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Visiting the Zen Man Al

Page 2

Pavle Radonic

It was Al’s description that brought Van Gogh’s flaming firs to mind, rather than the tree itself standing before us in the garden. Albeit hard of hearing, possibly it was the freeway surf that he picked up with the tree. It seemed he had not been outdoors since his initial admission. In fact, since his fall many months before, Al might not have sat beneath a tree. This specimen in the new hospital was not especially tall or handsome. There was a portable BBQ against the wall for staff events and a children’s cubby on the other side. The authoritative manner, as Al described it, with which the nurse had been asked to unlock the door to the garden had been observed gratefully. That would hold Al in good stead there in the time ahead, it seemed.


All of the grapes brought were eaten by Al over the hour, two bunches of perhaps 25-30 in all. With some better thought the crust of the fruit loaf, cut an inch thick, would have been avoided. After the grapes almost the whole of that too was consumed, pulled apart by the gums and softened before swallowing. (Al’s dentures had gone missing again, seemingly.) One of the grapes had been taken with a short piece of the stem, after which they were all detached for him.

There was a lot of looking away, turning aside. But there was no escape from the reality here. Above the waistband of the jeans the white nappy was visible. Al’s nails had been pared, possibly by Barry, as he had said on the phone he would do if the attendants left it undone. The clean purple flannel shirt must have been one of Barry’s newly laundered. Thank God Barry had assumed responsibility for his cousin. A laugh escaped when the Filipina giving the medication questioned whether Alan was the father; clearly friends rarely visited at the homes. An old Englishwoman pushing a walking frame came to visit her husband, spoon-fed shortly before by the Filipina. Indians, Filipinos and Africans made up the entirety of the staff.

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