I am sitting in the sunshine amid the dandelions on this blearily clear day, reading Ulysses over a grass-encrusted mug of coffee. I’m reading about Cyril Sargent, the wimpy little snot only his mother could love. I wonder what he would grow up to be someday in real life, and I try hard to remember any Cyrils of my school days. It’s difficult because whereas Cyril seems to be one-dimensionally cast through the narrator’s prejudices, I seem to remember my school chums and non-chums had strengths along with their weaknesses and defects and quirks.
There was Bulley the sexual deviant with the knack for baseball; Bryson the whiney tattler who occasionally told good jokes and never got beat up because his father was a colonel; Lionel the Jamaican who was a good kid but his real name was Gorbachev; Josh who played with fire and had enormous jug ears and Julian who loved the 49ers and talked too loud because his mom was German. Everybody with their developing personalities and their flaws that would either go underground or be eradicated through the expurgating flames of schoolyard torment.
Reminiscing more than reading, I mark my place and toss the hefty book into the grass and lay back with my hands cradling my head. The sky is an indifferent sort of blue, not a cloud in the sky to give it any sort of character or proportion. I begin to think about myself as I was, which is really just another way of questioning what I am. Because people don’t really change all that much, the evolution of taste and mannerisms besides. It often seems to me that character is like a thumbprint, indelible and inseparably a part of the individual.
I think back and remember I cried a lot in first and second grade because my dad was away. I read tons and got into fights and started to win them because I was taller and meaner than most anybody. In fifth grade my teacher singled me out to write a paper exploring the meaning of humility, because I was a know-it-all and kept my nose in books when I should have been paying attention. I was never far from trouble but never really got into any as much as the others, because I made A’s which was good for the school. I talked too much and funned too far until I learned that actions have consequences. Later I learned that it’s okay to steal from work as long as you don’t know the owner, who probably would pay you nickels a day if it weren’t illegal. And there was the Golden Rule, iron-clad: love your friends and hate your enemies and love yourself, but remember that enemies are only friends you don’t appreciate so dislike a little of everybody.
I wonder if I’ve changed all that much or if I’m essentially the same little monster I’ve always been, albeit a bit more polished and unsympathetic for the years. Thinking about my rakish selfish self as I head in for another cup of coffee, I decide to let the cat out to enjoy this insipidly pleasant morning. Gromit mews a lot during the day as it isn’t supposed to be out before dark, on account of it murders all the birds it can despite its fatness. But I’m feeling strangely magnanimous at present, the sort of kinship with all things that tries to compensate for a guilty conscience. So out it goes, pausing at that demarking line of shadow cast by the house. It stands poised, infuriatingly unwilling to frolic and share in the splendor.
“Get some sunshine, catboy,” I say as I give Gromit a nudge with my foot. It stands in the glorious rays for about two seconds before skulking off again into the shadows. I suppose the little blighter simply wants to kill and maim things, sort of underlining that previous train of thought that we are essentially what we always will be. In its case a fat killer, in mine a well-read wanker. Egotistical and haughty-spirited at my worst; at my best, sharp-tonguedly petty and obstinately independent-minded.
Slumming in these thoughts of mine I plop back down into the grass. I don’t really feel like reading anymore; Ulysses is deep, probing stuff and I fear I’ve probed far enough for the day. I break out my pipe instead, filling it up with some fresh black cav and lighting it with my red Zippo. The wick is too long and nearly burns off my lashes, and I wonder where my dependable little Imco with the adjustable flame is. The Imco is definitely a European device, with a sense of propriety and elegance its Zippo cousin lacks, which it makes up for with its dependability and emphasis on quantity. But as the smoke is good and the grass cool and scratchy, I roll onto my side and watch the cat slink along the fence for the corner pine. There’s a nest or two in there, and I regret letting the murderous little beast out.
Rising to my feet I stroll across the lawn to fetch it, but Gromit knows what’s up and hides beneath the tree. “Come on out, you little scheiss,” I tell him cheerfully as I lift back a prickly limb. Ludicrously, it hides behind the skinny pine trunk, poking out from both sides. “Come on, fatty. Time to go in.” My eyes are drawn to a small white egg nestled in the fallen brown needles, and I pick it up instead of the cat which darts away toward the house. The egg is plain and unspeckled, about the size of a shallot. I hold it up towards the sun to see if there’s anything inside, but it is empty. Not quite empty though, weighty and somehow wonderful.
Settling back in to my spot in the grass, I wonder about my egg. If I hadn’t have started thinking about school, myself, and It All; if I hadn’t let the cat out and if it’d simply basked on the deck; if I never’d’ve walked across the lawn to the corner pine to fetch it, I never would have found the egg at all. Puffing at my pipe I wonder if that might be the secret to happiness, doing things one normally wouldn’t and going against basic inclinations. It muckrakes the rut a bit and makes for a touch of distraction. Despite ourselves, that might be all we need to carry on.