Poem

Sitting with my eyes closed, breathing into the feeling, pen in hand. A first few lines scratch onto the paper. Over-long thumbnail digs into fingertip, in the pen’s clench.

Casting around for “What is this?”

Incoherent.

Then the words, “Not knowing your fate hurts” arise. I’m not crying, but my eyes smart, and chest heaves, with a sigh. Is that cliché, or just the perfect description – “chest heaves”? It always seems to be “heaves”.

I’m reaching in to catch hold of whatever that elusive thing is – of loss, tenderness, preciousness. Something that makes this whole long life feel meaningful – beneath all the noise, the interminable activity.

In that moment, Enya begins a call to the bank, on speaker phone. The automated voice says “Please enter your four digit PIN number, then press the hash key.”

Is that it? I’m forgetting my access code? Let me try tapping some random numbers on my soul.

The satin down duvet wraps me warmly in my throne, and the radiator hums.

Wine glass

Edwardian. Such delicate glass and perfect shape, on a slender stem. Subtle engraved patterns, like translucent petals or leaves. Honesty?

They belonged to Mum’s great-grandfather, and yet we use them daily – what point in having beautiful things if they’re just locked away?

The stem is smooth, and almost too delicate to grip. The glass lip also – will it cut mine? Is it actually sharp? I overcome hesitation, led on by the melon and ginseng exoticness of Aqua Libra. The fizz gathers in a central column up from the bottom of the glass – breath bubbles from some invisible diver.

“Is there another bottle?” asks Mum – still good-naturedly, yet somewhat slurred.

Dad gets up and retrieves it from its warming-place at the back of the hob. Slitting off the maroon foil seal, gripping the brass corkscrew in place while twisting the tap-like handle. No levers to help. The bottle held between thighs, and elbow grease to heave the cork out. No spillage.

More wine, more wine. Discussion turns to argument turns to sourness. The tension builds.

Later, Alice and Mum wash the dishes, swilling the perfect glasses clean with scalding water, and placing them, up-ended, on a tea towel to dry. Ineffective – a steamy mist condenses inside each delicate bowl.

Crash.

The roasting tin slides down from the drying rack, reducing four glasses to crushed shards. A moment’s silent denial, and then both Alice and Mum turn away, in shuddering, silent tears.

Something is broken that can never be mended, and never replaced.

Letter

I can’t believe she feels that way.

The roughly torn envelope lies on the duvet, glaring, and the crumpled sheets, close-written, lie on the crumpled sheets.

It’s the end.

My chest hurts, and I feel pain in the belly that’s not hunger.

Sitting out in the car at work’s car park, I can’t go in. Just sitting there. I call Sonia, lifeline, and words, kind words, reel my fleeing soul back in. I’m alive, aren’t I?

I start the ignition. Companionable diesel engine wakes up, and together we drive down to the sea.

“It was a good time, wasn’t it? We really did have good times.”

Counting blessings is worth the painful effort.

Sitting on the cold black rocks of the breakwater, I breathe in the smell of salt, seagulls and sewage, wondering whether there’s some way back.

Cat

To every cat I ever had the honour to know, however unknowably:

Toffle, great ginger hulk who sulked around the corners of a family grouping, immovable as a truculent teenager. Teela, as a young thing springing into the air, tumbling after butterflies with out-stretched paw. Pele, Hawaiian-named night-time yowler of my childhood, stalking the indoor bridge of home outside my door and haunting the misty marshes at dawn. Cassandra, who arrived, itinerant in a cardboard box in the middle of Luke’s cacophonous birthday party and yet stayed until your early death wrenched tears from my face, cradled in my arms at the top of the sloping lawn. Lapsang – you moved in uninvited with Enya and blessed our forest home with claws and corpses and a slight edge of fear, and still I mourn you. Mini and Cooper, adopted from departing neighbours – Miss Fluff and Mr Bully. Shadow and Nettle, another brother and sister duo, Shadow of the morning head butt, Nettle, Lukes’s darling, yet squeezed out by yapping dog and the Big Three.

None of you here, aloft on the third floor. You belong in the wild.