So it started with a broken laptop. Or maybe it started with your brother, pointing you towards a target, that wasn’t me by any means, but I was somewhere on the other side of it. Or maybe it started with an offer made to my Grandfather, which he passed onto my mother and her new husband. Or maybe it started with a newspaper ad, Welshmen need not apply. Or maybe it started in Ireland, with a broken engagement and a ferry ticket. Or maybe we are so far from the start there is no point loosing myself on the path back to it. The sun rose again, and the weather changed its tune but that’s not the start.
The house bursting and yet empty. This is a bareness of harvest or pestilence. Tilly put the book down when her Aunt asked what she was reading. She made an excuse and escaped through the kitchen. Hurried along the pockmarked lane. The keys were cold in her palm, which was odd, seeing as they had been hung by the Aga. When she climbed the gate she heard him muttering about townies always f’ing over good gates by not climbing over hinge end. The tractor won’t start at first, takes a little coaxing. Great Old Lady, done more than her fair share of things and would carry on longer than he would no doubt. She eased it into gear and checked the harrow out of the back window. He’d liked things finished, seen through to the end. Today was as good a day as any.
You with your oak bark hands planted on the bank just before the hill drop to what is now town. I could see worlds still turning in your memory, as if the clock stopped in a hundred different places. I even recognise a few of the people caught here in this last place of green before the concrete and brick. It is a cruelty to take you from this bank above town. It is crueller still to take all this away. My mother thinks I should try to write some less heavy poems, and I have been trying, but they all seem to twist into the shadows.
Someone comments that she’d never really worked. Not a proper job. Not a nine-to-five, sit down at a desk, shuffle the papers, count the numbers, find the words sort of job. She just ‘helped’ her parents in their shop, then ‘helped’ her husband. At Christmas my mother, her daughter, takes the carving knife. Skills become ingrained when you park a pram in the backroom of a butcher’s. They get passed down on generation to the next. Not always perfect, but present like the bark and callous of their hands when they take mine. Evidence of everything they’ve given. She says she never really worked a proper job, not a nine-to-five, like I have. Passes me the cutter for scones that won’t be as good as her mother’s, because she hasn’t got the knack like she had. She was only ever ‘helping’ not working, not like her daughter does, not like I do. She was only ever there in the background. Autumn is not Spring, but beauty still grows in her and there is worth there.
She put it to the back of a wardrobe, in a bag of mismatched things, none of any use these days but none the sort you throw away. The sort you keep until they’re found by curious small hands cooped up by the rain on window panes. Discovering you before them.
Half this family tree has been watered until the branches hang heavy with fruit. We know all the name, if not the faces, see the resemblance in the variety. On the other side we know much less, can’t quite feast on what is left. There are wanderers in this blood, apples that fell far and wide and distant. Strangers in stranger places bobbed, grew their own trees from loose cores. People put down roots, grew branches, spread the distance between lines.
When the backboard drops they spill like water over a fall, woolly bodies frothing from the flight decks, feet upon each others’ backs. There is a boy behind the hurdles, already knee bent in anticipation, fingers spread for the catch. Outside, a woman is selling cauliflower. Holds the head of it like a newborn between the palms of her hands. A farmer rattles pounds in his fist, counts his luck, passed it on to the winning bid. In a corridor there is a circle of bowed heads and five pence jumps, till the circumference is a singular. A lone man is loading up, clicks the gates on what he brought, tries not to fumble the catch. Someone whispers at an absence, shakes a head at suspicion, does a math of miles inside their head. They wait to hear the hammer fall.
My father had a VCR tape of One Man and His Dog that we could never get to play properly. It’s probably still in the bottom of the cupboard, with the Disney films and MotoGPs that never quite make it across the living room anymore. Some people have got rid of their VCR players these days. There’s nowhere else for them to go but the bottom of a plastic bin so they stay in the dark with the dust and the spiders. That is the way things move on. In October I re-learnt how to be by myself. Sort of. Just me and the dog, and the crunch of autumn on farm tracks. Even the walkers seemed to be absent or perhaps I had fallen out of step with the world. Found the time of day when no one ventured further than their front-door or garden gate. I’d found a time when all of it, all of the emptiness was mine for a while. So I let it swallow me, completely, for as long as …
There are motions that crack open the audios files inside my head. I don’t realise what they are until your voice is playing on the loudspeaker in my brain, blotting out all other thought with the echos of your absence. Salted caramel for the mind, both sweet and salty, love and tears. I will hit repeat until the lump in my throat jams the mechanism and you stutter into silence. In the months where I’ve lost track of time, I cannot tell if you have begun to sound more like me, or if I am becoming you. Rolling the words around my mouth before I speak as if to stain them with your voice. Familiar phrases still clutter my tongue as I sift through the vowels jumbled between my teeth. You spoke so easily compared to me, I do not think anyone notices that I am using your words instead of mine. Learning how to thread these sentences into conversations is a little like taking the waist of a dress in a few inches before …
I’ve caught your words in my mouth once or twice since you’ve been gone. They fall like sugar, dissolving into conversation, stirred past, almost before I have time to notice that I said them instead of you. Even past death you voice lives on.