Margaret Atwood is hilariously profound. You would have to read ‘Old Babes in The Wood’ to admit. She can make us all mourn with a laugh. She can make us love our age, at any age. And suddenly, (at least while you read her story), being old is cool and it’s bloody wise.
Lizzie is helping her sister, Nell, cope with the loss of her husband (Tig).
A getaway to their ancestral, country home is a lesson and a laugh.
Here are some gems. And all the rest must be read!
“Splinters in the bum are especially bad because you can’t see to pull them out”.
With this line, she has spoken for all our struggles with splinters and other pains in the arse.
“My heart is broken, Nell thinks. But in our family we don’t say, “My heart is broken”. We say, “Are there any cookies?” One must eat. One must keep busy. One must distract oneself. But why? What for? For whom?
“Are there any cookies?” she manages to croak out.
“No,” Lizzie says. “But there’s chocolate. Let’s have some.” She knows that Nell’s heart is broken; she doesn’t need to be told.”
There’s hardly a problem a sibling and chocolate can’t solve.
“Write ‘Snap-Top Container for Robbie’s Shoes’ on the list,” Nell says. Lizzie does so. Lists procreate; they give rise to other lists. Nell wonders if there’s a special therapy for excessive list making. But if the two of them don’t make lists, how will they remember what they need? Anyway, they like crossing things off. It makes them feel that they are getting somewhere.”
May be we’re all old women wrapped in all our differently aged bodies. The love of lists is universal. The love of getting through them: Dopamine release.
As for Nell, she’s happy that Tig’s in the dream; that’s what she’s mostly focussed on. He smiles at her as if enjoying a joke they’re sharing. See? It’s all right. It’s even funny. It’s idiotic how reassured she feels, once she wakes up.
How many mornings have you woken up feeling like you can take on the world? Often, the feeling is snuffed out the minute you’re out the front door. Quite likely because you’ve dropped your car keys in the elevator crack. Oops!
But the dream was still happy. You can drive off after all, when the key’s been recovered.
“Such observations of the wounded body are cheering; you don’t get bruises or pain unless you’re still alive.
“Or mosquito bites,” Lizzie says. They both know from their murder books that mosquitoes ignore dead people.”
To be alive, in bed, with a murder mystery. Give us old age and we’ll grab it with both hands!
““When feeling down in the dumps” – What, exactly, were these dumps? Who still knows? – “go for a brisk walk!” This isn’t written; it just hovers in the air, in their mother’s voice. An echo.”
Wisdom of the ages. And practical advice. We’ve all tried it and have to agree, it works!
“I can’t go for a brisk walk, Nell tells her mother silently. My toe, remember? You can’t fix everything, she wants to add, but her mother is well aware of that. Sitting in the hospital while he was possibly dying – “he” again referring to Nell’s father…- her mother said, “I won’t cry, because if I start I’ll never be able to stop”.
This just breaks your heart. It’s the only point in the story when you’re mourning with a tear.
But we promise, all the rest of it is a very “deep” laugh.
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