06/04/16 39 years

A young boy, 12 years and 1 month to the day, would lie in futile defiance on his bed, 

top button undone, black tie askew, funeral unattended, whispering, ‘Not even for you, mum,’

Breathe in…breathe out,

Blackbirds singing – almost questioning in the predawn air – is it morning yet?

A man, a warrior with many victorious battles to his name, sat hunched, alone, waiting for that cruel inevitability that comes to us all,

A fight that can’t be won, 

Breathe in, breathe out, 

Hoping against hope. 

‘You’re gettin’ the colour back in your cheeks, Hen,’ he’d said.

A weak smile in collusion. 

This gentle man, 54 years old, with sparkling blue eyes, returning home to his boys, 11 and 12, 

‘We’ve always been honest…’ he’d said

‘She’s coming home to die…’

Sage youthful nods over a game of Subbuteo, no real knowledge of what that could possibly mean,

Breathe in, breathe out, 

This vibrant woman, with a ready smile and massive heart…surely there’s some mistake…maybe it’s someone else’s mum who…?

It’s normal for a while. We learn about the comfort of an orthopaedic bed…she wears a blue nightgown for the first time, it kinda suits her….

She seems fine…maybe dad got it wrong…?

Breathe in, breathe out, 

2 boys clatter into the living room with youthful exuberance – they’re laughing – she’s laughing…

‘Who’s your friend, John?’ she asks, still smiling.

A screaming silence – my mind yelling, ‘It’s me, mum…it’s me…!’

Breathe in, breathe out, 

‘We’ve got you something for your birthday,’ she said, ‘but I can’t remember where I’ve hidden it…’

Together we laughed, turning the living room over as we searched…sofa…sideboard…under tables…through cupboards…giggling like…giggling like…idiots…

There were no presents…how could a housebound, terminally ill woman possibly….but God, we’d laughed!

Breathe in, breathe out,

We were all aging rapidly, childhood memories of that attentive dad, my beautiful, beautiful dad, where I’d get that peck on the lips, good night, and we’d both say, ‘Eeeeeeeeee!’ as he held his stubbled cheek against mine…slipping through my fingers…grains of sand…grains…of…sand…

Breathe in, breathe out,

For a mercifully short time, the bed came downstairs when it all became too much…into the body of our little family…

Strange animal sounds started coming from her lips…pain and drug induced…dad so very attentive as this…the woman he adored…writhed in that slow, agonising journey…

‘Let’s get you covered up,’ he bustled into the living room as this creature that she’d become kicked off the duvet as I saw her naked, skinny and gaunt for the first time, the grey roots of her hair mocking her, 

Breathe in, breathe out,

‘You’re mum’s always loved Red Rum,’ dad had said, ‘I’ve put an each way bet on him in the National,’ at 12 years old, same age as me, this old nag was expected to complete the course and little else…

Complete the course…

Hope against hope…

We watched the TV in disbelief as…

Against all the odds…

‘He won for you…’ Dad whispered to mum…

Against all the odds…maybe…just maybe…

Breathe in, breathe out,

4 short…long days later, Dad had always been quiet, but never broken, head in hands…utterly exhausted…he looked up at me…’You’re Mum passed away at 6 o’clock this morning,’ I’d missed her by an hour, ‘can you go upstairs and tell your brother?’ utterly, utterly spent…

‘John, mum’s dead,’ I’d said, not having any notion of what those words meant…

‘It’s a custom – out of respect, I think,’ Dad, sounding brighter now, told us why we kept the curtains closed…

Mark Algacs came round to see if we were coming out to play…

‘I can’t, Mum’s died…’ I’d started, and then, seeing the shocked look on my friends face, consoled him with, ‘it’s ok, we’ll get free school dinners now…’

Mrs Murie, mum’s friend from work popped in, ‘I sensed something had happened,’ I think she was trying to add some spiritual mystery to the day.

In reality the curtains had been closed – a fanfare – a declaration that she’d gone.

A guilty relief. 

‘You don’t have to come to the funeral,’ Dad had said.

I think he was being the great dad he was by giving us the choice – perhaps there was some small part of him protecting himself from the unbearable outpouring of grief from his boys as the woman he’d loved – where fate had given him a glimpse of all that was beautiful in life – after surviviving the disgusting bloody mess of the Second World War – as the woman he loved was lowered into the ground,

‘Be strong for your dad,’ people whispered conspiratorially…

I was 12, for fuck’s sake!

12 years and one month.

Just like I am today…

It’s 6 o’clock on the 6th of April,
I’m lying next to Ella in the semi darkness of the dawn, listening to the birds with their questioning songs, and her gentle breath,
Breathe in, breathe out,


39 years

Walk a mile


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