coal hole ...
her voice crossing
Touted as his saving grace, Aunt Kate featured in so many of my father’s childhood tales: how she took the rap when they fell through the ice; the songs she made up when he was afraid of the storm; the stories she whispered when they were sitting out a punishment.
grass whistles ...
holding your breath
for warbler song
Apple-scrumping, conker fights, birding, skimming stones, pond-dipping . . . the lure of the world beyond the garden gate. The days out of school came thick and fast. Home sat you down hard in the tin bath in the backyard and made certain you were well-acquainted with the carbolic soap . . . and all its corners. When National Service set out to make a man of my father, Kate made it bearable with weekly letters, gifts of dark chocolate and the occasional pack of ten Embassy cigarettes.
And yet she was a stranger to my own childhood. No one ever really told me why. That last summer, Dad was between jobs for the first time in his life. One afternoon, we took a trip out to the next town, just me and him. It was Market Day, and we were in mid-conversation, when I realised I was talking to myself. Dad was crossing the street, making a bee-line for someone on the other side. The next thing I knew, a woman had dropped her shopping and Dad was sweeping her up in his arms.
the weight of the years
too much to bear
“You remember your Aunt Kate?”
I hadn’t seen her since I was four or five years old and this smiling woman in twinset and pearls and black patent shoes didn’t match the image I had of her as a child, with her dress tucked in her knickers, sliding down the Black Bank so she could paddle in the stream.
memories as far
as the eye can see
They were half-laughing, half-crying, words tripping over each other, a mountain stream dancing over the stones, tumbling back to the sea that had kept them apart. A sea ten years wide. I wondered what they supposed lurked in those dark waters which neither had seen fit to cross.
“So how have you been? Really?”
“Oh, you know, you make the best of a bad job . . .”
“C’mon, let’s go for a coffee. Catch up . . .”
“I can’t. Ted will be waiting. I’m already late . . .“
My aunt’s face was wet when she kissed my cheek.
“Take care of him, sweetheart”.
We went to the coffee shop anyway. I don’t think Dad was in the mood for driving home. I expected to be regaled with the usual tales, just as I anticipated myself asking the same questions. But neither of us spoke. I watched the ash tray filling up with cigarette butts.
on my fingers ...
“Look at these hands”, he said, suddenly reaching into my daydream. He’d been working in the garden all morning and he’d got a blister on each palm, a deep cut on one of his thumbs.
“Thirty years a toolmaker, I’ve been out of work a month and these hands are as soft as they were the day I started my apprenticeship. They get hardened to the graft, day in, day out. And then when you stop . . .“
I didn’t know what to say.
“Promise me you won’t let the same thing happen to you and your sisters . . .”
the last drop of milkshake
trapped in the straw
Just like always, to seal the deal, we hooked our little fingers together as if we were pulling an invisible wishbone.
all that passed
winter rain ...
does my sister also miss
my father turns
in his grave