Once our neighbour Harry had his third beer in him, anything might get said. This is why I tried so hard to stay up late enough on those nights when he came over to play Crib with Aunt Bee. I couldn’t stand the thought of missing something Harry might say. I had a whole notebook dedicated to him. I had planned to write a book. One more project that never really went where I thought I wanted it to.
I got good at listening through the floorboards of Bee’s old house, for all sorts of reasons.
As an example: once night, Harry told Bently to go shove himself off a short roof. Another time, he said that Bee had the nicest eyebrows he’d ever seen on a “woman of her age”. I heard him, on two separate occasions, admit that he didn’t mind that he had the “incurable condition of melancholy” – it kept him from doing the rash things he might otherwise have attempted, had he “been a more optimistic man”.
Everything Old Neighbour Harry said was pretty random, as far as I was concerned. It wasn’t what he said, just the volume and inconsistency. And then he died.
Well, the funeral was boring, without Harry’s comments about the catering. Haven’t I mentioned Old Neighbour Harry before now? Well, I just remembered him. I’ve seen and forgotten and seen again so many things in this life. You can’t expect me to recall all of my adventures in one go.
Today is my ninety-eighth birthday. Can you imagine? I can’t. I never thought I would get old- certainly not older than Bee did. I miss her every single day. She was the woman who showed me what kind of woman I wanted to be. Well, not at first. But eventually – and full on. That was Bee: all in her own good time. And powerfully.
But those are other stories. We’re talking about Old Neighbour Harry right now. I think he might have been a warlock. Just a hunch though. Never confirmed.
My favourite thing Harry ever said in my presence (though not knowing I was present… wait – as far as I know) was this:
“You can’t make anybody do anything at all, except what you actually need them to do, so you can get on with the being of you”.
Well. I was eight when he said that. Imagine how many years I had to chew on it before it made any kind of sense at all. But I did, and it did. Big time.
I won’t go into the details. I cried at his funeral. That was only the fourth time I had ever cried, like out loud. Embarrassing. Nobody saw that coming. Not Maevis Morgan. Maeve was the girl who didn’t do anything when she was supposed to. I guess Harry got to me. He was unmarried but like my third or fourth grandfather. I had a few. I didn’t always recognize them for being that, but I do now. A person needs grand mothers and fathers. A girl needs elders. So does a boy. Any child. You just ask them to really think about it. They’ll know.
There was a time when we didn’t know. We had forgotten. We had to be reminded. Reminded where we came from, and why we needed all our hands on deck. Even the wrinkled ones. Especially in those troubled times. We hadn’t quite gotten to Mars yet, in style. I won’t spoil the story for you – it’s a good one, and ongoing. Maybe I said that already, somewhere else.
We needed to fix some things on Earth before we could go to the stars, with those first steps. It seems so obvious now, but it wasn’t then. I don’t know why. We were wrapped in plastic and fear and rage – or something. Niall once told me that he thought we were just a butterfly about to bloom. I told him butterflies and flowers were related but not the same thing, and he told me he wholeheartedly agreed – but we were still a butterfly about to bloom. I think he was right.
You might not know what I’m talking about right now, but that’s ok too. I don’t know how I got to be ninety-eight, but I did. It’s not so bad at all. I get lots of perks. I’m technically a cyborg, I’ve got some replacement bits. Nothing too cool though. Standard stuff. I’ve waived my right to gene mods. That’s a little much. I guess I’m old-school that way.
Look, Harry’s still with me. I keep a poem he wrote. He left it on a chair in Bee’s kitchen, the night I saw him for the last time (but didn’t know it then). It says this:
Maeve- keep your ear to the ground and your eye to the stars. Your generation will fix things. That’s really what you’re here for. Every one of you. Me, I’m here to get drunk, screw up mightily, and make kids like you keeping wanting more for yourself, by the time you’re my age. Don’t forget you are all magic. Say hello to Mars for me.
Harry, I never did, and I certainly will.