Sport 23: Spring 1999
It's hard to recall the context of the custard square
all these years on—cabinet on cabinet full
of peeled boiled eggs, white sandwiches, whole
shelves of lamingtons and butterfly cakes—around
the cafeterias and coffee shoppes of my youth there
were many such, with pots of tea and jaffa milkshakes. Now
it's almost exotic. Observe, the granular white icing soft now
under your fingers, the harder pastry underneath, the full
thick yellow, the softer base … You had to hold it around
both sides, and even then the far side rarely stayed whole,
the filling spilling out as you bit down. Is there
a reason why it had to be a square?—
why not an oblong, or a square
turned to a diamond, or a round—
perhaps the answer's in the making. (I don't know
how it's done.) I ate them mostly with my old boss—for him the whole
point of morning tea was a custard square or two, and on till he felt full.
How he loved them—I can see him sitting there
at the table, smoothing crumbs into his beard, sweet there—
after. Tea break, something we could agree on whole—
heartedly, relief when everything around
had turned to custard, thanks usually to his boss. Now
and then we had an apple slice (another square!)
just to be different, but it wasn't the same. He'd had a gutsful
by the time the guy had left, having run the full
gamut of change for change's sake … But I digress: yes, there
were other custard squares
in subsequent years—walking around
the corner from home to the bakery renowned
for its Sally Lunn, I'd treat myself occasionally. Yet now whole
years go by, and I never have one. Whole
years—how time is passing—and though they're full
it seems that something's been squeezed out—there
is perhaps less filling, and more square.
Or perhaps the weight of accumulating layers now
makes it harder to hold it all together—there are splits around
then and now, this and that, here and there … Ah to be fully whole
with the past, and not à la recherche—a custard square
could be a simple thing again, something to eat, not talk around.
She goes into her room.
He follows and asks
to stroke her hair. He is
getting a divorce.
The host family doesn't understand.
Be nicer, they urge, it's hard
for him. Perhaps it's a language
problem, they thought Scandinavian
girls were nicer. Please,
she says: Finnish.
Six months, she says, and all right, but not what she
expected. She'd like to dance more, the sea is
calmer than she thought, and she harbours the
suspicion that each port is the same. But she enjoys
the taste of salt on her lips, the daily promenade
around the deck, the blue and white expanse from
her bunk. And though she misses the water's
rhythm, its gentle in-and-exhalation, the engines’
hum propels her into sleep, towards another berth,
another mystery destination.
The mountain stands
at the end of the street,
remote as ever
from the town.
go up, businesses
retains its grandeur
for the passing
their prospects fade.