Lost In Track Changes is an ongoing literary remix experiment featuring Cate Kennedy, Fiona Capp, Krissy Kneen, Ryan O’Neill and Robert Hoge. Starting from a short work of memoir, the authors remix each other’s work in series, with changes tracked between.
The fourth series of remixes begins with an unconventional memoir from Ryan O’Neill (really, by now, what did you expect?): a piece that preempts reworking by presenting the basic components of story in their rawest form. Check in next week to find out what the next remixer makes of it (or from it).
On the third floor of the tenement building in the east end of Glasgow, where my father was born on 20 July 1935… Or at St Bridget’s chapel in Edinburgh where my father and mother were married on 3 August 1971… Or on my parents’ bedroom floor, where my father lay for three hours after having a stroke on the morning of 5 February 1989… Or by my mother’s hospital bed in Glasgow Royal Infirmary when she died on 29 November 2011… Or March 18 2012, the last time I spoke to my father.
Alternative History: My father is not invited to the wedding in 1969 where he meets my mother, and I am never born.
Fantasy: Typing the words, ‘My father often told me that he loved me’ would make them true.
Mystery: It turns out I killed my father by fracturing his skull with an encyclopaedia.
Romance: No. I can’t imagine my father in a romance.
Humorous: On seeing a notice on the wall of my grandmother’s bathroom, ‘What would Jesus do?’ my father added, ‘Wipe his arse, I would hope.’
My father versus me.
My father versus my mother.
My father versus our neighbour’s cat.
My father versus the postman.
My father versus Glasgow city council.
My father versus the British Royal Family.
My father versus Christianity.
My father versus my father.
Explicit: When my father was eight years old, he was badly beaten by an older boy at school. When my grandfather discovered this, he forced my father to fight the boy once a week until my father won. This took four years.
Implicit: My father did his National Service in Egypt. Though he hated the army, he was soon promoted to corporal, and made an officer’s servant, or ‘batman’. One of his duties was to serve his officer tea in bed in the morning. Before adding the hot water, my father would spit in the mug.
Comparing the dates on my birth certificate, and my parents’ wedding certificate, I realised the two dates were only six months apart.
‘Well, why did you think we got married?’ my father said.
My father speaks in a Glaswegian dialect that doesn’t translate well to the page. The ellipses and repetition caused by his stroke, and his use of the word ‘fuck’ as noun, verb, adjective, preposition, adverb, pronoun and conjunction also causes problems. Yet translating his words into Standard English makes them lose much of their character, as can be seen in the example below, taken from our last conversation two years ago.
|How my father talks (original)||How my father talks (translated)|
|Och, Ah doan’t no son. Ma fuckin’ leegs are fucked, ye knaw? Ah’m gettin’ auld, it’s awfy fuckin’ rottun son, so it is. Lissen noo, hoo’s the weans? Hoo’s… Whit’s ‘er name… Hoo’s yer wife? Tell um Ah wiz askin’ fur um, wull ye? Haud oan a fuckin’ minute. Ah huv tae sit doon.Aw, Christ, Ah miss yer maw, so Ah fuckin’ dae. Ah miss… Fur fuck’s sake! Hauld on! My fuckin’ brain’s fuckin’ fucked, thit’s whit’s wrang. Ah, Christ! Don’t google ut me like Ah’m fuckin’ daft. Whit the fuck’d ye knaw anyway? She hudnae seen ye for three years, ye reed-heeded bastard. Away tae fuck!||Oh, I don’t know, son. My legs are very sore. I’m getting old. It’s not nice. How are your children? And your wife? Please give them my regards. Now wait a moment. I need to sit down.Oh God, I miss your mother. Oh, for goodness sake! Wait a moment. My mind is playing tricks on me. That’s the problem. Oh God. Don’t stare at me as if I am stupid. I’m not. What would you know about loss anyway? You hadn’t seen your mother for three years. You’re no son of mine. Go away.|
After school finished I would walk to the warehouse where my father worked for a protective footwear and clothing company. I was allowed to play there, if I kept out of the way. I would pull blue overalls over my school uniform, and put on a gas mask, earplugs, helmet, and huge steel-capped boots. Then I would walk slowly round the warehouse, listening to the sound of my own breathing.
Every year I can recall my father counting how many years he had left before retiring at sixty-five, when he promised himself he would spend all his time reading.
At fifty-four he had a stroke, and was never able to read another book, including my own, published twelve years later.
My father’s qualities
Beginning of story End of story
A writer eventually realises the futility of attempting to translate his father into a form the writer can understand.
Cousins, aunts and uncles.
One afternoon last year, I had to sit in a crowded waiting room for an hour and a half before I could see a doctor. I soon finished the novel I was reading, and all the magazines were already taken, so for something to read I picked a pamphlet at random from a plastic rack on the wall. When I finished it, I realised that my father had been depressed for most of his adult life. And so, it turned out, had I.
A Twist Ending: My father died when I was two years old. I don’t remember anything about him.
A Closed Ending: After finishing this story, I never write or think about my father again.
An Open Ending: At nine o’clock at night here, it is eight o’clock in the morning in Scotland. If I call, my father will probably be in the kitchen when he hears the phone ringing. It might take a moment or two, as he is getting deaf. The phone is in the hallway, and he is always out of breath by the time he reaches it.
‘Hello?’ he’ll say. ‘Hello?’
‘It’s me.’ I’ll say. ‘Your son.’