For many days I watched an old man run up and down the Main Street. I feared for the old man, he huffed and puffed, and I thought he was about to drop down dead. I would have said something, but the old man was accompanied by two sometimes three other runners. Whenever the old man tried to stop one of the runners would hurry him along. The manageress of the hotel told me that the other runners were the old man's children. I said a joke about the boys torturing the old man. The manageress huffed and went back into the hotel. I met one of the old man's children at Del Dolore, a fashionable bar with low lighting and a jazz band. Edward was dressed in Polo from head to foot. His blond hair was swept back off his chiseled forehead. I retold the joke, he didn't laugh.
His fingers have metamorphosed into snails and they recoil when he goes to touch, said Edward. This I found funny; I laughed loudly. We find it funny, too. When he was a young man his fingers had been tendrils that would touch anything. The overcrowded villa is testament to this. A heart that could have powered a motorcycle is now a desiccated potato; a mind that had created a myriad of labyrinths as intricate as any constructed by Daidalos is now unable to crawl down a one-way-street. His strength had been talked about in Magalíluismili and Ayeléticia and as far away as Claudfani. His arms were tree trucks, the hands were shovels, his legs were whale bones, but now the old man is nothing more than an Esqueleto and when the wind passes through his ribcage it plays a fine tune.
Peter has the old man on a bicycle and they do the hills. Yesterday Vincent had the old man playing tennis. Vincent thrashed the old man, but still they had a great workout. Tomorrow I plan on taking the old man swimming.
He is forever telling us he is an English man. He does share the prognathism of Shakespeare, the eyes of Geoffrey Chaucer, the steely forehead of William Blake, the small lips of John Keats. He is very proud of being an English man. It anchors him to a history.
The barmaid whispered to me: "The birthplace is as peripatetic as any Gaucho."
I made sure to buy Edward a drink. I nearly fainted when I paid for the drink. Smoking was prohibited. Edward didn't smoke, he was very proud of his body. The Jazz band was very good.
We killed the last bull, chopped the bull up, salted the bull, and make sure the old man has bull every day. The old man loves his roast beef. We feed him roast beef with what is left of the garden, some potatoes, some carrots, we have plenty of cabbage, but the old man refuses to eat food of Irish plebeians. We feed the old man beef in the morning, beef in the afternoon, and beef at night. Whenever the old man looks weak we sit him down at the table and spoon feed him. To make sure the old man gets his food we cut up the roast beef into little manageable pieces. To help the food down we take turns holding a glass of water to the old man's mouth.
When Edward went to the rest room I poured some of my drink into Edward's glass so I would not have to go without food for a week.
To keep up the old man's spirits we hold a birthday party every morning in his honor. The old man truly believes it is his birthday. We are not elaborate. We use the same birthday card Presidente Sotopulveda had sent to the old man many years ago. We sing the same old songs, we play pass the parcel, but there is never a prize, by the time the parcel has achieved two revolutions the old man has forgotten it is his birthday and is ready for his roast beef.
I was forced to offer Edward a drink, but luckily for me, he refused. He took a water. The bottle must have been designed in a Paris shop of haute couture. He tapped his concrete abdomen. He was very proud of his body.
Philip takes the old man on long hikes through the jungle. Henry has him chopping wood. Carl has him mowing the lawn. Betty shows him how to knit. Elizabeth has him mopping the floors, dusting the counters, sweeping the carpets. Harold has the old man picking fruit from the last of the trees. Tonight we are going to play cricket. I will bat and he will bowl and field.
There were many beautiful women in the jazz club, but they had a way of making me feel as though I had stepped out of my own jungle.
With penury all that you possess are memories and we have plenty of memories to talk over late into the night. The old man has left us nothing. To pay off the old man's debts we had to sell off the land. We sold acres and acres and the money evaporated with inflation.
The jazz band stopped playing and a hat was passed around. I had a few coins in my pocket and so I threw them into the hat. They were the only coins in the hat and when the hat moved from hand to hand the coins rattled loudly until they had been pocketed by the audience.
Peter said we should build a fire and incinerate him. Harold volunteered to dig a hole. Henry said that we should take the old man out into the jungle and leave it for the jungle to dispose of him. We would have done all these things, but we fear not so much the church, but meeting the old man again in the afterlife.
They could not afford to bury the old man. They could not afford a coffin, a mass, a piece of property in the graveyard. They could not afford a black suit, never mind twenty. They could not afford flowers. They could not afford a decent wake. They could not afford even an obol for Charon.
The taxes are so bloody high. Death is a costly business. He should have got into the death side instead of the other side. Father Duggan comes to the Villa most days to speak with the old man. Dying not only produces moans of self pity but it also inspires religious longing. The old man is desperate to know God and for God to know him. We mull outside the window and listen. We hear him say: "Father, why do they wait with the flowers? Flowers for the dead are nothing but dead flowers." The priest prattles. The old man turns to the priest and says: "Do you know I developed something truly magical? I introduced the knock knock joke into the work place. When one is about to remove a thumb nail or a tooth there is nothing quite like the knock knock joke. Even as the pliers work their magic the victim is thinking of the punch line."
paul kavanagh's book the killing of a bank manager is published by honest publishing.