Digital Ischemia

25/01/2019

Teeth, or How I Helped Fix Granny

Not my usual brand of caustic fairytale (Truthache series) but a wide-eyed innocent enchantment.

Part One

When I was two my Granny gave my Grandad a massive tooth. It was a whale’s tooth for their anniversary. It looked like an elephant’s tusk. We were sat on a park bench and I was fascinated so my Grandad let me touch it. It was too big for me to hold. My Granny told me a story about how she got it.

When she and Grandad were just married, they went on holiday to Norway. One day Grandad, my Dad and Aunty Marianne went skiing. Granny went with a man in his boat to see some whales. The man stopped his boat in the middle of a sea loch with white mountains all round. Granny leaned over the side and looked into the water through her goggles.

Granny could see surprisingly far into the water. Some shadows would swim across. Suddenly one of the shapes got much bigger. A huge whale whooshed out of the water and touched her nose to Granny’s nose. Granny showed me a photograph that the boat-man took of them nose-to-nose. She said the whale was showing how well she could swim.

Granny was quite excited. The whale swam around the boat on the surface of the water with her big black eye looking at Granny. Then she disappeared so Granny leaned further to look for her. The whale had gone around the other side of the boat and suddenly it tipped and Granny fell into the water!

Granny was surprised and cold and confused by the water rushing round and round her. She wasn’t scared though, because she had her wetsuit and life-jacket on. The whale came up to her and kept nudging her. Eventually she realised the whale wanted her to take off her life-jacket. The whale swam underneath her and blew some bubbles up to her face. Granny tried catching the bubbles in her mouth – they tasted revoltingly fishy – but she could breathe the air.

Granny held on to one of the whale’s fins and they swam away. She lost her grip a few times but got the hang of it. The whale was very patient. Granny thinks she should have been worrying about Grandad and the kids, but she was so amazed by the experience, there was nothing else in her head.

The whale swam with Granny for ages through all these different underwater landscapes. Granny says she can’t put most of it into words: it was so alien. The whale kept stopping and turning to blow air bubbles up to Granny.

Eventually they came to a big cave which was half full of water. The whale showed Granny things she had collected and kept on shelves of rock in the cave. Some were beautiful treasures – intricate shaped stones – but some were sad memories – plastic-wrapped bones.

The whale seemed to communicate with Granny by pulses of emotion. She doesn’t understand how – maybe it was sound that is too deep for us to hear – but she would suddenly feel a certain way. She felt the joy of the pretty shapes and colours. She also felt sadness as though the bones were from other whale people this whale had known.

The whale lifted with her lips this massive tooth. Granny felt it was associated with somebody with a big heart – as we would say it. The whale gave the tooth to Granny as a gift.

The whale brought Granny back through the water the same way, and although Granny tried to pay attention, she says the journey is mostly a blur. In a whoosh the whale pushed Granny in a big wave up on to the beach of the loch. The whale couldn’t come all the way up herself or she would get stranded. Granny said goodbye and held on to the tooth, then just sat there for a while feeling odd.

Granny remembered the boat-man and looked out across the loch. Eventually she got his attention and he brought his boat across. He had been really scared and had been looking all around where her life-jacket had bobbed up. He was very relieved to see her.

When Grandad and Dad and Aunty Marianne arrived, Granny told them her story. They all agreed it sounded daft, and none of them could explain about the tooth. But Granny said she knew she had to work to put some things right in the way we treat whales.

Part Two

When I was six, one day Granny said she was going to walk up the headland. My front tooth had just come out and I remembered her story about the whale tooth. I said I wanted to go with her but I didn’t say why because I felt a bit silly.

We wandered around the headland for a while. The wind was blustery and Granny got frustrated. She said it was the wrong place so we walked down to the beach. We watched the waves coming in until one had a whale in it. Granny seemed startled but I knew the whale had come for my tooth.

I showed Granny the tooth in my hand and she smiled. She said I wasn’t to go into the water because my wellies would fill up. She asked if she could take the tooth to the whale because her wellies were practically waders. The whale who was riding the waves was just a wee baby. He was small enough to get close to the beach. Granny went up to him and bent down to offer my tooth. He took it in his lips and Granny gave him a shove to get back to deeper water.

We couldn’t see the baby whale swimming out because he was under the water and the waves were quite choppy. Granny said to keep on looking though. Far out there was a big splash. Granny said that was just to get our attention; keep watching. A huge whale did a somersault right out of the water. I was so impressed. Granny was smiling too. She said she hoped that might be the same whale she met in Norway. I felt a weird fizzy pressure in my head but I didn’t say anything because I couldn’t put it into words. I thought it was excitement.

Part Three

Now I’m ten and Granny still isn’t very old. A few days ago she got quite unwell. There was nothing we could see wrong with her; she just felt really tired. We all sat about not knowing what to do.

The next morning I woke up wanting to go to see the whales. I have kept all my baby teeth that fell out. My Dad drilled tiny holes into them so we could put them on a wee bracelet. I wanted to give this to the whales so they would make Granny better.

I told my Mum and she wasn’t totally convinced, but she said she would chum me to the beach for the walk. We walked the usual way round the headland and saw lots of people on the beach. We walked down and Mum started speaking to them to find out what was going on.

I wandered away towards the rocks. I knew the kerfuffle was about sightings of whales but I wanted to be with the whales by myself. I remembered Granny saying they would be splashing to get attention, but I felt like it wasn’t for me, it was for all the other people, to distract them. I had on my big wellies and I picked up a stick on the way.

I wandered around near where Granny and I had met the baby whale before. Right at the edge of the rocks there is a big pool. I poked my stick into the water and felt something spongy. I peered in. There was a neat pile of leaves – huge thick leaves with big veins through them. On the top, in the middle, was my first tooth.

Mum had followed me and when she saw what was in the pool she called Aunty Marianne to come with a bucket. When Aunty Marianne arrived she filled her bucket with seawater and stacked the leaves in it. I kept that tooth but put the bracelet of my other teeth into the rock pool.

When we got home, I showed Granny my tooth and told her about the leaves. She reckoned the tooth meant we’re to eat them. Aunty Marianne said maybe but let’s check – she knows herbs but she didn’t know these.

While Granny was resting, we all sat round the kitchen table while Aunty Marianne checked through her encyclopaedia. Suddenly she said it’s a Caribbean sea palm. The leaves are used in native medicine – people who are unwell chew on a piece of leaf.

Grandad looked up startled. Aunty Marianne read that we should keep the leaves in fresh salty water then they would last for ages. Dad was asking did the whales bring the leaves all the way from the Caribbean or have they cultivated them locally? Aunty Marianne gave him a look and said that wasn’t in her encyclopaedia.

The next day Granny was feeling improved, as she says. As I was about to go to school, she called me to the sofa to thank me for listening to my big heart. I was puzzled. Granny explained that she had thought the first whale calling the tooth big heart meant it was for Grandad. Granny thought the whale she met in Norway had somehow recognised him from when they had stood on our headland and waved, before they were married. Not recognised visually; some other way whales use.

I suppose the whales were passing on their migration and used this sense they have to know granny was unwell. Maybe one day I can figure it out.

The next weekend I went back to check the rock pool. Aunty Marianne said obviously there have been several high tides since we found the leaves but anyway my teeth bracelet was gone. I hope it’s on some whale’s treasure shelf.

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02/07/2017

The Fly and The Mountain

Gliding through vast mountains on one of my observational learning expeditions, I spot a guy with a hefty head-load trekking up a treacherous pass. I alight masterfully beside him. He greets me with annoyance.
“Stop hovering around me like a fly.”
“I seek a drop of wisdom, as the fly awaits a bead of sweat.”
“You’re not even getting my sweat. Piss off.”

I am supremely unrufflable. I aspire to that infuriating spiritual superiority that would allow me to chuckle all-knowingly at any example of the atrocious suffering of the human condition. I float patiently, shadowing his trudging up the path.

I could remove his burden, his basket of headstuff, to the top of the mountain with but a thought. But he would not thank me. He would complain of someone nicking it before he got there. He would complain that he might want something out of it meantime. He wants his luggage with him. It’s part of him, of his life. I have no such attachment. I quickly check that I have remembered to imagine my physical manifestation as clothed.

A couple hundred yards ahead, a boulder broods beside the path. A mere thought deposits me and my irritatingly beatific grin there. I imagine the guy will soon approach a shoulder in the path, see the boulder and take in my omnipresence. I expect his expletive.

I return to my observation. The guy is relieved by my apparent departure. He is otherwise fully present in this moment. Full marks there. He relishes the effort and the reward of his journey.

Ah! There it is. ‘Reward for effort’. As he comes into view, his face indeed churns with renewed rage. I signal to him a cheery wave of thanks. He responds with the economy of two fingers.

I flash back to my ascetic eyrie to paint up today’s learning scroll. My thanks go to the universe for providing this experience purely in order for me to learn this lesson at precisely the right time. My egoic smugometer throbs pleasingly.

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