Empty Chair at Empty Table

Wednesday 11th April (Part 2) – I’m currently sitting in my mum’s dining room as I commence penning this my second offering of the day. In the living room mater receives her Monday to Friday evening fix of soap operas. Although, seemingly harmless, an addiction that thankfully hasn’t thus far afflicted me during this life odyssey.

As I listen through the adjoining door at the old lady labelling a Coronation Street character “A nasty piece of work!”, I mull over if I’m also in possession of an addictive personality. Struggling to think of anything I yearn for on a daily basis which if unfulfilled causes deep distress, I’d opine if asked I haven’t.

In my younger days I was fond of the taste of the glue on postage stamps and envelopes***. Consequently, I missed licking postage stamps and envelopes when they were phased out for self-adhesive alternatives in the early 2000’s. But not to a stage where it adversely affected my behaviour.

Anyhow, shortly afterwards, I soon got over it when email became widely utilised as a messaging channel. An unsurprising result of finding the experience of licking a computer’s send button abhorrent.

*** NB  – I only found the taste of stationery glue agreeable, not the scent. Even in my youth, I’d like to think I possessed the mental capacity to know becoming drawn to the odour of adhesive could lead to the rocky road of glue sniffing. 

Since drifting into middle-age I have a regular need to pee through the night…… However, that function is undertaken due to normal biological wear and tear, not seeking a regular much needed adrenaline rush. Consequently, I’m pretty sure that won’t fit under an addiction label either.

My mum’s dining room seems different today. Bereft of any covering, the dining table sits in it’s metaphorical birthday suit. In the thirty years my parents have lived in this house I’d never previously witnessed it’s surface without it’s table cloth overcoat.

Looking as good as new, this table has witnessed three decades of erudite conversation, raucous laughter, family celebrations, whimsical putdowns, times of melancholy, tragic clan events, numerous careless wine spillages, my late dad’s eclectic music collection and some truly memorable meals.

Mahogany of raw material, this spherical piece of furniture has been integral to so many elements of my broods lives since 1989. So much so, during his first occasion in the dining room after father’s passing, my brother Ian experienced an unexpected deeply emotional response. This triggered by an amalgam of great memories in this particular chamber, along with profound sadness at Mally’s loss.

I don’t know if the unveiling of this solid wood table is mum’s way of trying to diminish the nostalgic triggers of the sometime utopian episodes indelibly etched in the family’s life canvas.

Her motives behind the small but significant adaption to the aesthetic status quo, subliminally guiding the brood away from wallowing in the past. Her goal to steer the clan on a path of creating new, equally fond memories post-father.

In their legendary score for the musical ‘Les Miserables’, French composers Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg penned a song called ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’. A melancholic lament sung by monarchist Marius Pontmercy decrying the death of his student friends in revolutionary France. This refrain listened to many times by pater in this room.

To be clear, I’m not for one minute making a comparison between my family’s grief at losing it’s octogenarian family head and Marius’ despair at the butchered of his classroom buddies. Although, one is fictional there aren’t any parallels to the barbarism of the victims passing.

However, as I sit here in solitude looking at the vacant seat my old man once proudly occupied, the poetic side of my mind is repeat playing a slightly amended version of the opening verse of Boubil/Schonberg’s sombre refrain:-

“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken

There’s a pain goes on and on

Empty chair at empty table

Now my pa is dead and gone…..”

Overly sentimental claptrap, or the outpourings of a still grieving man? ….. Perhaps a bit of both!

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