Saturday, 3 October 2015

Porcupine Redoutable

‘What have I ever done to you, that you treat us this way?’

The first words out of her mouth when she got me on the phone.  The Bit-ler’s formidable aunt.  She’d never married, worked as a PA to someone powerful, the best a formidable woman could do at the time.  She cared for her parents, then her bachelor brother, living four score and seven years in the house where she was born, spreading her porcupine love. 

The Bit-ler was the first and last grandchild in that Irish Catholic family.  Her mother fared badly during delivery, so baby went home in Formidable Aunt's prickly arms until the disinterested mother could manage on her own.  I always felt you weren’t mine, you’d been switched at hospital with some queer folks’ baby.

The sisters' great war has lasted nearly a century, the Bit-ler sometimes ground they fight over.  And now Formidable’d rung about Disinterested thwarting best laid plans, etc.  The Bit-ler herself, out garnering support for her transition, her work, Disinterested’s care plans, leaving me fair game to Formidable’s tongue. 

‘What have I ever done to you, that you treat us this way?’

I hadn’t a clue, which was just as well because she didn’t want to start a fight with me.  Formidable vented her spleen about her Disinterested sister, then moved on to the Bit-ler, using male pronouns and names, asking why in the world I hadn’t left him, if it’d been her husband, sure to God she’d be long gone by now.

During the Bit-ler’s long ago childhood when DeValera and the clergy were still gods, Formidable knew what needed done, dragged an unenthusiastic Bit-ler to swimming lessons and scout meetings, altar boy practice and long, dull visits to relatives in the country while Disinterested Mother babysat someone else’s children.

I was spared witness of that, but not the bachelor brother’s 90th birthday, attended by the only grandchild, the elderly siblings themselves and a couple no one seemed to know (descendants of someone’s illegitimate child, it was whispered).  Formidable had planned a tight schedule that required a forced march through dinner.  At the end of the meal, the waiter offered Bachelor Brother coffee.  Formidable said there wasn’t time and the waiter lost his mind.  It isn’t up to you if he has coffee

The manager was called, but by the time he got there, Bachelor Brother had talked Formidable out of making a complaint.  The couple nobody knew tried to make conversation while Disinterested Mother pretended to be senile and Bachelor Brother stared at his empty coffee cup.  Formidable across the circular table from me, silently waiting to pay the cheque, the expression on her face not anger, but shame.  I saw in that moment a lifetime of getting smacked in the face for being a porcupine, when a porcupine was what was needed.

I feel sorry for you, she says to me on the phone, sure I do, what with no family and I understand his principles, he thinks he’s a woman but couldn’t he put on a pair of slacks?  Lots of women do, you know.  And then she invites me to come over.  You like looking at old buildings, you could walk round Dublin and I wouldn’t tell a soul you were here.  I wouldn’t say a thing to anyone.  We could take in a couple of shows and I’d feed you a meal and then you could look at old buildings.  You’d like that, sure wouldn’t you?

And I realise here’s the first person to initiate support for what I'm experiencingThere’s been coos and whispers of compassion, and poor El Punko has patiently listened, but here’s a concrete offer of befriending the invisible SOFFA in this maelstrom.  Not, Aren’t you brave?  Be sure to take care of yourself.   He . . . I mean she’s very lucky to have you.  An actual, Come here and let me take care of you.  From a porcupine.  God, it'd be hysterically funny if it weren't so terrible. 

In my imagination, Formidable and I become porcupine buddies, like nuns who always go round in pairs.  We take in a show and I shop for Christmas, poke my head inside old churches and listen to trad sessions in pubs.  In reality, I’d most likely end up throwing myself into the Liffey, but knowing that, I still feel a kinship with this Formidable woman, all quills and thorns and knowing what’s best in situations where she has no experience.  I see myself at my worst in her, so why not go over and be my worst, cackle at conjoined proclamations on the lesser-thans, get rid of all this anger and distress and disappointment, this feckin invisibility of being the one who always copes, plans, rescues, cheers, supports, while weeding gardens, painting furniture, cleaning, washing, and writing writing writing stuff that’s longlisted and shortlisted and destined to be rejected.  It’d be comforting to bond with the wicked in a place where I could be wicked and say it’s not fair, then leave it behind, a psychological dirty weekend.




I may pack my best porcupine outfit and head off to Dublin.  But don’t tell a soul I’ve gone.

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