Standing at an Angle to My Age

short stories by P.W. Bridgman

Synopsis

P.W. Bridgman's fictional writing explores universal themes of forgiveness and redemption, of love and loss, of hope and hopelessness and darkness and light. The author is concerned – as are so many of us – with the lineaments and poetic chiaroscuro of seemingly ordinary lives. Set mainly in Canada, Ireland and England, the stories that comprise Standing at an Angle to My Age cut across broad expanses of time, space, culture and circumstance.

An aging pensioner in a Northern Ireland town suffers from dementia. During a fleeting and poignant moment of unexpected lucidity, he reveals a sharp awareness of the human decency for which he is indebted. Its source gives a turn to the less discerning members of the family that had taken him in years before. A 13-year-old girl in Timmins, Ontario is forced by tragic circumstances to grow up too quickly as she watches the man she believed was her father learn a painful lesson at a time when it is too late for him to profit by it. A precocious youth on the brink of adulthood pursues an amateurish quest for Eastern mystical truth and discovers – unexpectedly, in a middle-aged co-worker at a Vancouver Island corner grocery – a quietly inspiring example of Siddhartha-like wisdom.

So it goes in these works of short fiction, half of which have not been previously published and the remainder of which have won competitions and appeared in literary magazines and anthologies published in Canada, England, Ireland and Scotland.

Excerpt

For as long as I could remember, Mr. Pound had lived in the back bedroom. He wasn't family, as my dad was quick to point out to anyone who came by. "He wasn't family until we made him family," my mother would always add. Mr. Pound was already eighty when he'd first come to live with us in Portaferry. It was 1952, the year I was born and the year he'd left the kettle on the gas ring, sending his own house up in a fiery blaze while he dozed, oblivious, in a shady spot in his back garden. Even the pumper trucks didn't wake him–an old bachelor, his mind going queer, without a living soul to care or look after him.

"Some'd be content to take in a stray cat, but not your mother," my dad would say, within her earshot.

"Catch yourself on, Lorcán," she'd say back to him, gently. "Is that the example you want to be setting?" These were good-natured exchanges. Sometimes there were harsher words; low, muffled voices on the other side of a door.

Mr. Pound spent all of his time either in bed or in the pushchair my dad built for him with little cast-off wheels he'd brought home from work at the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast. In his more lucid moments Mr. Pound would ask me to manoeuvre him to the window so he could watch the birds. He would sometimes have me sit up on his lap and then point to them and tell me their names. He would also sing little snatches of old songs, bits of his own childhood dislodged by some stimulus not apparent to anyone around him.

"Clitherty,
Clatherty,
Out upon a Saturday,
In upon a Sunday morning."

This particular fragment brought my mother running into the lounge from the kitchen, her hands red and dripping from the washing up, her face alight with excitement. "My father sang that to me, Ben! He was a weaver. They would sing that song at the beginning of each week when they changed the webs on the looms." I could see that there was magic and mystery locked up inside Mr. Pound.

By 1958, when Seán was born, Mr. Pound's lucid moments came less and less frequently. My mother had to feed the two of them, side-by-side, and my dad sometimes couldn't bear to eat with us. The well of his considerable good nature did not run as deep as hers. He would turn away in exasperation as mashed peas and plaice collected on Mr. Pound's stubbly chin. "Take your leave, Lorcán. Better that than say something unkind," my mother would declare as my dad pulled on his boots to leave for Dumigan's Bar over the road.

Sadly, as Seán grew older and began talking, Mr. Pound had still fewer songs or snatches of intelligible verse to share with him or with us. These and such other scraps of formed thought as still milled about within his nodding head were, by then, almost irretrievably locked away. Age, in its indiscriminate cruelty, had robbed him of the ability to call them forth. He chattered away, to be sure. But it was mostly gibberish, seasoned with gusts of Gaeilge and the odd swatch of breathtaking profanity.

"Mind your foot, Mr. Pound," my mother would say as she did the hoovering. His reply: "Liverpool Street. Bank. St. Paul's. Chancery Lane. Holborn. Tottenham Court Road. Oxford Circus. Bond Street. Marble Arch. Lancaster Gate. Queensway. Notting Hill Gate. Holland Park. Shepherd's Bush. East Acton. North Acton. Ealing Broadway. Fuck King Billy. Amhrán Hiúdaí Phádaí Éamoinn. Máire an Chúil Óir Bhuí."

Mr. Pound would still sometimes reach out with his spindly arms and try to pull us up onto his lap. But my brother would have nothing of it. "He smells of pee!" Seán would howl, squirming free, and he was right.

"What a privilege to read this beautiful collection of 18 short stories from England, Ireland, Scotland and Canada East and West."
– Ben Nuttall-Smith

About the Author

P.W. Bridgman writes from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He has earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology and a degree in law as well.

Mr. Bridgman's short stories and flash fiction pieces have appeared in various literary publications. They have won prizes or been finalists in several competitions, both in Canada and abroad, and some have been included in anthologies published in Ireland, England and Scotland.

This is Mr. Bridgman's first book of fiction. He is determined that it will not be his last. While he is convinced that the short story is both the preeminent literary prose form and his true métier, when pressed Mr. Bridgman will also quietly admit to having begun work on a novel.

More on P.W. Bridgman

Praise

"These stories are startling, the way that the short stories of Raymond Carver are. With masterful, authorial assurance, P.W. Bridgman leads you into a quiet, recognizable neighbourhood on an ordinary day. And then he delivers an ending that is like a gunshot ringing out. The sound reverberates back to reveal, with fresh impact and insight, both character and event. As the work progresses the effect on the reader is cumulative. An eerie, suspense develops, as disquieting (yet satisfying) as a mystery novel."

– Leslie Hall Pinder
novelist, author of Bring Me One of Everything

"From the mysterious and magical Mr. Pound, to Bridgman's final tale of gossip and truth, the author's tales take me back to incidents of my own youth, lessons so many of us forget too soon. P.W. Bridgman has mastered the art of description, from an intimate peek into the neighbours' kitchen on a Sunday morning, to a tragic act of wartime betrayal, to young love, to the dignity of a man's last days. This is a collection you'll want to recommend to friends, young and old."

– Ben Nuttall-Smith
author of Secrets Kept / Secrets Told

"Reading Bridgman is like watching a brilliant scientist at work. He places his characters under a high-powered microscope and then brings them into clear and merciless focus, so that we see their fascinating complexity, their furtive yearnings and the pulsing of their startled hearts."

– Anne Giardini
novelist and author of Advice for Italian Boys