TRUTH IS AS truth believes. When the piano needed tuning and the blind piano tuner came to the house, and sat down, and tuned the piano, and when he'd finished was given a cup of tea (in a plain glass cup on a plain glass saucer) and a piece of cake (on a plain glass plate) except if there wasn't any cake, if we'd eaten all the cake, if my mother hadn't baked a new cake yet, if we were between cakes at the moment, if the house was out of cake, then it was bought biscuits (on a plain glass plate), which my mother, when the blind piano tuner had been paid and had left the house, rushed into the kitchen, and washed and scrubbed and scalded in the hottest possible water, and then straight outside dripping wet to the back garden and quickly covered with soil, with dirt, to stay there a full day and a full night until it was deemed safe to allow back into the house what the blind piano tuner's blindness had touched.
When I had, say, a certain sort of accident, my head in exactly the wrong place when the cupboard door I was trying to open suddenly opened and a lump the size of an egg sprung up on my forehead, my mother would first rub it with butter and then press down on it with the flat part of a knife, an ordinary knife, a knife we used every day for eating with at the table, and I don't know if this made the lump better or smaller or go away altogether or it was just something she did, that is to say, proven remedy versus handed-down mother-to-daughter superstitious primitive peasant belief, but I certainly knew about that cupboard door, not to be trusted, a dangerous thing.
(You doubt primitive? You discount peasant? You scepticise handed-down mother-to-daughter superstitious belief? When she was sewing a button on you, my mother, a button that had decided to fly off right in the middle of when you were getting dressed, and she snapped off a piece of cotton with her fingers and told you to put it in your mouth and chew because otherwise there was a danger that while she was sewing on your button she could also be sewing up your brains, your reasoning, your common sense, do you need to be a towering genius to know something, something else, something that modern medicine in a million years couldn't even begin to teach, was going on?)
For vomiting, which was either about to happen (and which she could spot in a second) or was already in actual progress, my mother straightaway clapped a hand to your forehead, your brow, and held it there, tightly, her fingers, her thumb, really pressing, really firm, which is how she told you, if you needed to be told, if you didn't already know, and even if you did, that vomiting was serious, extremely serious, and except for her hand holding you exactly there, your whole head could explode.
You were sick and you wouldn't have minded a cuddle, a hug, a kind word, a warmth, a consideration, a few moments alone together, a smile, a kiss? I beg your pardon? From my mother? You've understood nothing? You're in the market for miracles? You're sure you wouldn't rather fly to the moon?
You got a cold from running naked in the street, incontrovertible, incontestable, a flat law, how it was. I got four colds a year, regular as clockwork, one per season, summer, autumn, winter and spring, never once after running naked in the street, which I never did anyhow, each one lasting a week. My mother tore up old sheets. I polished my nose with them. I missed important stuff at school. When my mother got a cold, she put up with it. A cold was nothing. You'll get over it. Don't run naked in the street.
Hard work never hurt anyone, she said. Go out in the garden and dig a hole. This was her cure for depression. Hers, I now understand, and mine. I never once dug a hole in the garden. I couldn't see the point of it. I was too depressed. My mother never did either. She was always too busy. She didn't have the time.
When an ointment came somehow into the house, whatever its function or property or purpose, or who brought it in, or originally why, my mother prescribed it for everything. A chest, a leg, an ear, a chafe. Put on some ointment. Maybe it helped, maybe it didn't. Certainly no one ever got worse. An improvement in itself, wouldn't you say? Magical, even, if you allow yourself to see it in a certain light.
I wrote with my left hand. The school said it was wrong. Now, your mother might well have allowed you to suffer such a psychic scar, if not outright visible crippling, in craven submission to norm, average, rules, teacher knows best. My mother employed otherwise intelligence. She grasped at once the scope and scale of the sickness in the air, understood it in an instant outside her range of remedy, beyond whatever simple skills she plied and possessed. She took me to the doctor. To receive, by dint of conscious or otherwise craft or cunning, either way, take your pick, the appropriate irrefutable authority, on the proper paper from the proper person, leave my son alone.