Goodbye

I’m an easy crier, I’m not ashamed –
films, memories, cheap music, you name it.

I thought I would sit,
dignified tears down my cheeks,
but I sobbed like a lost man,
all consuming, muscles and gripping and heart,
because I have felt this – this – before
and know and so dread it’s coming again.

Ghosts today, saints tomorrow

Joel was parked illegally, running to the bank and back. He needed cash to buy Halloween treats and souvenirs at the market before it closed at midday. The kids would never forgive him if he forgot.

Ghosts today, saints tomorrow, and then the dead.

A truck from out of town missed his car by a finger, throwing up a cloud of dust. Sweat washed into his eyes. He blinked and wiped his face with his forearm. Wearing a waistcoat had been a mistake. The scar between his shoulderblades itched.

‘Hey! Hey, young man!’ As the dust settled he saw her, tall as his ribs, old as his grandmother would have been.

‘Hey! Young man!’ She was pointing at him, her dark eyes bright.
‘Yes auntie, what can I do for you?’
‘The cemetery. When are you going to the cemetery?’

Joel looked around. The sweat on his back trickled cold.

‘I can go to the cemetery now auntie.’ The market would still be open later. She got into the back of the car.

He looked in the mirror but could not see her. ‘It’s hot, isn’t it auntie? Too hot for the season.’ There was no reply but Joel could hear her voice. Perhaps she was praying.

More trucks passed, spitting up gravel. Joel paused, engine running. The sun was hot and damp through the dusty windscreen.

Joel’s phone chirruped. His wife. Don’t forget.

The voice behind him stopped. The silence was louder than the voice had been.

The cemetery was not far if you ignored the No Entry sign and cut through the parking lot. Joel usually went that way when he was heading out of town on the cemetery road, when he was on his own. But today it could have seemed disrespectful.

Ghosts today, saints tomorrow, and then the dead.

He drove slowly through the dust, all windows tightly closed. A cloud in the shape of a fist or a stone covered the sun. There was no air. Joel sweated.

‘I have to say hello to my children.’ Joel started. He had almost forgotten she was there, almost forgotten he was going to the cemetery on the day of the ghosts. He pulled up next to the fountain outside the cemetery gate. Its water was still and green.

‘Your children, auntie?’ They must be as old as his father would have been.

‘I go to see them every day since they left. Every day I say hello.’

‘Hello, auntie? Or goodbye?’ He did not know where the question came from.

‘I shall never say goodbye to them. They are still here. They walk in my heart. Today and tomorrow they are with the saints. And soon I will be with them too.’

Chirrup. Daddy….

He turned the phone over on the seat next to him.

‘Every day since they went away. Every day.’

Joel gripped the steering wheel and more clouds rolled across the sun, heavy, electric. He breathed in. ‘What happened, auntie?’

And she told him. And when she had slowly, unsteadily, got out of the car, he gripped the wheel still tighter and cried. Ghosts today, saints tomorrow, and then the dead.

When he arrived at the market, all the stalls were closed.

Please don’t leave

“Please don’t leave. Please don’t go.” Gemma stared straight ahead as Martin drove her to the station. “Please don’t go, please don’t leave”, he repeated, looking round at her pale profile, shadowed against the low winter sun. Beyond the hills the train that would take her away pulled out of a station.

Shoulders tensed, she turned and got out of the car. Her eyes were red but dry now. Martin’s words hit her like sharp stones. “Please don’t, please don’t leave me.” As they walked into the ticket office, she let him take her hand. A few miles north, her train sped through fields.

She waited next to the ticket machine as Martin put in the exact money. “I’ve got you a return. I know you say you’ve got to go but I’ve got you a return. Then you’ve got it.” She took the tickets from him and slipped them in her pocket. She picked up her suitcase and they walked out onto the platform. Martin took her hand again. The train was due in a minute exactly. They would see it soon.

Martin had stopped talking now. They stood at the platform edge in silence. They knew where the doors would open and then close. She put her suitcase down. The train came into sight around the bend, slowing, ready to take her away.

“Listen, please, Gemma”, he said. She turned her head and let go of his hand. “Goodbye Martin”, she said and stepped off the platform.