There’s the picture on the big church ceiling
where the older fellow reaches for the hot young thing.
Got it? Well, forget the picture and focus on the fingers –
after all, it’s the gap that stays in our memory.
So, their fingers don’t touch and the sky shines through –
what does that make you think I wonder?
(Rhetorical question by the way.)
It made me think of our fingers pointing
that imagined day on the soft-sand beach
pointing to the sky
scratching a chalk-white cloud line across the chalky blue.
Two heads, two hearts, two hands, one line.
A line from where to somewhere
A line that never ends.
As we walked side by side, our fingertips brushed and a spark flew. From that moment on our relationship was no longer static.
I do not share blood with you.
We share only words and metal.
Blood is the victor.
My wife’s fiancé was killed in the desert. He was out patrolling with his comrades when their life on this earth ended. It ended in a flash, with a silent roar, a silent scream and a cloud settling gentle as a careful shroud, settling on the body parts, breath gone, life gone and hope gone in the stains in the dust.
But hope must continue and life must begin again so, in time, we married, she and I. In the late spring our two girls were born and soon another two lives were growing inside her, our two strong boys. They are all our dearly beloved children, of course, but the older boy is named for his uncle, my brother, my wife’s fiancé, who was killed in the desert.
Now all four have grown and walk and talk and hold onto my hands and cry when I tell them they are going away with their mother. And now they have gone to live in the country with their mother, where it is safe, where their grandparents can care for them.
And now, and now, I have come here to the city, with my brother’s death in my heart, I have left my home and my family and my black-haired boys and girls, I have come here to the city, I have come here to bring death to the families of those who killed my brother, my wife’s fiancé, who was killed in the desert.
He walked into the public bar of the Blind Man’s Return and looked around, looking no one in the face.
She saw him first but he spoke first.
She fluttered a little when he spoke but not to show.
Hallo. It’s been a long time.
Too long, princess.
You used to say I was your princess.
And you was. You could still be, princess.
No, those days are past now. Now you just call me princess, just like everybody else. But I was your princess once. Remember that and never deny it.
She seemed to be holding back tears.
He nodded slowly, once, and then the man behind him felled him with a cosh.
Later, alone, she cried for when she had been his princess.
“Perk up your pencil.” “Pack up your penguin.” “Pick up your pasta.” She got lots of words wrong now. But it was ok. She laughed and we laughed. We knew it was ending and she felt it.
“No, it’s not a penguin, I know it’s not”. And sometimes her smile would falter but then she’d laugh and mean it. She’d laugh as if she had never laughed before and enjoy it. She’d enjoy the physicality, rolling into the shaking, the juddering, the gasping, the loudness and life of the laughter. And then she’d stop and wipe her eyes and always say more or less the same thing: “I may have tears in my eyes but I’m not tearful”. Sometimes she’d say “but I’m not cheerful” or “but I’m not terrified” but we knew what she meant, and the laughter would start again.
We laughed with, so close with, feeling so close. And the laughter, the closeness, made the leaving less difficult.
“I’m not tearful – I started life with a scream and I’m not going to leave with a face full of tears. That’s not me, is it? Though I could cry if I wanted, cry for others. Cry so much for others but not for me. I could tell you not to cry but what good would that do?” So she, and we, laughed.
Leaving life with laughter. Still so, so, sad, of course, still nail in the heart sorrow, of course, but less hard. A deep breath to soften the nail, always there of course, but somehow less sharp.
I breathe in and my chest swells, my heart swells, and I feel the nail in my heart, even now, even now as I wait for my laughter to find me.