Short Stories

Rainbows on the Road

He would put on his socks first. Every morning, with his belly hanging over the waistband of his briefs, grunting at the exertion. They weren’t particularly special socks. Loose with age, they were an awkward length, wrinkling between the ankle and the calf. He claimed it was because he always had cold feet. Even in the height of summer, when the air was still and heavy, and children’s flip-flops clapped against the ground, old Uncle Jim would tug on his socks. On a particularly hot day –the kind where everyone dozes in their underwear by their open windows because thieves are too bothered by the heat to play– I once patted his bare feet just to see if they were really always cold, and it’s true! The soles of his feet were unusually chilly.

The rest of his outfit was hung neatly on the cupboard door for him to slip on. His breakfast was piled onto one plate and one plate only –after the time he ate and ate till his belly ached and his digested food ended up back on his plate along with the tablecloth, we made sure to keep it to one plate only. Another time at the breakfast table, he announced proudly he was applying for university. He was freshly eighteen caught in a 67-year-old body.

For the rest of the day he would lounge about the living room, dragging his socks along the carpet so that, instead of footsteps, he left sluggish trails. The television would blare in the background but he treated it as he would a pretty window; content to gaze at it mindlessly, but hardly considered it entertainment. No, he was much more lively around his postcard collection. He would dotingly slip each one into photo albums. There was no particular theme or quality. Postcards of people, scenes, words or colour would all find a place in his beloved album. The one time he hugged me was when I brought him a postcard of a Campbell’s condensed tomato soup can. He was so joyous around his postcard collection that we thought it would be kind to decorate the walls with them, but Uncle Jim was having none of it, and he took them all down in a huff.

We laughed at Uncle Jim’s silly antics. Other people thought we were sick. But they didn’t understand that if we couldn’t laugh about it, we would always be sad. We laughed so our lives wouldn’t flake like parmesan cheese over a bowl of tomato soup. His wife laughed when he got on a plane without her on their honeymoon. His children laughed when he asked for their names. His nurse laughed when he went to the bathroom at Church and couldn’t find his way back to his seat.

Never though, when he asks where his wife is now. We tell him she is on holiday with a straight face.

Once as I was crossing the street, I passed a mother pulling impatiently on the hand of her infant, who was enthralled by the wash of colours on the slippery gravel. I thought of Uncle Jim who was always grasping at the rainbows on the road.