White Chairs

The white waiting room chairs in A&E are bolted together in sets of five or ten, in lines. They are no longer new, nor are they comfortable, and have a 1970’s Habitat look with round holes in the metal seats and backs. Some chairs carry word-processed notices: Please don’t sit on me I’m broken. There is no irony in this, nor is it a metaphor, it’s merely a statement of fact. 

 During the day the chairs that are not broken are always fully occupied. Often, when there are no vacant chairs, patients lean on the walls, sit on the floor or loiter outside for a chat or a fag.

At night, this A&E is closed. In the dark, unanswered telephones monotonously ring and ring, sick with tinnitus. No people suffer. No people are in pain. No parents panic. There is no blood. All is spick and span. No doctors fight to save lives. No nurses tend the ill with compassion and care. No one gasps for air. No broken bones needing repair. Sounds echo from far off-stage, safety lights faintly glimmer – a theatre without a play. 

The noise of an electric floor-polishing machine grows as Janita pushes it into the waiting room. As she polishes, she sings to the white chairs as if she wants to cheer them up from their loneliness, All you need is love, love, Love is all you need. She looks out through the windows.

Heavy rain falls in sheets through the radiance of high car park lights. A car skids to a halt. A middle-aged man leaps out, opens the rear door of the car and helps an old lady out. He protects her with his coat and helps her stagger to the doors. He rattles them. On the inside, Janita tries to let them in. Outside, the man pounds the doors with his fists and shouts, It’s my mother. Janita shakes her head, there is no way in. She shouts, Try the main doors, and points in their direction, Round there, round there. She stares at the car, the driver’s door is still open. She waits. 

Rain falls. The man and his mother return to the car. He helps her in. The car drives away. Janita, unable to sing, weeps as she continues to polish the floor.

In the deserted car park, Austerity, the Grim Reaper, watches.


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

The Wych Elm

wych elm

Tana French ‘The Wych Elm’

There are books and there are BOOKS!

‘The Wych Elm’ is astonishing.

Scrupulously, and brilliantly written from the protagonist’s point of view there is nothing allowed beyond the narration of Toby’s direct experience, tortured memory and/or imagination. I was so enmeshed in the narrator’s understanding, or lack of comprehension, of himself, and his history, that I almost came to doubt my own grasp of what ‘certainty’ might mean. The ensemble of characters, the detail of their behaviours and their ignorance of their realities is bewyching. No spoilers here – but as I finished the last page I was bereft, immensely sad and overwhelmed.

It is, ostensibly, a crime novel, which makes as much sense as saying that Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ is a ‘thriller’. I hadn’t read any of French’s work until this book – I shall remedy that oversight.

Do read this fantastic book.

Saul Bellow ‘Herzog’

Herzog

I’ve been reading Saul Bellow’s ‘Herzog’ (1964) and it’s given me pause for thought, not least because the intensity of the writing is overwhelming; the way Bellow works with the conjunction of improbable partners in misunderstanding and even (imagined?) malice reveals the plight of the creative mind. His prose is aggressive, sharp, staccato daggers as they pierce me with the uncertainty, challenge of life, but tempered, still softened, made conditional, by the salve of familial memory, love, and Moses’ Father Herzog.

And also pause for thought because it has made me, yet again, think about what I write and how I find the ‘right’ form to do that.

The constant commentary provided by the ‘letters’ Herzog writes captures the duality of writing one thing at exactly the same time as thinking about something quite else, of being something, or somewhere, else, evidencing the struggle of setting down the complexity of inner and public life in words, and not, moving images.

And he’s funny! But it’s funny that’s humourless;  the bone jolted in your elbow; the ‘humour’ engendered by the latest pogrom – but still funny!

Though it’s a book of its time it feels, somehow, like a work from the nineteenth century  set in the twentieth in the USA and not Europe in the ghetto (where it actually feels it’s set) from which it stems. Where does success, self worth, achievement and respect exist?

Bellow, aka Herzog (?), is erudite to a fault. Amidst the ‘academic’ arguments, the endless dropping of names that give Herzog purpose, validity, authenticity, everything, so that every memory and thought and plan collides with every other idea in spontaneous combustion as smoke and flames burst from the page leaving me exhausted and astounded hiding from the heat.

The personal becomes universally crucially relevant so that Herzog’s dilemmas are those  we all face in trying to make sense of one existential crisis after another whilst, in Herzog’s case, inflicting yet another upon oneself until the finale.

He asks. Am I this? Am I that? Is it me? Is it her? Is it? Is it real? Is it? What? What is my life? What is the point? What am I? Herzog bellows!

His life unravels, as it must, a tragedy, and it made me weep. Inevitability. Loss. But, also hope. That we, readers, may … do what?

What a writer – that isn’t interrogative (as he might say) but a statement of fact.

When I am, once again, ready, I shall read this book again – unhurriedly, ignoring plot, sustained by the joy of Bellow’s writing, laughing, frustrated, delighted and inspired. That’ll do for me.

“PIGS IN HEAVEN”

pigs in heaven

Barbara Kingsolver’s novel ‘PIGS IN HEAVEN’ (1993) is intriguing.

Initially there is something ‘Updike-like’ about Kingsolver’s prose – sharp ironic writing laced with humour. Early on – “Alice wonders if other women in the middle of the night have begun to resent their Formica.” Later – “You might see things better on television, but you’ll never know if you were alive or dead while you watched.” But, unlike Updike there is a sort of inevitability, a preordainedness, here that is quite different from the tension of the Rabbit books. It’s not a tragedy but rather a celebration of love over adversity.

The portrayal of the Cherokee Nation as a haven of familial support, love and joy makes no substantial reference to the impact of significant poverty and racism instead representing an ideal state of oneness in ‘Heaven’ that it would be a joy to be part of (some of the time).

The plot – no spoilers – resolves itself as if by magic – which is what it is – a ‘romance’ in which the best of all possible worlds comes about through (apparent) serendipity aligned with the scheming of Ms Annawake Fourkiller and the finger of god suggesting the inevitability of the victory of good over evil.

This novel feels good and there’s little harm in that right now in the midst of Brexit and the idiocy of Trump. Nothing wrong at all with love winning the day, but … the pain that has been suffered, the legacy of sadness, to get to that ideal ending is but chaff blown away, and almost forgotten, in a gentle breeze from the idyllic world of the Cherokee Nation in Heaven. But rock on – we could do with more of it! I enjoyed it.

 

 

 

 

DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD

Olga Tokarczuk’s novel is magnificent.

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The title comes from William Blake.

The blurb on the back cover is good but doesn’t do it full justice.

I couldn’t put it down.

There is so much to take from this work e.g. what Fieldfares can do to an attacking hawk; “Newspapers rely on keeping us in a constant state of anxiety, on diverting our emotions away from the things that really matter to us.” And insight and argument into the human condition in the this century and the dilemmas we all face and not just in Poland.

Please read this book