The man finishes his intervention and bites into his apple – with his desk microphone still on. Twenty other people around the oval table look at one another. The next speaker soldiers on. Apple man takes violent, oddly-timed bites and chews over thoroughly. The twenty other people shift their focus to the woman next to him, eyebrows and foreheads doing a lot of work. Eventually she understands and leans across and turns his microphone off. A quiet satisfaction ripples round the room. He smiles at her and bites into the green apple again. He is louder without the microphone.
Until coffee my life
is a slow
slow motion replay
of every other Sunday morning
it may have been a lizard
or the shadow of a buzzard
I never saw either again
My skin touched the skin of a martyr
many years before. I was trying to protect him
from being attacked. His glasses were broken
into his face and his blood was on my sleeve.
That jacket still hangs
in the back of my wardrobe. I had forgotten it was there
but when I heard went and checked.
It’s old and worn out and tight on the shoulders
and speckled with dried-in black blood.
I washed the blood from my hands
when I went home that evening
and forgot all about it for twenty five years.
There’s tension on the tenement stairs. None of the doors are yet open but you can feel it. Slow time passes. A snag of August rain sweeps in as the street door opens. The first silent children set off for the first day of school, faces pale, clothes for the year too baggy.
The coffin was heavy and carried on shoulders, the men’s arms linked at the elbow. Their faces shone with sweat. At the door of the church they had to jostle their way though the onlookers and their umbrellas. It had started to rain again. The family followed, their faces streaked wet. The church had been full.
The rain was fine and persistent. People looked down the road as it curved round behind the town wall and disappeared towards the cemetery. A few women decided then not to go on, they turned left or right and into their houses, shaking their umbrellas and loosening their scarves. They closed the shutter doors behind them.
The procession disappeared into the distance as the single bell tolled, its echoes rolling along the narrow streets of closed shutters. Later, the smell of the rain on the dust still strong, the town would begin to breathe again and the people of the procession would return as individuals or pairs, freed from the magnetics of the dead.
They would drink coffee and tell quiet stories until the clouds cleared, as they inevitably would.
He was sobbing. I stopped. It was minus five degrees.
His ma had just died. She was a great wee woman who hated that her son was a junkie. It was minus five degrees.
He sat crosslegged on the filthy thin sleeping bag on the pavement. Someone had paid for him to stay in a B&B for two nights but then the money ran out and he had to leave. He sobbed. It was minus five degrees.
He could have a hostel bed in three nights’ time but now he was on the streets and scared to death. His ma had just died. It was minus five degrees.
She loved him but she just couldn’t cope. I held him tight as we hugged. He sobbed. It was minus five degrees.
At eleven o’clock we stopped running and stood still, holding in harsh breath. Leaves of gold and camouflage brown twisted as they fell. People walking saw us standing, arms folded or by our sides, and checked their wrists and slowed and stopped. Across the Meadows children screamed and shouted in the play park, their happiness sharp in the silence. A cyclist sped by, oblivious, and people began to walk again. We remained heads bowed, each one counting their blessings and their sorrows.
Above the hilltop calling gulls bank on wingtip, harried by rooks patrolling in threes. A long-shadowed hare tears through heather and dives into gorse. In the distance, beyond the new town, three bridges.
children. Screaming children.
Screaming children. Screaming