Michael Harding: I made a mistake about my vitamin dosage and began to feel fidgety
‘My body tingled in the mornings and I couldn’t stop walking. I thought I had found a magic cure for depression’
Getting old is a comical journey into solitude. Even the urge to copulate dies away. I used to suffer fierce urges when I was young. I’d be all knotted up with horny desires rising from my loins. I met the General when I was 20 and he was in his 40s, and like many senior patriarchs in those years he was inclined to expound overmuch about the art of love, especially to younger men. Although I did take his advice on numerous occasions.
We were driving through Westmeath recently, and he was admiring horses in the fields as we drove by.
“Do you know what people mean by gingering?” he inquired.
“It’s what they do to a horse. They slip raw ginger up the anus. Makes an old beast behave like a young thing. Although some people use pepper and of course in remote corners of Westmeath I’ve heard folktales regarding live eels.”
His erudition never ceases to amaze me.
Elixir of youth
I had been taking vitamin B12 on the doctor’s advice, but I made a mistake about the dosage. I was supposed to take a 4 microgram tablet each day, but I had bought the 50 microgram tablets by accident and so after a week I began feeling fidgety. My body tingled in the mornings and I couldn’t stop walking. I thought I had found a magic cure for depression, or a new elixir for old age. “If this works,” I thought, “I won’t be needing Viagra when I get to the General’s age.”
Then one afternoon, when the beloved was hanging out clothes on the line between the two scotch pines, I made an indecent proposal about what we could do for the rest of the day. And she looked at the pill box and said, “Do you realise you’re taking 20 times the daily dose of those tablets.”
That was the same day the General phoned. I saw his number on the screen but when I listened there was no sound. I could hear only breathing, and I knew he was trying to cry.
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When the General cries, he cries inside. No sound is heard on the surface. Except for his slightly erratic breath. He buried all the tears of his life in a deep well long ago, and they only ever echo on the surface of his face, occasionally, like when Magda is in the kitchen doing the dishes and he’s gazing at the kitchen door.
He wanted me to drive him to a funeral in Carlow the following day, which I did, and as we drove through the midlands he snivelled all the way and said how he regretted not visiting his old friend more often.
“But you couldn’t stand him,” I said. “You were always criticising him.”
And indeed when the remains had been planted, the General scuttled out of the graveyard as jolly as a clown.
“Well at least I’m still above ground,” he declared.
And he was all talk about his garden. How he was cleaning up the long grass so that he could plant bamboos later in the spring. He said the bamboos would keep the midges away.
“The female midges tore my arse off last summer!” he declared.
When we reached his house the lights were off and the place was in darkness.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Magda leaves a sandwich on the kitchen table before she goes. For my tea.”
He stumbled on the gravel path and fumbled for his keys and I waited until I saw the light going on in the hallway.
When I got home the beloved was on the sofa listening to music with wireless earphones and her face aglow in the light of her iPad.
“I’m home,” I said.
“How was the General?” she asked. “Was he upset?”
“Not a bit of him,” I replied. “In fact he seemed unusually animated on the way back.”
The beloved was absorbed in her iPad and it struck me that in a long marriage there are times when each partner is completely alone. So I went onwards to the bedroom.
But when she came in later I was still awake. My beard sticking out above the sheets, like Abraham on his last legs, and she stood by the window for a moment, a silhouette in the moonlight. I felt I was gazing at a complete stranger, until she turned her face towards me, and like Abraham’s wife Sarah, she smiled, as if we were both on the verge of just one more urge, or surge, or some new thing we had not yet imagined.