#0046

the most beautiful thing

The most beautiful thing is to watch your children fall asleep. Early on, the relief that they are finally at rest too often outweighs an appreciation of the grace of their descent towards it. Later, there comes an awareness – and it is a hammer-blow of knowledge – that they will wake one day more old. There is nothing that can be lived again, nothing which can be clawed back.

Tonight, they whisper their last words, which are precise echoes of the ones I have spoken to them; smiles, which mirror the ones they receive from me. I crane to place a kiss on Tilly’s head. I stoop to find Bessie’s bunk and I roll in beside her, and I wrap an arm around her and she puts her arm over and around mine. I can see only the side of her forehead and cheek, the faintest outline of her nose, and the shuttering fold of skin which is open and fixed in one position and which then closes. And it is that fold of skin which transfixes. It is there where our energy and our love and our thoughts meet. It opens and it closes. That lid which covers and reveals is all there is: this quiet relies on it, this half-dark sits still around it. Her breathing slows. Heaviness sets in. Lassitude cannot fend off its weight. For now, there is no tomorrow and there is no need to mourn what will be yesterday. It opens and it closes. It opens and it closes. Only this.

It closes.

Posted: 21:16 25 March 2014      7 comments

#0045

contortions

There is a well-known series of paintings by Robert Longo called ‘Men In The Cities’. Twenty years ago, at art college, they fascinated me. They helped also to confirm that my own highly graphic style of painting was as legitimate a form of artistic expression as any other. The Longo paintings are photorealistic images of suited men and women set against plain white backgrounds. Each figure is contorted into a strange pose; some look like they are falling, some as though they have been struck by unseen projectiles.

Many years after first seeing those paintings, I would come to recall them while watching footage of people falling from the Twin Towers – grasping an image familiar and understood while trying to comprehend something so brutally uncommon and desperate.

My mind holds onto so many isolated images of so many people. There are those I know and love; there are those who are familiar, but who will forever remain strange and unknown; and there are those thousand absolute unknowns, never to be knowns, never to be seen again people, too.

I can see my wife in an image that repeats as it first appeared this morning: I see her from my pillow, as she sits up in bed, my eyes slowly pulling her in – the curve of her back and then her breast and then her long brown hair – becoming sharp in my vision. An image trapped next to it of a tear on my daughter’s face, also from this morning; my finger pressed to her cheek and the water resting upon the ledge of my finger. People become those moments and become frozen. Those moments accompany me and serve as fixtures which soothe and shock and haunt.

My mind returns to those Longo paintings and to people suspended in the midst of actions; fragments which are chipped and fallen, which are small parts of another world. In the paintings I’ve created, there is a hand holding onto the hand of another. There is the flesh of a knuckle pulled against a stone wall and about to rip. There is the man, from a few hours ago – a man in the city – suited, locked into stillness, behind the gate at the exit to the station. He has fed a ticket through the slot at the front of the barrier, but he remains stuck there, the gates remain closed, his weight is forward, but he doesn’t move. Another fossil now lodged in my mind.

In those Longo paintings, those figures were so very still and the white void of their surroundings was yet more eerie than the way their bodies and limbs were configured. The figures falling from the towers that day were bolted to a background that was too incomprehensible to not also be close to having its meaning erased; a context which had been made unreal by the most violent contrast imaginable. And this collection of images in my head is a mixture of worlds both paused and completely immobilized, of narratives connected and dislocated, of things which belong to my world and my heart, and then also to a world that continues all around me, without me, regardless of me.

Posted: 11:31 09 March 2014      3 comments

#0044

dust

The cab hadn’t moved for three or four minutes, each of those minutes stretching out like a tall shadow in the late evening sun. The quiet had become more than just the absence of sound; it had become that state which begins to bully and dominate far more than noise ever could, hanging like something physical between two people determined to preserve their separateness. Time and stillness accumulate and begin to oppress silence – time kinks and frays, silence shakes and wavers – and sooner or later it all cracks. Sure enough, there came the first small sounds – a rhythm of soft vibrations from the throat – and as the driver started to hum a tune, my fingers fell into step with him almost immediately, tapping out the pattern of the notes on the dashboard in front of me. The lifting and falling of a finger, and of the one next to it, wedded to the rhythm of the guttural noises of a complete stranger. Up and down against the grey plastic. Up and down, while red and orange lights flared through the rain-soaked windshield. Dust covered the dashboard and sat in the creases of the gear box – nothing more than a covering over a surface, itself nothing more than a shell concealing a mechanism, a mechanism to be operated time and again, an action to be repeated a thousand times over. Humming and tapping. Waiting to move. Quietness and noise grinding against one another.

My fingers became still again. From his throat came the last whispered note. Another blaze of orange-red light filled the car and was gone just as quickly.

Still. Quiet. Spent.

Posted: 00:41 14 January 2014      2 comments

#0043

holding on

Sometimes—
Often—
Most nights, I’m woken by my daughter, Bessie, who appears at my side of the bed – the one nearest to the door, which leads onto the landing, which leads to her room – and she waits patiently for me to ask if she’s OK. I ask if she’s OK. She nods. I ask if she wants me to come to her room and cuddle her. She nods again, sometimes with the softest caress of the word ‘yes’, as her head bobs down and then back up, and we walk to her room, and she returns to her bed, and her eyes close immediately, and I lie down next to her. And there is barely mattress to sleep on and there is barely enough duvet to cover. I place an arm round her, reach for the hand that holds her rabbit and wrap fingers around her fingers. I pull my knees up and in towards her and she rests her feet against them. And I lie there and I close my eyes and I try to find sleep again. Sometimes it comes immediately, sometimes after an hour or so, occasionally not at all. I hold onto her, and to all her beauty, and to all that love, that impossible power between us, which she takes for granted, and which I fear will one day be altered so radically. If I sleep, I might wake rested; but if I don’t, I’ve cheated time – forever remained in that moment of her coming to find and be comforted by me, clung to that gentle nod and that quiet whisper, that cupping of skin, that placing of feet – and managed to hold on for that little bit longer to my daughter.

Posted: 21:42 13 December 2013      9 comments

#0042

goodbye: 3/3 (a mother and a son)

The past; the present; a sense of something in front of us. Days like this feel, or felt, like several time frames combined and a sense of being in each one at once. Remembering, feeling, anticipating: it all becomes – became – the same. It’s all part of travelling to and from a point, to record a few more moments: to splinter time and memory once more….

 

Mum dips her head and points a finger to somewhere over my left shoulder and tells me, ‘That’s where your dad’s mum and dad are buried.’ She sees my surprise and so adds, ‘Behind that hedge’, and her head dips again, and her arm lifts like the trunk of an elephant – a movement that travels from her shoulder, along that limb and to an index finger which extends like an optical instrument. I turn around and see the hedge. Behind it: several acres of burial ground, green grass and grey-green stones. I’m a little ashamed not to have known this. ‘What were their names?’ I ask. ‘Pardon, Matthew?’ she replies. ‘Dad’s mum and dad: what were their names?’ Her head jerks up only briefly; enough to engage eye contact for a second. ‘Reginald. He had the same name as your dad. And… Oh, what was it…?’ 

I see Dave, in the distance behind her, on the other side of the crematorium garden, his head bowed down, reading the cards on the floral tributes. ‘Florence. That was your dad’s mum’s name: Florence. Reginald and Florence Inwood.’ And then, ‘Your dad’s ashes are there, too.’ as she dabs a piece of balled-up tissue at the underside of her nose. ‘Dad’s… really? I had no idea.’ She lifts her head to address me more affirmatively. ‘Yes. Half of them were interred with the grave. The other half were scattered across the remembrance garden, over there.’ And this time her left arm extends, as though reaching for something above and behind, and, again, a finger stretches out to signpost, as three other fingers clasp the white tissue against her palm. I start to wander towards the hedge and read the names on a dozen or so grave stones. I turn back to see Mum searching inside her handbag, carrying out a check on the things within. I see a car come down the main avenue towards the front of the crematorium. Mum closes her handbag. ‘Do you know where, exactly?’ I ask. ‘Behind that hedge, Matthew,’ and this time she points towards a slightly different place, and her gaze follows, and mine follows hers, and I see the hedge again and also the hundreds and hundreds of stones and the trees behind and the endless sheet of grey sky above and I realise: I realise that there is no hope of finding my father’s name. 

 

And time and memory splinter.

 

A woman approaches with her hands outstretched, ready to receive Mum’s. ‘I remember you, Diane.’ She is half-smiling and half-crying and Mum is doing the same. It is a moving manifestation of the fullness of life; of feeling and meaning overlapping; a collision of heart and head. For a moment, there is too much to take in, to feel – the hands requesting hands, the most compassionate of smiles, the watering eyes – and I have to suppress an overwhelming urge to cry. My body shudders as I deprive it of that release, refuse it the need to let something of such magnitude escape and I blow into my hands and rub them together to accept the readymade alibi that the chilly autumn air provides. Mum’s head is bowed, like a child – like my daughter might shyly receive an embrace from an aunt or uncle; but her eyes remain fixed on the eyes of this woman. I still don’t recognise her and I can’t hear enough of her conversation with Mum to gain any greater an insight. She turns to my brother and remarks that he was just a baby when she last saw him. Dave kisses her cheek and looks like he knows her. And then she turns to me. ‘Matthew,’ offers Mum, by way of an introduction, and I shake her hand and smile and say hello. I’m more grateful than she could possibly know for the kindness she has just shown my mother. She goes over to greet more people and I glide a soft hand over Mum’s back and she acknowledges the touch with another smile. Spots of sadness, confusion and happiness: like the gentle drops that rain down every time I see her.

 

And, again, time and memory splinter.

 

Inside, we find a pew. We lip-synch’ our way through three or four hymns, we whisper along to prayers. We sit and we stand and we sit and we stand, except Mum, who stays seated throughout. Dave is torn between standing or staying seated with her. Halfway through the service, Mum starts to empty loose change from her purse into her lap. Dave tries to discourage her, concerned that she might already have lost interest in the service, but Mum’s focus is far more concentrated than ours and on hearing the reverend’s appeal for charity, she had merely begun to ready a donation for the collection box. On the way out, Mum puts the coins into the box. She shakes the hand of the reverend and there’s a flicker of the mother I remember from when I was a child: the one who did mother; who was responsible; who was gregarious. She thanks him and then devotes herself once more to her walking frame, and gravity bonds her to her task as it does the coins hitting the inside of the box and people shuffle through the exit behind and around her.

 

We travel a mile or two across the city to the bar of a hotel. We are the last ones in. Dave helps Mum to a seat at a table close to the refreshments and brings her a coffee and a couple of sandwiches on a white plate. I talk to her older brother, now her only brother, and occasionally look across at her as I do. Their faces and their mannerisms are similar, the face and mannerisms that I still recall of their father. They are both smiling as they talk to and acknowledge the looks of those around them; they seem content. I wonder how focussed on thinking about others those other people here today are. Is the widow able to consider the hole left in the feelings of the woman who has lost her twin brother? Has the bond between the bereaved older brother and his one remaining sibling become more or less strong? Will the nephew and niece who have lost a father begin to drift even further from their aunt? And everything brings me back to Mum and her loss, which was not a greater loss, but was a loss which further depleted what little she had.

 

And time and memory become fragmented and displaced and confused. And time and memory and here and now and then and that tear at my heart. And the goodbye we’re here to administer feels like it has been hijacked by something else altogether. And it’s as though my eyes are tightly closed but have never been more wide open.

 

We are back home, in her maisonette, in the room where she sits and she eats and she sometimes sleeps: back to the place which is her everyday and her every day. She sits in the chair, in the centre of the room, with the gas fire to her right, the telephone to her left, the television in front of her and her walking frame just behind her: defined by the parameters of her daily life. The remote control sits on her lap and the TV blares loudly, but she has no interest in watching it. I’m sitting almost opposite her, along from the TV and I watch her reach down and around the side of the chair and lift a carrier bag onto her lap and begin to rummage through it. She pulls out a magazine and flips through the pages restlessly. She sets it underneath the bag and sinks a full arm inside once again, like a child with a Christmas stocking. The day catches up on me; my eyes are heavy. It’s now almost twelve hours since I woke to an orange sky. I want only to fall asleep and I remember how we would sometimes do that together all those years ago: she in her chair in front of the TV and me in mine; often Pete in his, too. And she is there, again, simultaneously locked in the moment and memory; an impression from one time printed over the living of another. I give in and I sleep.

 

The day is nearly over. I walk towards the station, with a light rain rousing me more and more from the tiredness I felt earlier. The street lighting makes the droplets start to shimmer on my jacket. A light flashes amber on the crossing ahead of me, and I accelerate to get across the road, but then check my run almost immediately, realising I won’t make it. I come to a stop at the kerb and kick the toe-end of my shoe at the post next to me – a grammatical full stop, something to signal and cauterise just one of the day’s small failures. The hem at the bottom of my right trouser leg has come undone once more. An inch or so of fabric spreads across the front of my shoe. I cross the road, the fabric flaps and the rain falls. I take out my phone and send a message to my brother to let him know that I’ll be with him shortly. I send one to my wife and want to let her know how much I love her, but I simply tell her I’m on my way to meet my brother once again and that I hope all is OK at home. My wife will be alongside one of my daughters, in bed, reading to them; next to them; holding them. My brother will be in his home, busy, or perhaps done with being busy for the day. My mother will be in her chair; the remembrance card on her lap or within reach; her brother in her thoughts, and maybe her son too. In her thoughts, but no longer in her company. And I am in none of those places, yet live in them all. There with each of them, but not with any of them, splintered into so many things and scattered across the lives of so few, their thoughts and their memories – a thousand fragments and never ever quite feeling it’s enough.

Posted: 00:14 26 October 2013      9 comments

#0041

goodbye: 2/3 (her brother)

She was sat in her chair. She’d dressed herself, although I knew that meant no more than to put limbs and head through the holes of the clothing which my brother had ironed and laid out for her the previous night. I thought about the moments between the ironing and her getting dressed. I wondered over which surface the clothes had been draped; had she looked at them during that time; had she thought of them simply as the clothes she would be wearing tomorrow, or as the clothes in which she would say goodbye to her brother?

I leant down to kiss her cheek, but she lifted and turned her head as I did so, and my lips half landed on her lips. ‘You look nice.’ I told her. She did. She wasn’t wearing black, but she looked smart. Dave and I were both cheered to see that she had managed so much of what needed to be done ahead of our arrival. I looked down to make a quick scan of the floor from wall to wall – a habit of old, from when the first job of any visit would be to run the mop across the section of floor flooded with cat piss. But the last of the cats died a long time ago, and the tiles had long since been replaced. Where once there had been puddles of urine and the stench of neglect, there were now just lightly worn squares of brown linoleum and the bounce of soft morning light. I noticed that the hem of my right trouser leg had once more come undone.

I watched Mum get up from her chair: a slow process which never failed to make me feel the full failure of my lean eff0rts to do more for her. She tipped her weight forward into the frame and together they moved from one room to another. I heard her rummaging around in drawers and then calling from the bedroom to say she couldn’t find a needle and thread. ‘Don’t worry; it’ll be fine.’ When, ten or twenty minutes later, she asked me to fetch a book for her, I went into the same room that she had searched to no avail. I found the book in the top drawer of the chest and as I pushed it shut I noticed on top of the chest a small card wrapped with five different colours of cotton thread and skewered with a needle through its centre, and it was a discovery which brought cheer and sadness in equal measure.

There are three chairs in Mum’s living room (as a boy, I had never liked the word ‘lounge’; today, it still strikes me as the most unsuitable term for the room in which Mum does most of her living). I sat down and repaired the bottom of the trouser leg with a needle and black thread. Mum was sat in the chair next to me, leaning forward in her seat as Dave took a brush through her hair. She winced once or twice, pulling the same face that my daughters pull as I brush theirs. When I had finished, I hopped to the kitchen and found a pair of yellow-handled scissors amongst an assortment of other items in the fruit bowl. I trimmed the thread, tied a knot to hold the final stitch in place and then placed the card of cottons with the needle attached into the fruit bowl, along with the yellow-handled scissors, next to the medicines and the keys and those miscellaneous things which, en masse, so often have that habit of looking like they belong to a place they don’t really belong to.

I returned to the living room. Mum was getting into her boots. They were soft and stretchy and they yielded to her heavy, swollen feet as she slid them gingerly inside. The next taxi was due to arrive in ten minutes. Dave still had to get dressed into the suit he had brought over with him, but Mum was nearly ready. She was together. She seemed so peaceful in that moment – as beautiful as I could remember her looking in a long time. My memories, thinly spread as they are, are becoming memories of memories. Recollections of memories of the last time I saw her face. Copies of prints, always fading. But I know she was beautiful.

I looked to the doorway, where her twin brother used to stand at Christmases and at birthdays, only ever halfway inside the home of his sister, standing there so as not to have to sit down; an indication that he would be on his way almost as soon as he had arrived. His face was a mirror of hers, but his was always smiling. There he would stand, smiling, and doing just enough. I was no different: just enough. I wished he could have seen her in that moment: as beautiful as she was; so together and ready to show her love for her brother that one last time. That moment, that ‘now’, which is the greatest of artifices of time as we experience it, which never lasts, which is destined to be the past before we can possibly realise that the promises of the future have deceived us. I wish that now could have lasted, for him to see what I could see. No piss streaking the floor. No stench hanging in the air. No washing stacked in standing water in the sink. No wet bed sheets piled next to the washing machine or in the bath tub. No furnace blast of heat from the fire and not the crimson shins of his sister next to it. Not his sister: dishevelled, or not yet out of bedclothes, or waiting to be washed or served dinner or brought tea. Not the widow. Not the mother of his three nephews. Just his sister. Just his sister: his beautiful twin sister.

Posted: 22:43 22 October 2013      10 comments

#0040

goodbye: 1/3 (two brothers)

I woke that morning to an orange sky which seemed far too beautiful for the day in front of it. Low-lying clouds sponged the colour away in places, but that only made the view finer still. The sky and those clouds on the left and the black-blue tree tops on the right. Total quiet and everything almost perfect. And then it started to fade. Everything slowly tipped ninety degrees as I pulled my head up from the pillow and, with greater effort, my body from the bed. The sky and the ground relocated – became above and below once more – and the familiar order of things returned and I was truly awake. The window now became a frame and the wonder of that first impression diminished as the room and my being in it filled both view and mind. There was the chair, with yesterday’s clothes; the single bed, with the glut of double duvet; the cabinet, bare, but for the lamp I had fumbled to switch off last night; and the clothing rail, which held the hanger which held the suit I would wear to the funeral.

The flat in which my brother lives alone does indeed look like the home of someone who lives without the regular company of others: a sense of things being just as one person and only one person could order them; no compromise; just him and his things and the way he wanted them to be. When I had arrived, some ten or so hours before that beautiful morning sky, he had apologised for the messy state of his surgically clean kitchen. I thought about a corner of my own kitchen, where you could glide a finger along the bevelled edge of a photo frame or the top of a recipe book and find a trail of dust and light grease that would speak perhaps of neglect, but which I felt more loudly revealed a space that was shared.

That night, I had taken my bag through to the spare bedroom at the back of the flat as my brother made a few last kitchen items more clean. I had hooked the crook of the hanger over the clothes rail and straightened and smoothed the trousers down as I went. I pulled a barely noticeable loose thread from the bottom of one of the trouser legs. Like my brother, I was making good those things which didn’t seem to need my intervention.

In the orange light of the morning that followed, I took the hanger from the rail and removed the suit from the hanger. I laid the jacket gently onto the bed and as I pulled the trousers from the bar, I saw that the hem at the bottom of one of the legs had become unravelled. And so it felt like the seams of my day had started to unpick too. I returned them to the hanger and looked once more through that frame and to those clouds, and remembered that being back home always brought these little difficulties. I closed my eyes and tried to recall the peace of the sleep that had come before that amber sky had risen vertically from my world. I opened them and little had changed, but for a better preparedness to face the next thing. I turned and walked out of the room and found the switch for the hot water outside the bathroom, and then found the cupboard from which my brother had told me to take a towel. I closed the door and stripped and stepped into the bathtub. I turned on the shower and, irrevocably, broke the pact I had made with the light and the quiet and the melancholy of the beginning of the day.

The taxi arrived ten minutes early. I pulled on the trousers which my brother had patch-repaired. The hem now sat where it should, just about resting on the mirrored black instep of my shoe. Its restored neatness pleased me greatly. I left the flat, pulling on the jacket as I shuttled down the steps and placing a rolled-up black tie into my pocket. I waited inside the taxi, fumbling a thick solid silver square through the first of two holes on the cuff of my left sleeve. I watched Dave close the door behind him and felt the car dip as he sat down beside me in the back. My progress with the cufflinks was slow. Dave called Mum to let her know we were on our way. She asked him to pick up a sliced loaf and a copy of the Metro. He replied that she really wouldn’t have a need for either this morning. He passed the phone over so that I could reassure and comfort her further. She repeated her request for the loaf and newspaper. I told her we could take care of that later; afterwards. I asked if she was dressed. She sounded calm and organised, said that she was ready and looking forward to seeing us. ‘See you soon, darling.’ ‘Yes, see you soon, Mum.’ The phone was old and heavily scratched and three possible buttons at the top of the handset for disconnecting the call were all worn down to the bare plastic. I handed it back to Dave with a pincer-like grip meant to indicate a precarious knowledge of the device. He smiled and brought his thumb down on one of the buttons before returning it to his pocket. He struck up conversation with the driver as I threaded the second cufflink into place. They discussed town planning and high-speed train links and the drug dependency of a mutual friend. Then they started to talk about the profligate habits of a charity whose name and purpose I missed. ‘They spend money like confetti’, came one reply from the front. They throw money like confetti, I corrected, to myself, unable to let the simile sit any other way in my head. ‘They throw money around like confetti.’ I sent a message to my wife and realised how much I missed my two children. A slight swell of nausea took hold of my stomach. I heard the driver and my brother and the softer din of the car radio, and the quiet of all other things that their exclusion from the car dictated. It was the quiet of those other things that remained loudest for the remainder of our journey.

Posted: 20:01 10 October 2013      7 comments

#0039

anchors

There are times when it doesn’t seem possible that someone else could think and feel as ardently as I do, that thoughts could flicker in their mind and then burn and flare. It’s contrarily a sadness and a consolation to know that they do, though. Indeed, only the other day I read a passage which confirmed for me that others did and I felt my heart heavy within my chest as I read it. It was a heaviness borne of the wonder of someone explaining part of your very own nature to you, and then the torture of realising that that nature is not so very unique, that the sensitivity you mistook as setting you apart from others is actually the very thing which glues you to each of them in some small way. Torture and wonder become the same thing, become the same sweet-sharp pain and then fade so quickly, and leave no trace, no ashes from that which had only seconds before burned so furiously.

And this torture visits me often.

There was a walk in the rain a few weeks ago. It fell so hard, and while annoyed by it at first, it became more and more relentless, and each layer of clothing became more sodden and heavy, to the point where I willed it to continue and be more brutal still, wishing only to be further and more completely incapacitated by it. I wanted every bit of clothing to be saturated and as I felt water collect under my feet, in small pools inside my shoes, I was happy.

A few mornings ago, after dropping my daughter at school, a young woman appeared in view over my left shoulder. Ten seconds or so passed and for all of that time she was the only other thing I was aware of, or at least only her and an awareness of the time within which her image and its presence within my thoughts existed. Everything else became nothing. The fences and the shingle edging, the house fronts and the house backs, the cars and the refuse bins: they became as barely visible as the thin wave of white cloud overhead. And the sky had begun to fold in on itself too; all things left and right and below and in front did the same, reducing by half, by half again, and then by half yet again. She arrived at my side, and was then almost instantly gone; past me, ahead and already becoming less, not more; now diminishing; now something which felt about to be lost, when her appearance had initially, and yet so fleetingly, felt like something captured. And something of me disappeared with her.

Lucidity is often promoted by the strangest of things, appearing without our bidding. A moment of lucidity; a moment of absurdity. Camus referred to this torture as, ‘the incalculable tumble before what we are.’ These truths which seem to appear are senses or feelings we have about ourselves which become irrefutable fact in a flash. But then disappear just as instantly. It’s like having one’s thoughts violently lanced; but those thoughts have been cauterised, nothing more. The pain passes and one can’t help but feel like a fool for the anguished scream he let escape seconds earlier.

I was stopped in my tracks two days ago, incapable of deciding whether to scrape the toast I had burnt or not. That same morning, I froze as I found the card I had given to my daughter back in February – a cartoon depicting an elephant inflating a heart-shaped balloon with its trunk – and could not return it to the shelf.

We become lost in moments of indecision and reverie, in moments where the torture and wonder of something more profound threatens to appear, as though for just a few seconds you become anchored to understanding something of who you are and the life you live.

Posted: 23:38 06 July 2013      8 comments

#0038

contrails

One day. The coat in the cupboard, with a rope of green polythene bags spilling from the left-hand pocket; bags for collecting the dog’s shit at the beginning and end of each day. | A tree, bare against a white sky, like a bony arm. A palm of twenty or so fingers sprawled open; leaves stripped and scattered, savaged once by the wind, then by foot, and then by the wind again. | A pigeon pecking at a pool of vomit in front of a bench: scavenging on the detritus of a story from the night before. | A tap left running; an even flow of water, hitting the steel sink almost without noise. | Lego pieces left on the floor beneath the small wooden table and chair; an empty pink plastic tumbler on the table. | Midnight, and the street in tones of burnt sienna; a compromise between the black blanket of sky and the amber lozenge of the street lamp below. Further on, the muted headlights of a car: life fading as a battery is drained.

Posted: 15:18 26 March 2013      3 comments

#0037

missing a train

His right hand flatirons its way down the front of the coat and he winces as it crawls into his pocket. It’s a slow controlled descent; as a boy, he would reach into garden brambles in the same cautious fashion, to retrieve plastic and rubber balls kicked and batted astray. There is an area of split skin at the knuckle next to the thumb; a stark mix of desiccated white lines, and wicks and fissures of dark red.

Inside, there’s a balled-up pink serviette which partly opens, but its core remains glued tightly together, causing two ribbons to tear away from the mass. Underneath, there is a wrap of toilet tissue; one perforated sheet coiled around another, and he relives an image from that morning, stood in the bathroom and bundling the roll of tissue around a spindle of four stiff fingers. Underneath the tissue, a tube of moisturiser – solely for applying to the abraded skin of his right hand. His left hand gains entry to the corresponding pocket with an ease and comfort which the other hasn’t known for several weeks. He finds a small tin of petroleum jelly and he taps the back of a nail against the lid merely to recall its pleasing chime. He coils fingers around a half-consumed packet of spearmint sweets. He finds the knot of foil at the top, flattened down against the stack.

He doesn’t find the train ticket, which is the very thing he began to search his pockets for. He withdraws both hands; the right one in the manner of a bucket being lifted from a deep well, taking the utmost care when it eventually approaches the surface.

He pats the bulk of the innards of both pockets from the outside: a final tic, and something to secure a few seconds during which he can commiserate his own decline. He asserts a small sense of order by pulling the flap over the front of both pockets to tidy and to cover his store of fixes – his meek defence against the cuts and secretions and the cracking and ageing of his body. His fight against the rigours of the years and the subtle violence of the seasons; a self-apology for his own abuse and neglect.

A small respite, as he looks to the departure boards and sees his train is running late – a scaled-down unexpected victory, granting him time to buy another ticket and catch his train. And a part of him is medicated and the bad becomes balanced by this tiny piece of good fortune.

Posted: 19:16 17 March 2013      7 comments