“But I don´t remember any aunties with such strange names; did they die already?”
“They´re dead all right, you can be sure of that!” he replied with a huge grin. “Look, this happened when I was around seven years old. Miss Clarissa, at the time, was probably close to ninety. She was the eldest of the three, which goes without saying.”
“Wow, they were really old, don´t you think, Grandfather?”
“Old? That’s certainly the understatement of the year, honey chile!” he answered with a nice long chuckle. “It´s true those hens wouldn’t cook at first boil! Fact is, when I was a kid, back then, like you are today, we didn´t have to hurry for anything. No one was in a hurry. Why we hadn´t even heard the word! Least of all, nobody was in a hurry to die, especially the magpies. They had forgotten it was their turn to get up and die and make some room for the next.” As he answered, I noticed he was thoughtful. Suddenly, he brightened, as he spoke enthusiastically.
For him, his routines were the spiritual equivalent of praying in church, and so, he avoided the possibility of novelties, surprises or improvisations penetrating the comfortably absolute emptiness of his life.
“Bearing that in mind, I’ll briefly describe one of his morning routines… As I mentioned, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, he had two soft-boiled eggs.”
“These were to be cooked by my grandmother in precisely three minutes, timed by the white grains of a sand-clock exclusively acquired for that purpose. The poached eggs were served together with two slices of bread, previously cut to a precise and identical size.”
“First, my grandmother cut off the bread’s crust. Then, she measured the exact amount of butter with a special spoon, trimming it with a knife to remove the excess. Both knife and spoon were used only for this specific task. Any other use of these would have constituted a heresy that heralded the end of the world, as we know it!”
“Grandmother would then delicately spread jam over the butter. She measured the correct amount with a different spoon that she used solely for that purpose.”
“He drank, exactly, one cup of tea to ease his digestion. The infusion of the said drink was done in three minutes, while the eggs were cooking.”
“Before grandfather began to eat, he meticulously inspected the food, while grandmother watched, listening nervously while awaiting his grunt of approval.”
He liked to have others do his thinking for him, felt secure when obeying orders, how he rejoiced when on parade, as they marched on time, his companions of arms in perfect and synchronized order, never stepping ahead of them, and much less, falling behind, carrying the waving flag on his shoulder with pride… (Tombstone of the unknown corporal)
“I hope not to be boring you to death. If not, allow me to explain the enormous number of small, tiny, useless, but regrettably, unavoidable, details to be observed, and attended to, while preparing my grandfather’s morning, daily, and most dull, tasteless, breakfast. I doubt that in all mankind’s history there has ever been a creature as picky, as fussy and so thoroughly fastidious as my grandfather, Sir John Henry.”
Happily laughing, Alicia answered in an excellent mood:
“Bore me, Sir John? Quite the opposite. Today has happened to be a most memorable day. It’s been years since I’ve had such a good time.”
“Well, if sharing a few cups of tea with this old geezer has turned out to be one of the most memorable times in your life. I must thank you, indeed, for such an undeserved honor, but you make me wonder on the extreme monotony of the life you have led,” he answered, delighted by her pleasant company.
“The daily rituals, my grandparents followed, required absolute exactitude and precise timing, for grandfather could not, and did not, tolerate any deviation whatsoever from his constraining instructions. And what had been established by him was rigorously pursued by my grandmother. She, silent as always, was a consummated artist of the repetitious and recurrent arts of the daily kitchen routines.” “Grandmother excelled in following orders in an exact, accurate and punctual way. I must say that she could have been an excellent corporal or maybe even a sergeant. For, you see, she had no capacity for spontaneity, much the less for creativity, and lacked any possible traces of originality.”
“Yes and no chile. In my case, and not feeling at all like a hero, I had to pay with a peck on the cheek! And right on top of that silly makeup, they plastered their ugly faces with.” “Wow! That sounds more like a scary tale than a fairy tale, Gramps!” “That’s so scary, Grandfather, did you close your eyes so you wouldn’t see the trolls?” “Yep, I didn’t see them, but I smelled them, chille. Those ugly trolls reeked like mummies in a closet during a hot day!” “The funny thing is that they must have believed in miracles and with their eyes closed…” “If not, why would they bother with all that makeup? Now, if they were looking for miracles, they could have gone to church! Anyhow, when times are tough, we tough guys get our cheeks pinched. That’s life hon, so, may as well start getting used to it!” “They pulled your cheeks, Grandpa? With those mean old women sitting at the street, I’d stop eating candies, but there’s no way I’d go out and walk to the store just to get some!
From her vantage point, in a beam of the ceiling high above the room, the spider silently spun her web, while observing the humans that below her, went about their incomprehensible daily routines
“There’s not much to be said about my grandmother. Her life was as sparing as her conversations. She spent her days in silence, sitting in her rocking chair, the back as straight as an arrow and her legs bundled in a blanket, unremittingly knitting all sorts woollen clothes for no one to wear.”
“On the rare occasions when grandfather spoke, she would limit herself to wholeheartedly agreeing and praise him for his wisdom. Then, she would soundlessly return to her incessant weaving.”
“Upon her death, she left behind a most impressive number of boxes. As to be expected, they were full to the brim with all sorts of useless woollen clothing, yet she had scarcely left any memories behind, for me to remember her by.”
“Somehow, it was my grandmother’s funeral, that gave me the impression that my entire childhood unfolded stuck in gigantic spiderwebs. The first was a dense, dark black widow’s nest with a furtive and deadly obese widow in London. Then I moved on to the next. That was in Stratford, where a different web was waiting for my arrival. A dangerous trap, more of the domestic sort that killed its victims by lethargic indifference and boredom. The monotony of the daily routines of those spiders was spun into the same, identical designs day after day, again and again until it became the blurry image of an empty progression of nothingness.”
“Curiously, my grandfather and I shared the same name, though his complete name was John Henry and mine was simply John. As I remarked a few cups of tea earlier, he was an accomplished master in the art of avoiding risks of any kind and at any time whatsoever.”
“To give you an idea of the impressive scope of his imagination, let me mention how he began his days… On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he enjoyed a couple of soft-boiled eggs for breakfast.”
“Of course, when I found out that I would be moving to Rugby and live with my grandparents, I received those happy tidings most cheerfully. It’s not easy to imagine the relief I felt. I would then leave Mary Louise behind and her never-ending sermons as well. Her tedious lessons would fade as memories of the past! As far as I was concerned that was the best news I had ever received.”
“Regrettably, I had not met my grandparents, and for that simple reason, I failed to understand that moving to Rugby only meant a change of prison walls.” For a moment, Sir John was thoughtful before continuing. “I must confess, I believed that compared to the alternative of living with Mary Louise, this change constituted an excellent opportunity. How naïve one we are at times!”
“My grandfather turned out to be the most boring person I have ever met in all my life! Compared to my grandfather, Mary Louise was a barrel of laughs…”
“My great-grandparents, by the way, were born in Berlin. They met there and later on, for some reason decided to move to England. This happened before my grandfather was born. Years later, they moved to Paris, where they lived till the end of their days.”
“When they decided to move to France, my grandfather wished them the best of luck, and all those things. He remained behind to live his life in England. By then, he had married Victoria, my grandmother.”
“This will give you an idea, of what life was like back then, when I was growing up! I would walk from my house to a store, called ‘Hope Store’ (La Esperanza). The owner, doña Lencha sold all the available candies in the world. Well this store was maybe, eighty yards away from the house. To get there, first of all, I had to pass the carpenter´s shop, which was right next door. I would say hello to Master Alfredo, the carpenter and owner, and also his three assistants, for starters. But if he had customers in the shop, then I would have to say hello to everyone, shoot the breeze for a few minutes, spread some gossip around and surely swap a round of the latest jokes, at least. That would have been considered proper manners.
“Now, this was the critical part. If it was after lunch-time, by then, as God is my witness, the magpies would be out, sitting in the shade!”
“The magpies, I didn´t know there were magpies in Chinandega, Grandfather.”
“Yep, the magpies: doña Clarissa, who had more hairs on her legs than any of us; doña Refugio, who had the largest mustache I´ve seen in my life! All the guys envied her. And last, but certainly not the least, for I never understood how she could pack it all in such a small chair, was doña Sagrario. She was always dressed in black since the mythological day that her chimerical husband died, supposedly after their assumed wedding!
“They spent the days in their white plaited wicker rocking chairs (the white thrones for the three Dark Queens of the Sidewalk). To get by them, you had to pay.”
“They made you pay just to walk by, that was very mean of them. They were like witches, Gramps!”
“Trolls hon. The word you’re looking for is trolls. It was just like in the fairy tales. Remember how to pass the bridge, the hero has to pay the trolls?”
“Wow, sounds like it was scary when you were a kid.”
How hard it must be… to leave everything behind in the search of a new life
“Outside my prison, the world was moving on, yet, at home, everything remained immobile, the shadow of a dying absolute truth with nothing more to add. I was a forgotten prisoner, left behind, living in a static, stagnated universe. Inside the prison walls, progress had ceased to exist. In the meantime, outside those walls, life went merrily on.”
“Fortunately, my father left me an interesting collection of children’s books behind. They were in mint condition and surely, he must have read them in his youthful days. Those books formed a small part (though for me, they were the most important one) of our library. When reading, I found shelter from this bitter and sour creature and her imposing ways. While reading, I left the countless rules of conduct and good manners with which she tried to fill my life, gratefully behind me. In an astonishing way, these rules were as plentiful as the apple tarts that she was forever munching away during tea.”
Upon listening to these remarks, the young woman felt a sad, melancholic sentiment unsettle her. Though his comments were disguised with a dry sense of sarcastic humour, she perceived he had gone through a deep loneliness during those childhood days, and so, she was profoundly touched.
“What a pity that your childhood was so terribly solitary, Sir John. Our childhood days should represent a most memorable time in our life, and fill us with sweet nostalgic memories that we recur to in the sad and unsettling moments of our later years.”
“Well, well. I never intended to portray myself as a martyred child, my dear. Children, you see, have that capacity for finding their own space, even in the most trying conditions, and I was no exception. But those were, shall we say, hard times for a young boy with his head full of dreams…”
In her bed, she tossed around, turning over and over, anguished and afraid that somebody might be having a good time…
From Foundation, by Issac Asimov
“You did not get to know my custodian and thank heavens for that blessing! It is an experience I would never wish for any other unfortunate to experience” he answered gravely, after which he smiled timidly and continued the conversation.
“The thing is that during all those years, there never was a moment of laughter in the house, not one single instance, God forbid! According to Mary Louise, the contractions of the facial muscles deformed the face, and what’s more, they produced wrinkled it up. Still, I imagine that long ago, many years before my time, she must have been doing her fair share of laughing, for how else can you explain the formidable amount of wrinkling on her face?
“With Mary Louise, every event and all occurrences were solemn in nature and grave in extreme. She had this knack for detecting one’s errors and never observing the achievements.”
“I found myself a prisoner in my own home. I had no permission to leave the house. I wasn’t even able to at least contemplate the world through the window, for she insisted that the outside world was full of evil and sin. Consequently, to peek through the window was to invite the wickedness to enter.”
“They were truly the most tedious and boring years of my life. Excruciating progressions of useless instructions on children’s good manners, archaic grammar that echoed hollow times, dusty with age. Not to mention the never-ending dictation exercises full of hidden spelling pitfalls, and of course, the insufferable phonetics classes during the long hours of the morning. These were to be followed by the most boring lessons on a forgotten world history together with an inconsequential geography lesson after tea , precisely when I found myself lethargic after eating and ready to fall asleep. A charming way for a young boy to grow up, wouldn’t you agree?”
“My honey chile when I was, more or less, your age, I grew up in Chinandega. You could say, I knew everybody that lived in that flea-smitten town (if not, at least, everybody knew about me!). I knew the newly born babies, whose faces were all wrinkled up, and I also knew those, way past their prime babies, with faces covered in wrinkles again. That was the way it was in those times. We all knew each other and sometimes, maybe even a little too well.
“Once the day cooled down a bit (from those sometimes unbearable, hot Chinandegan, tropical days), the sidewalks would fill up with all sorts of chairs: rocking chairs, folding chairs, kitchen chairs, and even boxes or crates. As long as you could sit on it, by definition, it was a chair. Naturally, people would sit outside in the cooling air. They would play cards, dominoes, perhaps read a book, or a magazine or maybe, the gossip in the newspapers. Then, of course you had old timers drinking guaro (rum or moonshine) or a few cold beers to get rid of the heat. Then there were always a few people, why not, spreading some nice, juicy tidbit of a hot gossip.
“As kids, we would spend our time playing our games in the street. At times, we would chase the bicycles down the street. There were all kinds of bicycles: the personal bike for one passenger; then you had the classic lovers’ bikes, the couples would ride by. She´d sit daintily on the handlebars, meanwhile the guy was working up a sweat, as he was peddling away, and in the middle of it all, they´re both making these dumb I´m so in love with you faces, at each other. The family bicycles were also in demand. In these, the father would normally carry mom and a few kids on his bike. Some were quite an act.