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April 2016, vol 12 no 1

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Els van Leeuwen

Go Gentle

My grandparents must have cradled him warmly, filled with a sense of life’s hopes. They had plans – they would build a home, and send him to a good school. Maybe give him a younger brother or a sister. They had ideas about God. They had an heirloom white lace christening gown and a good income.

bare branches
the old man’s
last eyelash

His skin is discoloured and his breath is sour. He lies curled up in the white bed, unresponsive – until they try to change his soiled sheets. Then he simply groans in feeble protest. This could be it for my uncle. This is life laid to waste. I am grateful the nurse has left the curtain closed. This is a vain grief I want to hide.

geriatric ward
hushed voices
at the bedside

The next visit he is slumped in a chair. Slowly his eyes open at my greeting. He knows it’s his cue to say something. He blinks for a while and then says, “It’s a bright, sunny day.” Yes it is. His eyes close. The conversation flickers and dies. Sometime later the same again – “It’s a bright, sunny day.” I wonder if I should close the blinds. Minutes pass and he says it once more. I get lost in my own thoughts for a while. At last he speaks again – this time without opening his eyes – and it comes clear and drawn out like a growl...“Damn bright sunny day.”

end of the line
the guard’s light
in the mist