuff back in the wardrobe. It’s as if I didn’t want to be parted from the last link I had with her.
I’d spend all afternoon going through cardboard boxes of Woman’s Own from the 1960s, and finding recipes she had cut out, and I’d piece together another little narrative from her life. And then I would replace the magazines under the stairs, as if they were some precious archive of national importance.
I suppose houses are like that; they gather more than dust. My mother lived in the same house for 60 years, squirrelling away her own little history: a matrix of paper cuttings, postcards, ribbons from wedding cakes and an AA road map marked with the itinerary of her honeymoon. All that debris was still there after she had gone; the story of a life, from the telegram her mother sent on the first anniversary of her wedding to the active-age Christmas parties of widowhood. It was all hidden in drawers and eventually someone had to empty it into bags and take it away.
There’s something deeply elegant about the nomadic tradition of burning the trailer, with all its contents, and reducing everything to ashes in one single ritual of fire, before heading farther down the road.
Since my mother passed away, I find myself clinging to small things in an attempt to hold on to her