the silence of rain through double-glazing the tick of a clock
‘It doesn’t matter anymore,’ he says with his back to me.
He was looking out of the bay window when I got out of the car and waved and I thought he hadn’t seen me. ‘Dad, I thought about calling you back,’ I say, ‘but it was late when I got in and I didn’t want to wake you.’
He parts the net curtain as if something in the street has caught his attention.
‘Look, I’m sorry. If I’d known it was such a big thing I would have called.’
He turns round at this. ‘A big thing? I’m not “a big thing”…’ and his voice breaks.
When did my dad get so old? He walks in small tight steps, wears two cardigans to keep warm. He calls me if his newspaper is late.
I walk over to him and put my arm around his shoulders. ‘Dad, c’mon,’ I say, ‘you know I love you. You know that.’ He trembles like a child caught in the rain.
When I was little he always had a hankie for me. He’d press the smooth cotton to my nose and say, ‘Blow…
two people kissing through the café window the glitter of rain
That’s what she told me when she came home.
It was already dark. Everyone had left except for the old man. She turned the ‘Closed’ sign to face the street, wiped down all the other tables, emptied ashtrays, refilled ketchup bottles, and straightened the plastic menus. She went out back for the steel pail and mop and washed the floor. The old man had his back to her. Five to six.
‘Have you finished, love?’ she said.
She walked over to him. ‘I’ve got to lock up now.’
‘Five minutes,’ he said without looking at her.
She leant against the counter and watched the traffic lights change on the High Street.
At six, as usual, the old man got up from his table.
‘See you tomorrow,’ she said.
The bell on the door clattered.
She slurried the mop around where he’d been sitting. She picked up his mug and left it in the sink. She dropped the crumpled sugar packets in her overall pocket because she’d already taken out the rubbish.
How about drawing? We could go and see the sheep? Riding your bike around the farmyard? I pick up some red and green juggling balls that have been gathering dust on the windowsill and manage a dozen or so throws before one thuds to the wooden floor. His face lights up. He drags over an empty cardboard box, stands in it, and asks me to throw the balls at him. To see if I can hit his nose.
three now he thinks I should wear the blue skirt, not jeans
‘Julia was staying with her grandmother in Antibes and could hear the sea through her open bedroom window,’ I begin as we head towards the seafront, her hand small and warm inside mine. ‘So even though it was a windy evening, she decided to go for a walk.’ We pass brightly lit cafés; take a shortcut to the ramparts through a small park of palm trees, the sea so close now I can feel the spray on my face. ‘At the old town walls, she stopped to watch the surf crashing against the rocks below and that’s when she saw...’
‘I know, let me!’ my granddaughter interrupts, and the story is hers now: mermaids and black rocks, a girl dragged under the wild frothing sea. ‘Your turn,’ she says as we take a cobbled street into the town, away from the sea-wind.
I could let the girl drown, the mermaid’s cold arms wrapped around her tight as weed, her breath racing away to the surface of the sea, and pass back this story of danger and treachery. But not yet. She can breathe under water, will wake up the n…
The girl in my dream is trapped in a snowstorm of chicken feathers, unable to breathe for the fine white down. She’s tied up on a bed with a small glass jar forced between her big and second toes so she can’t use her right foot to unpick the lock. Then she bathes with her lover in a sunken pool the size of a room, lit by candlelight and crowned with bubbles. They cling to her as she rises from the warmth and walks through the cold, dark house where she opens the door to another room, its harsh light. She’d forgotten all this: the mountain of dead chickens, the stink of rot.
midday: a black cat in the shade of a whitewashed wall
The curved pale plains of male and female calves. Tattoos snaking past the waistbands of jeans. Shoulders with spaghetti straps. So much skin on the streets of Antibes today. At the supermarket checkout, a blonde girl in cream shorts and flip-flops. My boots suddenly feel too heavy, too warm, my own calves resentful of their prison of lycra and suede as I head down Boulevard Albert towards the sparkling sea. So very far away, that harsh northern climate with its cold wet winds I expected to be tramping through. At the bakery door, the smell of crème anglais and caramelised apples. A woman hands me a fresh baguette wrapped in a twist of paper, brushes a wisp of hair from her damp cheek. Il fait chaud, she sighs.
I paint my toenails red heat at the back of my kneesFrench Literary Review September 2007
Waiting in line at the supermarket checkout late at night, I find myself listening to a woman at the next till who’s just paid for her groceries. She smiles at the cashier and says, ‘thank you for all your help’, still smiling as she tucks her receipt and change into her purse. And the smile remains as she pushes her trolley towards the door.
She’s still with me while I drive home. Her pale blue coat, how her shoulders were a little hunched. And the way her eyes and cheeks, not only her lips, carried her smile, how it seemed rooted below her skin.
Today, I am still thinking about her. Thinking I should smile more. Thinking about softness.
winter sun the shadow of a leaf touches my shadow Roadrunner February 2007
We were the first people at our end of Chrome Avenue to have a fridge. Preparation for it had started weeks before – the brick pantry in the corner of the kitchen was knocked down, new lino laid on the floor. When it was delivered, the neighbours came out to watch its white bulk being trolleyed through the back gate. The next day my mother made ice-lollies from orange squash and I sucked mine until my gums ached.
I was making sandcastles on the beach when I told my friend Kathryn about our new fridge and she hit me over the head with a long-handled spade and ran home crying. My mother said Kathryn didn’t like me being different from her. And we were different now. Our butter was hard. We had frozen peas.
new neighbour: secretly inspecting her washing-line Planet February 2007
sprinkling her ashes on the rocks at low tide the long walk back
Chairs are stubbornly empty of her – the wooden bench in the garden, the pine carver at the kitchen table, the small upholstered armchair that fitted her exactly, the curve of its sides mirroring the slope of her shoulders as she sat knitting, fingers tugging and twisting a length of wool. But she’s in the air every time I smell smoke from menthol cigarettes that she tried to convince me would only smell of mint, in the whispers of her hand lotion that refuses to run out, the breath of wax in a tube of Rimmel lipstick I’ve worn to a raspberry stump. And this bar of nameless amber soap I keep beside the kitchen sink, torn between wanting to save it and loving the woody lather flowering in my hands. break in the clouds a shadow runs across the lawn Planet February 2007
I dream about my mother’s house, a rush of surf where Silver Avenue used to be, waves spilling over a neighbour’s fence, gardens drowning. I hold her away from the window to protect her, the waves tremendous now, pummelling the glass, spitting through the broken seals in the window frame. The next one will crash through. I pick my mother up, her body small and pale like a baby’s, and run to another room.
welcome hug each time I come home my mother is shorter Contemporary Haibun Online, December 2006 Contemporary Haibun 8 (2007)
Each drawer slides out in silence. First the gradations of white – snow, ivory, pearl – then the browns, greens, shades of fleck, all arranged on sheepskin, named, dated, and geographically placed in a fading scrawl. Clutches of plover, ptarmigan, shrike, and here, a golden eagle’s non-identical twins – feather-weights, no albumen or yolk, just cradles of air with tiny man-made holes. While around the room a weight of books: engraved and coloured plates, breeding times, conception, birth, flight. The histories of lives they never lived.
the room darkens a scuttle of sparrows in the eaves
Simply Haiku vol 4 no 4, November 2006 big sky, Red Moon Press 2007