Andrew Vidgen: Moments



I am three years old. My mother, Grace, is pushing me along the long road into my shipbuilding hometown on the west coast of Scotland.  I have a stick and I am disturbing the gathered dust along the side of the pavement. The men in the yards are burning and beating the rivets into the side of a ship.  We are going to see my grandparents. My mum is quiet, holding a message for her mother and stepfather. Between the clangs of the yard, for a second, my mother pauses, turning the message over in her head, anticipating how it will leave her mouth. Glancing at the ship's steel shoulders rising above the yard, she pushes on, and I disturb the dust.


*****


I am four years old. I have nits and I am clawing at my head. My granny, nit comb in hand, swarms around me looking for a way into my thicket of curly hair. I scuttle between and around her, foiling her attempts to swoop in. She tells me that, if I don't let her rid me of these nits, my hair will be so infested that the nits will walk me down to the water's edge and carry me into the Clyde. Momentarily stunned I can feel each and every nit and I have an image of me turning on my head in a fantastical headstand, out the door, down the stairs, out of the close and out of the alley. The cars and buses stop still in amazement as they see my conjured headstand cavalcade over the road, across the park, and into the water. Head-first, the water slowly covering my body and then legs as the Clyde swallows up my feet. My toes skim the still water, darting from here to there. There is a pause as if the nits have thought better of my granny's prophecy, and then, a splash later, my toes submerge. 


*****


I am four years old. My parents are arguing. My step-dad has been having an affair. My mother and granny take me to the woman's flat. My granny knocks on the door and a plain woman, lipstick on and wearing a blue night dress, opens the door. She invites us in. My granny and mother refuse tea. I am offered limeade. I look at my mother for permission. This simple plea diffuses their anger. The living room is shabby, and  familiar. I am placed or sit on the armchair near to the fireplace. The faint heat from the embers invites a memory of last night's fire. The limeade is cold and bubbly, and I smack my lips after each sip. The drink falls over my tongue and down my throat. As the acrid taste leaves me, I find myself in a broth composed of the smells of the three women. My granny is cured in snuff and soap, my mother is crying and the woman has scrubbed skin and smells of cigarettes. The presence of three generations defeats the woman. I slurp the last of the limeade, we leave, and the affair is over. 


*****


I am five years old. It is my first day at school.  My mum and my granny are bringing me. As the parents and children pour into the school, Sister Columba stands high above the steps like some inquisitorial lighthouse. As the children realise their fate, they turn like whirlpools, twisting on the arms of their mothers. The mothers wind and spin, countering the weight of their dervishing children. The mothers parade before Sister Columba, whose eyes see only the quickening thrusts which brought these children into the world. She hears their sinful yelps and the names of men once cried out and now unspoken. The nun hears them all, like the roll-call of sailors now lost. The children enter the classroom; some protesting and others defeated, walking heavy as if with sodden clothes.


*****


My grandad takes me to a funeral. We wait long after the mourners leave and watch the three gravediggers shovel the dirt into the hole. Their shovels in shushed-ah triplets fill up the grave. We wait and we wait. My grandad is holding my hand. He is silent and I am waiting for the tug of his arm to signal our departure. I can feel no squeeze or pulse from him; no sound. He is a silenced bell. Then, all of a sudden, a rabbit moves from behind the grave. He tugs my arm and points. The rabbit hops, stops and looks back, before scarpering. I think that he has been waiting to show me what happens after you die. He is showing me another incarnation.   



Andrew Vidgen is a psychologist and musician. From time to time he excavates himself to find things to write down. These pieces are from a larger collection of moments from his life.