Do You Read Books?

by ericavanhorn

3 January 2021 Sunday

The Leopardstown Races are a big part of the holiday season. Traditionally they take place 26-29 December. This year they happened as usual but without the big crowds in attendance. Of course. Everyone who follows the racing watched it on the television. Siobhan’s mother was busy at Leopardstown from her armchair every day, as always. She sat with her pen and the newspaper and made notes about each race. She knows the background of each horse. All year she keeps track of all the race meetings and of the horses, trainers, jockeys and owners. There is not much about the horses that she does not know. Mrs. Hally is 102.  Siobhan tapes the program because her mother falls asleep frequently. Each race gets replayed and replayed until Mrs. Hally feels certain that she has seen everything.

6 January Wednesday

We took a walk out to Lady’s Abbey. It was cold. I wanted to check on the red chair that had been stored in one of the small rooms at the ruined Abbey.  We were shocked to find the chair laying on the ground outside. Someone, probably kids, had used it to start a fire, or else they had started a small fire with the idea to burn the chair once the fire got going. It was a bad idea. The red seat of the chair did not burn well and they never got enough heat going to burn the back and the legs. All they did was ruin the chair.  Someone had left that chair safely sheltered so that it would be available to sit upon each time they visited the Abbey. A man walking with a crutch appeared as we were leaving. He used his crutch to point to the chair and the failed fire and he said, “Kids! They are trying to have fun but they don’t know how.”

8 January Friday

We walked up behind the house that used to belong to Francie Cooney.  It has just been sold.  The sign is still up. It says SALE AGREED. I had never been up onto the land so we wandered in to take a look. Once there are new people in possession we would not think to go in and look around. That would be intruding.  The land goes back in three sections. I have been passing the house for years. I had no idea there was so much land stretching back from the road. The small house is in the first part and then there is a big open-sided shed with a rounded galvanized roof full of tools and broken machinery and some more land and then there is a third section with two stone buildings and a high wall. The stone wall on the left side of the entire piece of land is about two and a half meters high. Just by being back there and talking quietly we disturbed a fox who was sleeping up in a secret place on the wall. He ran along the length of it and disappeared.

9 January Saturday

Tommie loves fruit. He claims to love all fruit. He is also partial to sweet things: cakes and biscuits and puddings and pies.  But his preferred favorite thing is fresh fruit. I knocked on his door today, took a few steps back and asked him if he likes pineapple. He looked dubious and then we talked a little and I gave him the box with a piece of pineapple cake in it. The box was made of cardboard so Tommie could not see the cake that was inside the box. Looking at the box gave him no clues to its contents. Simon had made the cake from one of the pineapples that has been lined up on the windowsill with pine cones. It was the last of the pineapples that we called our Christmas decoration. The cake was made following a recipe from Mauritius but I did not tell Tommie that. He was a little disturbed about the fact that he did not know if he had ever had a pineapple or if he had ever seen a pineapple. He would have been further disturbed by the word Mauritius. I gave him the box along with a carton of Bird’s Custard.  I told him that the pineapple and the custard go well together. He asked if this thing in the box was a sweet thing or was it something else. He did not say the word pineapple. The word seemed to disturb him.  I explained that it was a cake made with the fruit of the pineapple. Once he knew that it was a sweet, his face relaxed and he looked happy and he said that he looked forward to the eating of it.

11 January Monday

Robins are everywhere. There are many birds of all kinds on the feeders and on the bushes but mostly there are dozens and dozens of robins. For a while I thought I was getting to know one and that she was getting to know me. Now I know that there are too many robins to really focus upon. I cannot recognize one from another. They are all fat and they are all everywhere. I cannot keep the feeders full enough.

12 January Tuesday

There is not a lot of variety in the things to see when I go out to walk. At this time of year there is not much animal activity. Most days things are much the way they were the day before.  Most days I never meet another person. I have to take different routes to provide myself with variety especially now that we can only go five kilometers from home for exercise.  Today I got excited when I saw something in the road up ahead of me.  I was looking at it for a long time as I approached. I could not decide what it was.  Finally I got close enough to identify it.  It was a sugar beet. What did I expect it to be? It was not even a whole sugar beet, but only half a sugar beet. The other half must have gone off in the machine that gathered them up in the field. This half might have fallen off a trailer. It gave me something to look at and something to think about. I am still excited about it.

15 January Friday

Tommie did not enjoy the pineapple cake. He was polite about it. He said that since he has never before eaten nor seen a pineapple probably it is too late for him to start. He did not like the pineapple cake but he was very happy to have eaten the entire carton of Bird’s Custard.

16 January Saturday

I went to the Farmer’s Market but it was not fully up and running after the  Christmas break. I was a week early.  Pat was not there, so there was no fish. James was not there so there were no organic vegetables.  Maria was not there so there was no cheese. Those were the things I had come to buy. There were a few other stalls open so I did purchase a few items. I decided I would need to go over to the supermarket to buy more food.

A man in the SuperValu car park shouted to me: DO YOU READ BOOKS? I looked up as he ran over to me, wearing his mask and lugging an enormous shopping bag full of books.  I looked at the books and they were a terrible mess or at least the ones showing at the top of the bag were in a dreadful state.  The covers were bent and curled and stained and torn. I told the man that I had so many of my own books at home that I simply did not have space for anymore.  I directed him to the wire bin just inside the door of the supermarket. The bin is full of books that people leave there and other people scrabble through them and help themselves to whatever they want. The man said he was headed for that bin but he saw me first and he said he thought I might be the kind of person who might want an entire bag of books.

17 January Sunday

Sometimes Saturday night or maybe Sunday night. Going to the sauna once a week is the closest thing to Going Out Somewhere that we have had throughout the last ten months. It is an occasion to look forward to and an occasion to savor. Walking the 80 meters across the yard in the darkness in my dressing gown offers a new challenge. I can no longer just wander along looking up at the stars as I usually do. There are snowdrops coming up everywhere in the grass.  They are not easily visible by the light of the lantern because most are not yet in blossom. There is not very much white to catch the light. Walking in the dark demands careful attention. I do not want to step on them.

18 January Monday

I telephone Tommie once a week and when I do I try to have some news for him. Sometimes there is little to tell. We none of us have much news in these endless lockdowns. He told me that he considers himself a hermit these days. A hermit who has his dinner delivered each day by Eileen Condon. He told me that her portions are mighty.  The dinner is usually too much food so he has enough left over for his tea too. He finds these days of quarantine long and lonely. Today I had some news for him. He was pleased to hear that a man from the council had been down for a look and now some work is promised on our boreen.  I told him that the potholes are worse than they have ever been. Even the postman is shocked by the state of things. It is easy for the council to forget about this road because there is only our one house on it. They forget that they are responsible for it.

19 January Tuesday

I had received the order from Dublin. My habit is to send payment by return post with a check. The last time I made this same order, Esther included an envelope addressed to herself in my handwriting and with an uncancelled stamp on the upper right hand corner. This was the envelope I had used for the time before. Esther did not say anything in her note about the envelope but I accepted it for the small kindness that it was. I put my check into the envelope and I felt smug for getting the chance to use the same stamp twice.  This time an envelope arrived with my order again.  It was completely wrinkled and a little torn and it was addressed to Esther herself again, but not in my handwriting.  It was someone else’s handwriting and someone else’s envelope. Their stamp had not been cancelled either. So I used this envelope already posted by someone else to send my payment to Esther, again for free.

20 January Wednesday

Some undergrowth has been cleared up at Middlequarter. A post with signs for walkers is suddenly visible. It is not a new post nor are the signs new. They were there but they were hidden. I am intrigued with the one pointing to the village announcing: Refreshments Available.

21 January Thursday

While out walking I had seen the car driving around slowly. It is always a big thing to note the first new car of the year. Well, it is not a big thing, but it is anyway a thing to be on the look out for the first brand new car with the number of the new year on the license plate.  I saw a red car with the number 21 and then I saw it again about 30 minutes later. It was driving slowly around the area.  No one is allowed to go more than 5 kilometres from home so this car was circling and driving the same roads.  Because of the new and very infectious variant of the virus, the Guards are out in surprising places stopping people on bicycles and in cars and telling them to go home and to stay at home. They are giving people warnings. This morning I saw the red car again down at the shop. There were no other cars parked out front. There was no one around at all, except me, and this car with the 21 plates backed in so that the front of the car was facing outwards. The driver was sitting in his seat waiting to catch the eye of anyone who arrived. As I left I recognized that it was Larry Doocey sitting in the car. He was waiting for people to notice his new motorcar.  I spoke to Tommie in the afternoon and I mentioned Larry and the new automobile. He was not surprised, but he appreciated getting the news. He said. “Ah yes. It is exactly the time for Larry to buy a new car. He has always been A Man for The Changing Up.”

22 January Friday

We were told to expect the road crew from the council today. The plan was that they would bring the digger and scrape out the grass down the middle of the boreen. Then they would return on Monday to fill and fix as much of the road as they could fix.  That was the plan but this morning the digger was not available so now we are promised the same activity for Monday. The idea was that we would be trapped down here all day unable to drive out.  It is nothing new to stay home all day but it is not normal to be warned of the entrapment ahead of time. .