A Town Called Pity
Yellow is the colour of my true love's hair In the mornin' when we rise In the mornin' when we rise
It is Sunday morning. I am 23. A few months ago I discovered the language life-hack, which is - that the days of the week in Spanish, a language that like English comes from Latin, corresponds to the planets in our solar system. Monday in Spanish, Lunes. Luna, Moon, Moonday, Monday...Monday! It is all Latin to me.
It doesn’t matter what day it is. He doesn’t know what day it is. Well whatever day it was it was an important day and whatever day it is, the day that is Monday isn’t important right now though, because today is probably Sunday. Not Moonday, SUN- day. The yellowing light source that powers us all when the moon of Monday, or indeed the moon of any other day (or rather night) isn’t around to look down on us. It is Sunday.
A Sunday kind of love... We go to visit him for the third time. Mum said that grandad was always an early riser – when he was himself. He is still himself, but different. I never knew him myself, when he was himself, not really anyway. Breathe. I was too young then. It is a sunny Sunday morning, and that sun rises up over the tower blocks surrounding the home. The bright shimmering solar rays glow through the window onto the yellow door of his room, through the yellow greying plastic flowers on his window sill. The day shift begins now.
Rise and shine. WAKE UP.
Today is going to be hot...
Tomorrow too they’ve said.
I go up in the stale smelling elevator to visit, passing by old faces, but not familiar ones.
I lean down to speak to a recently awoken and for too long unspoken man that is my grandfather. Since the last time we visited they have put up signs to encourage the residents to be kept hydrated, by the staff who run the care home. He seems very thirsty.
Parched... The dry lips. Dusty mouth. Pardon? There is a rainbow corridor of rooms, behind the doors sit grey faces waiting and alone. Gaunt. Bothered. Bewildered. I am.
The coloured door in the rainbow of rooms that belongs to him is the yellow one. It is closed, the room is empty, that’s because he is in the living area. He is slouched on a chair looking out into the distance. There is a woman next to him, she tells me she used to work at Buckingham Palace. He doesn’t see her. I notice her, she doesn’t know me...
He seems happy. Content.
Sleeping. Waiting. Watching. Pardon?
He seems happy. He seems happy. They write this in his medical log. Everyday. I think: He seems jaundice. Happy? Smile.
‘He seems happy’ or various other sunny synonyms that echo a similar feeling...We don’t know what he is feeling - he might not even know what it is that he is feeling. No.
He might know what he is feeling for an instant, but then it is gone...He seems happy!
Does he now? I’ve known happiness and I’m not sure that it ever looked like this. Happiness evokes the colour yellow, like his door, but happiness that can be left at the door that is for certain, because what appears inside is certainly not happiness. For me I feel anger and confusion and I grind my teeth together because I don’t have any words.
Teeth. Grandad has no teeth, if he did I think they would be, well, yellow. Just like his bedroom door, in case you forgot and didn’t remember I thought I should repeat, I thought I should repeat myself. Mum says he hasn’t had teeth for years, as he used to eat a lot of sweets. Empty mouth. No words. There is sound, but no sense. Not to us anyway, not to the family. Not to the carers, they know some things but the picture is incomplete - just a fragment for now, like a yellowing photograph from a forgotten past.
I look at the photographs sometimes myself to try and find a memory of him but I can’t. Sometimes when no one is looking I kiss the photographs and hope that he can feel it... They kiss him like they love him. He kisses them back, sometimes he kisses me, but I’m not sure it matters that it’s me. The song goes: yellow is the colour of my true love’s hair...his hair isn’t yellow, it is brown and they certainly do not love him. Not truly. They don’t love him like I think I do. Well they say they love him. They say he is so lovely. Lovely. Lovely - it is one of the things that we can hear through his empty mouth. Lovely. Beautiful. Marvellous. Who is? What is? It doesn’t matter...or maybe it does... Nan’s gone anyway and the other one too. They were beautiful once, to him – perhaps.
He is there sometimes, then nothing. He looks through me past the door, into nothing, that for him must be something. I give him a drink, he coughs, then he holds my hands. His fingernails are a little yellow, there is a stain on his shirt, yellow, probably from the crushed up food that they have fed him. Now, the colour seemed significant. Yellow. There are yellow lines close to the pavement outside, lines that seem to lead towards this house of missing memories. I searched for the significance of this colour further... I read online that there was an experiment where doctors gave the patients in a ward of those with you-know-what their food on yellow plates, instead of the usual white plates, and this improved their experience of eating. Grandad doesn’t eat his food from a yellow plate. I want to tell them that maybe this will make a difference, but maybe it won’t do anything. I think more about yellow. Yellow. What does yellow make you think of? It makes me think of canaries - being sent down mines to detect carbon monoxide. It is poisonous. I imagine him as a canary being sent down the mining shaft of his consciousness, and slowly getting poisoned by himself. DNR. The birds tweet in the trees outside. They are not canaries. He cannot go outside. He is trapped inside, like a caged bird, he has been here for a long time...Trapped in a home. Trapped in his mind. I discover the expression ‘canary in a coal mine’ meaning the indicator of great danger. Our canary had already been sentenced and sent deep down into his demise of odourless gas long before we received the phone call that started all of this. So, where was I - I lost my train of thought, missed my stop, at the end of the Circle line. Terminated. I remember. That’s it... It is Sunday morning. I am 23 - and maybe he is too, but there is nothing I can do. He can’t tell me he is.
WRITTEN BY TOMMY MURRAY
ILLUSTRATION BY SARAH MCCROREY