The day religion found me

The motivation to get out of bed and perform thirty minutes of yoga in the morning was proving to be scarce as January was fading into a frosty February.  Each day the first of my nine alarms would fill the bedroom with its shrill sound from the bedside table, and my first thought as my eyes flickered into life was to question what kind of an idiot would set an alarm for six o’clock in the morning.

Every morning the same tired routine was played out amongst the theatre of my crumpled bed sheets.  The 6am alarm was silenced and I turned onto the other pillow to face away from the offending technology, hoping that if I wasn’t looking at it, it wouldn’t screech again.  Inevitably it would, though, and I was forced to silence another alarm. I sank into my mattress and realised that if I was going to follow through with my goal to read a few pages of a book and do half an hour of yoga before work every morning I would have to get out of bed and make a cup of Earl Grey tea, but I could tell from the brief foray my hands had made to the bedside table that the room was much colder than the world beneath my sheets was. 

The alarms continued to furiously sound, each one more jarring than the last.  It was becoming a game of cat and mouse, where I was reluctant to be beholden to the alarms I had set for myself, despite knowing that a session of yoga would be better for my body and mind than lying lazily in bed.  As the week progressed, it was increasingly obvious that like the way you can lead a horse to water without being able to convince it to admit that it has a drinking problem, it is also true that you can set a series of nine alarms between 6am and 8am, but you can’t force yourself to get out of bed and face the world again.

As the mercury mirrored my motivation and continued to drop, my experimentation with soup recipes was reaching new levels of desperation when it came to utilising any loose ingredients in the kitchen without having to go out shopping for more.  I chopped up some onions, leek and garlic – the process of which caused me to scratch the point of my thumb with a knife – and seasoned it all in a pot with some thyme.  The resulting soup made for a pleasing and warming lunch on the following three days, though when I went to bed later in the night and could sniff the aroma of my soup, it brought a level of confusion I ordinarily feel when something I have said makes a girl smile.  Despite it being occupied by a thirty-five-year-old male, my bedroom is generally an odourless environment, so to find the air fragrant with soup was an unusual event.

I was going about the business of undressing myself for bed when my mind was busy with thoughts concerning the scent of soup in my chambers.  I couldn’t fathom how the smell could linger through from the kitchen into the bedroom; the only reasonable explanation I was capable of conjuring was that the ghost which I had briefly believed to be haunting my bedroom in the months after I moved into my flat had returned.

In a meticulous, distracted manner the buttons on my grey shirt were unfastened while I considered the re-emergence of my spirit company.  She had never before carried with her an essence of freshly boiled soup, and it seemed a remarkable coincidence that she would do so on a night where I had made a new batch.  I straightened the rainbow of dress shirts which were hanging in the wardrobe before getting into bed with a book.  The words were failing to register with me as the soup-smelling ghost dominated my thoughts.  It occurred to me that the timeline of my block of flats could point to the apparition being from a war-time era.  She possibly used her ration book to make soup for starving servicemen, in the way I used the restricted goods in my fridge to feed a hungry single man.  All she did with her life was to make soup for other people, and the stench would cling to her and define her character the way Joop and old books did mine.

My inability to read was similar to my lack of motivation to get out of bed in the morning, and I turned the bedside lamp off.  I was lying in my bed staring at the darkness where the ceiling would usually be when I remembered how I had stripped the clothes airer in the kitchen of dry and creased shirts earlier in the evening after I had boiled a pot of leek and onion soup.

A frozen scene outside Oban

During the week, I promised a friend that, along with another acquaintance, we would help her to move a bed between two rooms in the apartment she was about to move out of.  The view from the window of the living room was amongst the most sublime I have seen in Oban.  The sky was settling into a peaceful dusky blue as the last ferry of the day to Lismore was floating across the water against the backdrop of frost-tipped hills.  It was the type of scene an American or an Australian might find on their doorstep on the reverse of a written missive from a travelling relative.  High and to the right, McCaig’s Tower could be seen standing over the town, illuminated in fluorescent light.  It was a landscape which could not be compared to that on offer from my own living room, of the Oban Grill House and a weather-battered red postbox.  

Across the street, the entire top floor of an office block was being renovated, with two or three workmen busily crafting a bland and soulless environment.  The walls had been painted an unblemished white and dust sheets were covering a variety of furnishings.  It was either going to become a dental surgery, or we were unwittingly witnessing the scene of some criminal cover-up, like the meth houses in the television series Breaking Bad.

In the bedroom, we began to move the base sections of the bed.  Between two of us, they were light and easily managed, even after I had once again missed my session of yoga in the morning.  The mattress was propped against the wall, and through a glimpse from the corner of my eye, it appeared to have a small, although not completely insignificant, bloodstain.  I was focussing my attention on lifting the base of the bed in a way which wouldn’t scrape the paintwork of the rented apartment, trying not to acknowledge the splatter of blood on the mattress.  It was none of my business and surely easily explained, like the time I leaked blood all over my kitchen and bathroom when I cut my finger on a tin of tuna.

My effort to ignore the blood on the mattress was compromised when my friend asked me not to worry about the stain as we came to lift the mattress into the other room.  Suddenly it was all I could think about.  The booming base of a funk song was playing from the small speaker in the kitchen, and I began to wonder if this was how the scene across the street had started.

The longer the week wore on, the more strained my interaction with other people was becoming.  When drying myself after a morning shower, I discovered the first two strands of silver to appear amongst the wispy black hairs on my chest.  It was an unremarkable find, considering that I am not a television star from the 1970s who relies on such things for success, but it left me feeling aged and cantankerous nonetheless.  Even though I had been gifted an excuse for the lack of morning motivation I had been experiencing – the grey hairs on my chest invariably meaning that I am getting old and, as a consequence, finding it more difficult to get out of bed – I was unhappy when I left the flat on Saturday morning.

Outside my door, I could hear the chatter of two elderly women, their voices elegant and superior, like those I remember hearing on the steps outside the Cathedral after Sunday Mass.  The sound carried so loudly that it seemed to me that they were standing in the close of my block, but as I stepped outside I came to realise that the women were on the street, and I was ambushed by a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the entrance to my building, like a bird who unwittingly lands on the snout of a crocodile.  They immediately began to interrogate me on which number I live in, their idle stance suffocating me and rendering it impossible for me to move aside so that they could see the metallic 42 on the front of the door.

Their virtuous voices continued to question me on my living arrangement, demanding to know if my home was on the left or the right of the floor and whether I was living on the middle floor.  I told the two women that I do not live in the middle, but that I was feeling like a Stealers Wheel song.  They remained unperturbed and asked me again which number I reside in.  I had been waiting for more than a year for a woman to show an interest in the flat I am living in, but I had never imagined that I would have to lie to get out of the situation when it finally arose.  I excused myself and told the two Jehovah’s Witnesses that I was running late for a coffee date with a friend.  Any true God would have known that I don’t meet friends for coffee, but rather tend to catch up over a beer, and that I was only leaving my flat to buy sausages.  Nevertheless, the women parted like a sea and allowed me to pass, my deceit of another deity complete.

When I returned home on Saturday evening after spending the afternoon at my dad’s I was still feeling aggrieved by the grey hairs and Jehovah’s, when my favourite sandwich artist offered to drop off a six-inch Sub on her way home from work.  When I opened the door to her, I was greeted by the brightest smile I had ever seen in my doorway, and I was pleased when she handed me a baguette rather than a bible.  Five minutes of banter about mayonnaise were enough to make the ordeal of the week seem worthwhile.  I returned inside to my own company and to reheat the sandwich and watch a film about singing gunslingers on Netflix.  The scent of microwaved meat permeated through the flat, and at least this time I knew that it wasn’t the ghost of a war-time cook which was haunting me.

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