Saturday, 11 August 2012
In Cassidy's Care: 17: Last Christmas (continued)
“Complications?” Harry’s spidery eyebrows arched. “Stop trying to understand everything Pete. There are always more questions than answers. Crows and doves son, crows and doves. It’s how you react to the storm; that’s the stuff that shapes you. What you is is what you aint.”
What I is is what I aint?
“Absolutely. Our strengths are our weaknesses son”, he scratched at his head “and ah… vice versa. We’re all shaped by our mistakes and compromises. The trick is in knowing when to let go of things; no point watering dead flowers.” Harry flinched, seemingly agitated, as if trying to make sense of a distant calling. He looked around at his chaotic collection of potted plants then back at Cassidy, his left eye drooped, rheumy and discoloured. “I’m going to tell you something now that might mark me out as a sappy pappy, something even Annie doesn’t know, but I’ll give it a go because I think you’re in need of some… affirmation.” He took a long swig of coffee.
“I was born in this house. You know that. Story goes that when I emerged all bloody and bawling the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ was bellowing out of the gramophone. He loved Handel did your Grandpa. That certainly marked the moment for old Bertie, for, secretly, he was a mawkish mule too. Just before he passed, he confessed that he’d whistle me home with that tune whenever I was out in heavy seas, probably even tried yodeling it knowing Bertie.” Harry picked up his old Corn Cob pipe and idly placed the bit between his teeth. He hadn’t smoked for over twenty years but the pipe was still a prominent feature. Only Archie dared call him ‘Popeye’.
“Anyways, when Tom was born I too felt the need to mark the moment. There were no tunes blasting out, no ‘hallelujahs’ for Tommy. But I knew I wanted to honour his birth with something that would endure, but something personal: something private: something just for me. I sat here on the porch listening to your mom howling at the saints, using language would make a fisherman blush. I took my mind off the carnage by tending to my shrubs, it’s always been a grand passion of mine as you know.” He flourished a hand. “Your mother loves to fuss over her flowers but these plants are my charge. They don’t really need me mind, feisty little fellas, most can fend for themselves, don’t shout out “look at me and love me”, makes me admire them all the more. They just get on with the business of… survival. And there I got the idea. I’d always coveted a ‘Thanksgiving Cactus’. Real beauties; strong, handsome, independent, spiky little fuckers”, he ducked his head and glanced towards the open kitchen window “but not quite as thorny as they look. Virtues that any father would wish upon his sons.” Harry blinked hard, tilted his head “And there you all are.” He nodded towards three potted cacti that stood close to his chair. “Tom is the gnarly old bugger in the cracked green vase. In fact he is the only true claw cactus. He’s certainly seen better days but, as you can see, he still produces a beautiful scarlet flower every winter. I planted Dick skew if, hence his sorry twisted self” he pointed to five contorted tubas emerging from a terra cotta pot; the tallest central digit seemed to be flipping them the bird. “I only found out recently that Dick is an Echinopsis, otherwise known as a ‘Penis Cactus’ or ‘Woman’s Joy’. Kind of ironic eh, given your brother’s name and his tomcat habits. The cactus stood proud: plump, rigid, and undeniably phallic.
“And this one is you son.” Harry reached for a squat turquoise pot that hosted an orange flowering plant, and placed it in Cassidy’s lap.
“Yours is a ‘Christmas Cactus’, in its prime this very month. Experience taught me to tend to you the best, which often means just ignoring you. No fussing, I just knew how to position you better. You’ve thrived, here in your absence.”
As Cassidy sat cradling his wholesome effigy he noticed a small letter ‘P’ etched an inch above the base of the pot. Fashioned by Harry’s hand, forty-four years ago. Forty-four years and… one month. Without warning, Cassidy’s shoulders shuddered and he wept openly, effusively. Like a baby.
“Let it go son.” Harry looked away, rubbed his forehead hard and then slid a hand into his pocket, pulling out a perfectly ironed white handkerchief.
“You’re wound too tight Peter. Too many knots. Too many complications.” He absently traced a blue embroidered ‘H’ with his thick, yellow thumbnail, waved the hanky towards his son, then thrust it back deep into his pocket.
“Seems to me that your life is too damned… considered. Maybe you’ve had to be so protective of the boys that you’ve shut yourself off from hazard. You’ve become hobbled by habit Pete. Open some windows, let in some light; you never know, a little life might creep in around the edges.” He chewed down heavily on the charred stem of his pipe. “Ring the friends that you knew before Amelia. Talk to some strangers. Go get yourself laid”, he whispered, glancing towards the open kitchen window again. “If there’s one thing I do know it’s that we seldom help ourselves.” That tilt of the head. “It’s other people that rescue us son. The best of us is reserved for other people, and the best that we can hope for is to bathe in some of their… reflected light. You get what you give Pete.” He pulled the pipe from his mouth and raised the mug to his lips. “And here endeth the lesson. Cold comfort I know, cold as this damn coffee.”
He leant forward and gently squeezed Cassidy’s knee with that huge hand, then took the cactus from his son’s lap and placed it in the incandescent light between them.
Cassidy had recovered and wiped his face on his sleeve.
“We’re all damaged Pete. That damage defines us. Our wounds might not be pretty to look at but they make us better men; give us integrity.”
Cassidy winced; how come his dad always made song lines and pale platitudes sound like immutable, well-worn wisdom?
“Honour your life boy, get to living it, but remember that the joy is in the journey…”
Christ, he should have been a country singer.
“And that truth rings like a bell."
Indeed it does Pops, thought Cassidy, brushing fresh dirt and 20-year-old tobacco from his lap.