‘Violins. Violins. It’s the only thing that will make you see sense.’ OK, I may have heard the lyrics to an old Mott the Hoople song a tad off. Take it away this Sunday, guest columnist Paul Curran.
Welcome to the weekly coffee and tea garden. My name is Paul, I’ll be your barista today and I’m happy to be here at Mark Bialczak’s Little Bitty in Syracuse, New York. Please come in and go through to the living room. Mark, his wife Karen and their pooch Ellie B, have prepared a nice, warm, comfy place for us so I can tend to your needs for a cuppa, and sweets. The weather this morning is cloudy and a high just over 60 F. As usual, I’d be pleased to bring a pot of whatever beverage you prefer – we have a wide range of teas and coffees to satisfy our worldwide readership and adult beverages for those who wish something stronger to warm up. We can relax with a cuppa while we discuss the affairs of the week both personal and/or worldwide. Ellie likes to be patted, so please indulge her when she greets you. How has your week been? Have a piece of cake (or any of the sweets on the next table) – electronic sweets are all calorie free!
This week I’d like to write another chapter in our “Front Porch” series. I hope you enjoy it.
Ruth staggered up the sidewalk and plopped down on the stairs with her shoulder touching mine. A cloud of alcohol fumes settled over us. Her head seemed loose on her neck, bobbing back and forth with no rhythm. Ruth was a regular in the neighborhood – she visited one of the other tenants in my building. Today she was wearing a blue windbreaker, a blue T-shirt with some message written on it, black knee-length shorts and unlaced high-top black sneakers. Her broad face and caramel colored skin announced her First Nations heritage.
A soft mumbling rolled from Ruth’s lips, at first unintelligible and then softly resolving into: “They didn’t deserve it. The little ones. All gone now. No violins. No violins. So sad.”
Then she looked up and said “He isn’t home.” Then louder: “HE ISN’T HOME”
I didn’t comment: usually it’s better to allow drunks to just have their say. But then she turned to me and said: “Have you seen him?”
I had to reply: “I’m sorry I wouldn’t even know him if I did. There was one guy with an orange top and long black hair that left a few minutes ago.”
“Did he have black pants?”
“I didn’t notice I was looking up.”
“Oh, he has black pants. Did he have black pants?”
“I didn’t notice.”
At this point a male about 40 and dressed in a clean white T-shirt drove up on a bicycle and stopped at the street sign in front of the building: “Good afternoon – beautiful day isn’t it?” And indeed it was gorgeous. “Would either of you like to buy a loaf of bread and a package of chicken for two dollars?” He looked at me.
I responded: “Sorry I don’t have any money.”
Ruth replied: “I’ll buy it.”
“Let’s see your money.”
Before I continue, would you like another cuppa? Perhaps a sweet?
Ruth seldom had money but this afternoon she pulled out a cigarette pack and opened it displaying some twenties and fives. She must have dealt with this individual before as she offered a five and said she would get the change another time – I got the feeling it would be in trade as well. He locked his bike to the sign, went into the building next door and returned with a with a plastic bag containing a loaf of Wonder bread, a 175 gram blister pack of sliced chicken and a Twinkie. He showed Ruth each item and said the Twinkie was a treat for her. She took the bag, got up and went into the front entrance of the building. The entry is small and has only the mailboxes and a panel of buzzers for the apartments.
While Ruth buzzed her friend, I had to ask Twinkie guy: “Why would you sell food for such a low cost? Where does it come from?”
He responded with a lie: “I share an apartment and we buy food in bulk and sometimes have too much. When we do I just sell it – I need the two dollars.”
Translation: He was given food not money for food and so when he wanted money for smokes or drugs or alcohol, he had only food to sell.
Twinkie said: “It sure is great to see how happy that food made her (referring to Ruth) – it takes so little.”
As Twinkie left, Ruth came back out and sat down on the floor in a corner of the porch – a smart move – and proclaimed: “He’s not home.” It is not permitted for anyone but me to sit on the steps. I am permitted because I am handicapped and as long as I am waiting for my ride I can sit. She knew I was leaving and if she wanted to wait she had to sit where she could not be seen from the street – which is in the corner of the porch. She held the bag in her hand and looking at me asked: “Can you give this food to him? He is my friend”
I confessed: “I don’t know anyone in the building.”
Ruth: “He told me that if I had anything for him to give it to you cause he trusts you. And he never has enough food so I bought this for him. He is my friend but he abuses me sometimes.”
“Sorry I don’t know him and I am leaving soon and won’t be back until late. How does he abuse you? ”
Ruth pulled out a full pack of cigarettes and asked if I wanted one. Then she gave me two – surprisingly, as she usually was the one asking not offering. As if reading my mind she commented: “I got some money today. All I did was buy a Mickey [a 375 ml Canadian sized bottle of alcohol = about 12 ounces] to make the voices go away, walk through the park and come here.”
I pushed: “How does he abuse you? “
“He doesn’t really abuse me – I shouldn’t have said that. Just a few bruises here on my arms. That’s not really abuse.”
“That is abuse you know.”
“Yeah, but he is my friend and I brought him some food because he never has any.”
“You said that you hear voices – what do they say.”
I expected Ruth to balk at this question but she was very forthcoming:
“They are all different voices. The words change with the seasons. Words are so special and everything has to be taken into account to get the words right – the voices, the season, the weather – so many things. And when the words are just perfect, it is so beautiful.” Here she paused, then continued:
“Sometimes it is the voices of my sisters that I hear.”
The last sentence was said very quietly and with great reverence – apart from the other sentences.
Inquiring, I asked if she had sisters and where they were.
She replied: “Yes I have sisters but I can’t tell where they are – it is not allowed. I could get in a lot of trouble if I told you.”
At this point my ride arrived and I said my goodbyes and departed, leaving Ruth sitting on the floor in the corner of the porch waiting for her friend – the man who abused her – and trying not to hear the voices. No Violins.
That’s about all we have room for this week folks, so it’s time to settle in with another cuppa and pat Ellie B. Sweets anyone? Please join me in thanking Mark, Karen and Ellie B for their invitation to tea. We are all honored that you dropped by today to visit. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself and the conversation and please look around at Mark’s other posts while you’re here. Have a great week.