Orig Owen was contemplating the mystery of birth, marriage and death on the day he was , on the one hand, celebrating his birthday, and on the other, painfully aware of the cancer cells that had been discovered, a short while ago, multiplying and increasing in his prostate. But now he was on his way to the optician on the High Street to keep an appointment to collect his new glasses since he had to keep going. There was no other choice, after all. It was hard for him to concentrate on anything else under the circumstances he was facing. He had been born sixty years to the day. What a way to mark his birthday. Although he trusted his doctors and they were hopeful that he would come through the surgery and the programme of drugs and therapies that had been set out for him, there was nothing like cancer for putting the mind on one track. ‘We have every reason to believe,’ the specialist had told him, ‘that you will lead a full life again.’ But Orig knew that every recovery was a temporary compromise. If using military cliches was inevitable in discussing cancer and the metaphor for it as a battle, then every retreat on the part of the illness was simply a truce. In other words, the dark companion was waiting for him, just a little further on. Nevertheless Orig still hoped to have another fifteen to twenty years, possibly. After all, hadn’t his old colleague, Professor Egbert, had the same condition and had his prostate completely removed, and that was over twenty years ago, and wasn’t he still with us? But Professor Egbert had a wife and four children and Orig wasn’t sure how many grandsons and grandaughters. The family was a support for him. Orig had no one. He was on his own.
Fifteen years ago, and she was only fifty seven, his sister had died. Such a thing he never forgot about. And so he had already had three years more than his sister. That was another mystery; what did this extra time mean, what had he done with these bonus years alloted to him, that his sister had not been granted? Nothing. Just living
from day to day, working and ‘potching’ (as his mother would’ve said). But that was his wish; to carry on potching having taken early retirement. Birth, no marriage, and death. That would be his fate. So was his existence incomplete never having established a long-term relationship? Marriage had never been an option in his case, and between one thing and another the chance to nurture a partnership or a love affair or even a deep friendship had never arisen. He had never met his ‘significant other’. Some would say it was his own fault for not opening himself up to possibilities because he was too hard to please. But how much did they know? No one else had lived in his skin. But in facing a threat to his life he now saw a new way of looking at the future. If he survived the treatment he had determined to look for a new purpose for living.
It was a fine autumn morning and how could Orig fail to take pleasure in the sunshine and the bizziness of the town and the people in the street as he reached the optician’s shop?
11 o’clock one morning in a small Welsh town and it’s Orig Owen’s sixtieth birthday. Alone and anxious, he walks to the optician’s shop whilst other inhabitants and visitors tread their parallel lives along the shared streets. The nonagenarian professor clings to his disciplined routine, the middle-aged mother and grandmother marshals her three small children, the actor dreaming of Hollywood success tidies the jumpers in the menswear shop while the girl in the chocolate shop has sexual fantasies about her customers, the photographer obsessively pursues the picture that will make his name and the homeless woman busks by the post office. They review past and present, daydream or plan the future, try to keep regrets or anxieties at bay. From this series of vignettes, some intertwined, some linked more loosely, emerge the voices and thoughts of a host of ordinary but unique individuals. As the clock ticks inexorably on, sooner or later their paths bring each one to the cafe. And as midday approaches some are assailed by a strange sense of possibility, of being on the threshold of some life-changing event. Playful and inventive but with an underlying current of unease, Mihangel Morgan’s new novel, written in response to his own 60th birthday, shows this well-established author at his inventive and idiosyncratic best.
'I read Mihangel Morgan to remember what it is to live'
Sioned Puw Rowlands
'Although I sometimes felt that something major was about to happen as the clock’s fingers moved forward, the end was shocking, throwing me off my axle again. I’m still not sure what to think, and the ending forced me to reconsider what I have read. I am still thinking about the stories and the characters a week after closing the cover of the book.'
‘[Mihangel Morgan] is one of our contemporary writers who have succeeded in opening our imagination to explore the possibilities of literature, to invite us to re-read literary texts and indeed to consider life in a completely fresh way.’
Rhiannon Marks, O’r Pedwar Gwynt