Under cover of darkness I make the journey into the pines. I stand beneath you, silent and listening to the soughing of the wind in the trees. Above me you swing, a darker shape. Nothing happens for long minutes. I imagine you are here with me, that the warmth is in you. You speak and I run the back of my hand against your cheek. Of course, you are here, but you are not with me, and the warmth has leeched from your body. I turn and leave through shadow. Knowing you are still there, swinging in the breeze.
Cheap clothes swaddled the corners of your bones, bare pins held back strands of hair. He stood by your elbow. The baby was wrapped in a graying towel that had two red bands running round. Drizzle fell and you peered from the roadside, waited for a break in the traffic. Three of you together. Not like some – no affairs boredom meanness. Just together. He at your elbow, thin body encompassing you and the baby. Strangely a family. Young, wet, poor, cold. But not hopeless. Not hopeless. No one was going to draw the hope from your cold bones.
She stood on the doorstep, crying for parents brother safety. She’d walked past every bunkhouse where women and girls slept, and knocked on my door. I looked at the teddy in her hand, tears on her face, and called her into the bunkhouse where I alone slept. In darkness she crossed to a bed and climbed in. I stared for a moment, listened to wind and rain, asked if she was warm. I got into bed and drew the covers tight, falling asleep to prayers in the dark. Of all the bunkhouses she chose mine.
the ones who scream they’ll kill you never do
so i wonder, after all these years, will you scream at the door an audible barrier to your house will you scream that you will stick slice cut me
or will you let me in stare at me disbelieving, wondering what the hell am i doing on your doorstep wondering what connection we made all those years earlier when your mum used to steal your shoes to keep you home (and it failed) and i would read the London papers wondering if you were dead or, depending, worse still alive
Your fingers weave quiet incantations. You move closer than is normal. You are a witch, pint sized and dangerous. You belong to some other; some dark world that is both more free and more endangered than anything the rest of us know.
You are open and questioning as you loom over the corpse. Curiosity and sorrow flickers over your face and I am surprised to discover that I recognise the emotion.
For a moment you are simply a little girl looking at a dead cat, but then another child speaks and the spell is broken.
“What sort are they?”
We watch the water. It is still in the early light beneath a clear sky tinged with gold.
“There they go.” We watch as fish after fish leaps from the water, crashing down with a thumping boom. After a few moments all is still.
“What are they doing?”
“No one knows. For feeding. For breeding. Maybe for fun.”
We drift across the lake. My eyes never leave the surface, waiting for the next eruption.
I don’t tell him how much I like it here. And he doesn’t ask.
The color tastes like silent despair. Don’t tell me it doesn’t. The images flicker across the screen in colors too bright, white, and blue. Children silently turn and adults smile awkwardly. Jumps and cuts: There a field, there a beach, next a room in a house where the clock is of interest to the smiling family before someone says something and all is now forgotten. The color tastes like silent despair. We feed on it like moths at a flame, fading in our mouth but without it how would we live. The images flicker across the screen and we smile.
Once a year. Make her feel special, you know. It’s duty. Treat her like royalty. I need to stop in and grab a big fancy bunch of flowers, by the way, mate. Very important – I’ll tell you where to turn. She did it tough. But things are good now. She brought us up right, I’m proof of it. Made me the man I am. You missed the turn, mate. It was back there somewhere. Too late now, mate. Don’t apologise. No no, forget it and keep driving. Keep driving. She’ll just have to be disappointed. Drive.
“The French say ‘kwuh-zont’. It’s just ignorant people who say ‘kruh-zont’.” There were glances in my direction. “Educated people, people who know, would never say ‘kruh-zont’. It sounds ignorant, doesn’t it. Just think about it. ‘Kruh-zont’. So ignorant.”
I grab the bacon out of the microwave where you had forgotten it, and your mother scoops coffee out of a jar and throws it into an oversized mug.
Insistent, you turn on me. “We need to start saying ‘kruh-zont’. Don’t you agree?” I wave a piece of burnt bacon above my head. “Viva la fuckin’ France.” I slurp my bitter coffee.
You laughed, young but serious. “When you grow up will you marry mummy?” About to say no, I said, “Yes,” because that’s what you needed to hear. You straightened my cardigan and began to button it. “I want to tell you a secret.” You half-laughed. The sun played across us as we sat. I nodded my head. Your tone is strange and I am listening closely. “When mummy was having Petey she and daddy had to get married.” Unsure, I say nothing. My body twisted slightly as you tugged on the cardigan and continued buttoning. You laughed, young but sad.
I remember this. He took a breath. He always did before saying something we should prepare to ponder. “His impact on the canon was… immense.” Others leaned forward, nodding. No one smiled or spoke. A serious moment to reflect on the poet’s impact and on our tutor’s delivery. He shifted in his seat, raised a hand. “With the war only just finished, a new way was sought. He provided it.” All these years later I remember this, for the whole time he spoke an enormous hair hung off the end of his nose and winked dustily in the sunlight.
Three people in on a joke. You’d never been interested before, so I was surprised by your prompts, your questions, your, “I never understood it before!”s. You opened more wine and I rambled about Eliot and the canon and critics drawing visual representations of it all and how society would be better if we knew how to analyse. Your eyes were bright, flickered over my face, behind me. We finished and stood. As I passed the table behind me I looked into the faces of the two people there, their eyes bright with silent laughter, mirroring your own.
How conventional! I was sinking into my bed, my body a lodestone, flames enveloping me from beneath, and the only way to release the dead-weight and stop the fall was to cry out, “I believe in Christ! I believe in Christ!” A pretty big statement for one born without the faith gene, don’t you agree? The horror was outside me, though, for days later, while driving to class, I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw that big baleful red sun and knew it was watching me, you and everyone else, and that we were all in this shit together.
Dear Coral. I am writing to apologise for my earlier behavior. I understand how difficult it is for a new staff member (his name is Rick, right?) to join such a tight knit group as ours. And I do appreciate that the rumors and innuendo are childish and harmful, making his integration more difficult than it should be. I also accept that Rick needs to be afforded time to integrate and show something of his personality. I am sure Rick will be a popular team member. (By the way, does he spell his name with a silent P?) – Sincerely,
“Here lies Harry. A much loved guinea pig.” Eight words written jaggedly on the horizontal bar of a wooden cross built from two pieces of rough wood. Ours wasn’t a Christian house, but even at the age of ten I knew everyone (and everything) important was buried with a cross. Interment was under the old orange tree by the site of the original farmhouse. It seemed right to bury her there as the new house was… new. The family’s roots were entwined with those of the orange tree, and I wanted her amongst them, secure in earth’s diurnal round.
We were forbidden from going to the drive-in cinema in Preston because it was full of drug addicts. So we grabbed our cousins and went fishing. The rains had stopped, the weather was mild, and the river had settled into a swiftly flowing grey and white streak. Hundreds of carp were stunned by the rapid water and were half-swimming half-floating. Four of us took off shoes and socks and climbed in, where we could grab the fish in our hands and watch them squirm doggedly fighting for release. It was safe if you remembered to dodge the buoyant trees.
It was my dad’s false teeth that made my first football game so memorable. I ran onto the field to stand beside my 10-year old opponent.
“G’day,” I said, believing manners important.
“Mmm,” he said. Six inches taller than me with the lazy air of my older brother’s loutish friends. And then he did it. He lifted his false teeth out of his mouth, and balanced them casually on the very tip of his tongue.
Panic rose. My dad was the only person in the world who wore false teeth: this was a fact. I was playing against my father.
Updated post November 22, 2016
I learnt early about the value of a life. And I learnt early that I was a sure shot with a rifle. They were little birds swooping, calling to one another. It was no problem to draw a bead on one and swing the rifle back and forth back and forth following the looping path one little bird was taking. A sharp percussion and the swiftlet dropped. I walked over and stared. An anonymous red mark on the breast. I lowered the rifle. The other bird swooped back and forth back and forth, calling.
Original Post June 12, 2014
I learnt early about the value of a life. And I learnt early that I was a swift and sure shot with a rifle. They were little birds swooping, calling to one another. It was no problem to draw a bead on one and swing the rifle back and forth back and forth following the looping path one little bird was taking. Then there was a quick percussion and the swiftlet dropped. I walked over and stared. An anonymous red mark on the breast. I lowered the rifle. The other bird swooped back and forth back and forth. Calling.
“There’s no such thing as the law of averages.” I stare at you in silence. I’d been doing so well, finally I had the upper hand. I’d made it through your casual disparagement and denial, your harsher denouncements and diversions, and forced you to sit back and stare at the middle distance while smoke curled round you. “There’s no such thing as the law of averages.” I tried to regroup, humiliated, desperate to take back the upper hand and win. “There’s no such thing as the law as averages.” And now you’re gone and all I want is the chance.
I am calm as I slide the eyepiece into position. It’s a calm that has been inside me for fifty years. It started one warm still night when the world was a place of unnamed wonder. Complaining and squirrely I bounced gently in my grandfather’s arms as he carried me outside. “Guardare le stelle,” he said to me, holding me up six inches closer to the night sky. The stars are close enough to try and grab. “Guardare le stelle,” he repeated in a quiet mantra. The universe chimed brilliantly silently and fifty years later I remove the lens cap.