Saturday, January 28, 2012

spelling bee

Orange street lights on frosted tarmac. A crescent moon hooked up in the sky like a suture needle.
I press the button on the intercom, a pause, then the squall of a voice through the speaker.
I lean in.
‘Ambulance.’
Buzz.

Mr O’Fallon is standing in his hallway, the subsiding wreck of a fifty year old, propped up against the wall, smiling soggily like a Halloween pumpkin left out in the rain.
‘S’ah. M’gon et ma goh sum’air mate. Eh? S’ah there to, innit.’
‘What’s that?’
He sighs.
‘S’ah. M’gon et ma goh sum’air mate. Eh? S’ah there to, innit.’
‘What’s happened tonight, Mr O’Fallon? Mr O’Fallon?’
He reaches down, grips his left hip, then swipes at the air with his free hand. I prop him back up.
‘Did you fall? Have you hurt yourself?’
He grinds his gums, laughs, then speaks.

When he talks, his Belfast accent, lack of teeth and many cider litres – many years of cider litres – all these things act like the layers of a perverse filtration system: he thinks of a response, pours it in at the top, it filters down through each layer, all the nuances of communication absorbed and lost, until all that’s left to come out of his mouth is a kind of primitive proto-language, the essence of the thing he wanted to say, lukewarm, with just a taint of the original sense.
‘Sorry?’
He says it again.
‘It’s hard to understand what you’re saying,’ I tell him. ‘Seeing as you’re on your feet, shall we get you out to the ambulance and check you over there?’
He makes some sounds. I interpret them as Can you get my jacket? When I fetch his jacket down from where it hangs on the back of the door, he nods as if that wasn’t what he meant but it’ll have to do.
We stagger out to the ambulance.

***

Mr O’Fallon is sitting on one of the ambulance seats. Frank takes his blood pressure and temperature whilst I try to get the basic details. We’re only round the corner from the hospital, so I need to do it whilst the ambulance is parked up.
‘What’s your first name, Mr O’Fallon?’
He makes a sound.
‘What?’
He makes the sound again, louder.
‘Spell it for me.’
‘Or’
‘R?’
‘Or! F’Orse.’
‘Oh! O!’
‘A’s roi, neh. Or.’
‘Okay. Next letter.’
‘Ay’
‘A?’
‘Ay. Ay! Fer Aynjin. Ay.’
‘I. For Indian. I for Indian.’
‘Ay. Ay.’
‘Okay. O, then I. Then what?’
‘Ass.’
‘Arse?’
He shakes his head – so hard it almost falls off onto the trolley.
‘Ass! Fer fer’s say. Ass!’
‘Yep. Got it. So that’s O, I and S – then what?’
‘Ay.’
‘I?’
He frowns. Then immediately raises his eyebrows.
‘On.’
‘On?’
‘On. Fer Nut’n. On.’
‘N! Okay – great. So that makes O.I.S.I.N.’
He shakes his head again, and leans right back in the chair.
‘So how do you pronounce that?’
He laughs, with his awful, craterous, old dog’s mouth.
‘Osheen,’ he says, the name wafting out in a hang of fumes.
He leans forward and slaps me on the knee.
‘Ay ‘us shah boy de Oy Uh Ray,’ he says.
‘You were shot by the IRA?’
Frank takes the cuff off his arm.
‘Well,’ he says. ‘They’re not as patient as us.’

6 comments:

Sabine said...

Oh dear, what a challenge! Oisin, the great poet and warrior of Celtic mythology. What happened next?

Spence said...

Well - we took him in, and it turns out he has an attendance record as long as the Giant's Causeway. Incl. being thrown out several times for drunken/abusive behaviour! But he was okay with us, and at least he walked... :/

jacksofbuxton said...

Dear old Frank,quick as ever.I suppose the catch all "sir/madam" comes out when you can't understand a word.

Spence said...

He can't help himself, thank goodness.

I must admit I got a fit of the giggles when I was trying to get Mr A's name down. But he was okay about it (too p** to notice, I think).

Lydia said...

Frank gets the last word again! :)

Spence said...

*shakes fist*