She still dreams of him. They are always at the beach house, the soundtrack of the ocean thundering in the distance. The light is unusually bright, creating a shimmering incandescence. When he comes to her, his hair is wet from the sea and she can taste the saltiness of him. He will hold her close and she once again feels that sense of place. As she slowly wakes, she will linger in the haze of him, in the feeling that all is right again, until that moment when cold clarity reaches in and sweeps him away and the incredible emptiness returns.
Anna is running late. She had set the alarm, but a silky slumber enfolded her, easing her back into a forgotten dream. Time is nagging as she rummages through the wardrobe for a blouse to wear. She pulls a black stretchy one with lacy sleeves from a hanger, unsuitable for a Saturday morning breakfast with her friends, but needing no ironing, it will do.
Twenty minutes later, Anna is on the monorail streaming towards the tall towers of the inner city. The latest news reports are flashing on the telly-screens, but she watches through the window as the suburbs slide by, at the movements of the people at ease in the world that surrounds them. A man glides a sudsy sponge across the bonnet of a car; a girl rides her bike through the flickering shadows of overhanging trees; an old couple sit close and cryptic on a park bench; children splash in the clear water of a backyard pool; a woman stretches to hang washing on a clothesline. As the images flash by, Anna knows it is more than a window that separates her from that world.
Her phone vibrates. It will be one of her friends checking in on her, making sure she is on her way. She wonders how much longer their patience will last. Surely there is a use-by-date for sympathy, a time where they will congregate together and shout ‘enough’. She hates that she has become a worry to her friends who are watching her closely, waiting for some sign that she has returned to a sense of the world. They try to coax her back with inclusions in the various events, the birthdays, the dinners, the get-togethers, but it is the very consistency of their lives that makes her more aware of the changes in hers, the fluidity of their connections that makes her isolation more acute.
Time is supposed to dilute pain, to diffuse its severe shape, to take you in its flow until the pain is just a whispery ghost left drifting in the current. Time is passing, but it is leaving her behind. The flux and surge of life is sweeping everyone along, while she treads water, just managing to stay afloat on the tides that surround her. Sometimes she is surprised that she is still bobbing about on the surface, that what lurks in the depths below has not pulled her down, or that she has not allowed herself to slide under, to simply slip away, just like Daniel. She still euphemises, still avoids some words. He died. Daniel is dead and he has been for a whole year today.
Was it only a little over a year ago that after all treatments had failed, she had pulled him from the tubes and the fluorescent world of doctors and chemicals that had claimed him? She had salvaged what was left of him, taking him home to the beach house for those last days. She held him at night and sat with him on the deck by day, looking out at the ocean, watching the deep green waves rise up before smashing into a white foam on the heavy rocks below. The movement of the ocean had energised him, connected him once again to the young man he was before illness rushed him prematurely to the end of his life to die at thirty-four years old.
What gets her up in the morning and dresses her and moves her through each day is a gossamer awareness of the potential for her own ending. The quiescence of this idea whispering its promise is what keeps her persevering even though the façade of the everyday, the routines people build around themselves as a barrier against the pure mystery of life, has worn away and she is only aware of the empty chasm left in its place. She maintains this holding pattern while she waits for something to align itself, or for an idea to shape itself into an action.
Once again Anna sees her mother reclined across the unmade bed. She had looked so tranquil, her face holding none of the usual harsh angles. Anna had stood over the bed, watching, not wanting to wake her, not wanting to disturb the peace her mother had found. It was only later that she discovered her mother had taken enough sleeping pills to ensure that she would never wake again. The idea that some sort of inherited flaw could lead her to the same end, could allow her to take the same facile way out, disturbs Anna. She wonders too if she would be able to readily discard the hallowed gist of life that she and Daniel had fought so hard to hold onto over the three long years of his illness.
The word ‘time’ draws Anna’s attention to the telly-screen. It is an advertisement for a cryogenic company. This service was once offered to the dying in the hope of recovery in some distant future, but in an increasingly overpopulated world, it is now only offered to the living, as a form of time travel, a means to begin again in some distant future. ‘Travel through time’ declares the voice-over as a row of sleeping capsules appears on the screen. ‘Sleep for up to one hundred years and awaken to a bright new future.’ Anna feels something shift, something tightens or loosens within her, she cannot tell which, but she feels the change as she considers the implications. To be taken into the flow of time again and be swept into the future, to sleep for a century and awaken to a world in which Daniel had never been born, was never a part of. Is this the solution she has been waiting for? Could this sharp-edged present be softened by the passing of one hundred years? When Anna looks back to the screen, images of the escalating war in Asia have taken over.
Lucy and Kate are sitting at an outdoor table leaning towards each other in conversation as Anna approaches. She knows why her friends have chosen an inner city café. They want to draw her in from her detached existence on the outer coastal fringes, to connect her to the energy that throbs through the inner city, as if feeling its pulsing heart will somehow defibrillate her life. But as she approaches the café, she feels partitioned from the motion around her, like a tourist observing another culture, a culture that operates on a semantic system she can no longer understand.
‘Sorry I’m late,’ Anna says as she takes a seat. The look of relief on each of their faces makes her feel guilty.
‘Where’ve you been?’ asks Lucy. ‘We’ve been trying to phone you.’
‘I’ve had my phone switched off.’
Anna notices the quick look of concern that flashes between them. She knows this breakfast is for her, even though nobody has said it. They know what today marks.
She smiles and tries to sound casual. ‘I’m starving, what’s on the menu?’ Sensing the tension loosen in her friends, she determines to be the Anna that they want her to be, at least for this morning.
The three of them have been friends since childhood. Now in their mid-thirties, they are still close, but as Lucy and Kate talk about their lives and share the latest gossip, Anna finds herself sitting outside the conversation. She laughs when required and nods occasionally, but she feels little inspiration. A shadow of uncanniness creeps in as she observes them. It is like viewing a scene that is both familiar and alien. In the light and focus of a changed perspective she no longer melds with this apparition from the past.
Lucy is looking very pregnant and as they discuss plans for a baby shower, Anna can feel their glances as they check for her reactions. She had been trying to fall pregnant before Daniel was diagnosed. Anna keeps smiling in an effort to reassure them. She could tell them that she feels no regret about not having created a life, only at not having saved one, but she does not want to talk about this today.
‘When are you going back to work?’ asks Kate. Anna expects this question. It is one that they have regularly asked for the last few months since she quit her teaching job. They do not understand her need for solitude, the space that gives her pause, the seclusion in which to wait for her life to take on some sort of shape again.
She tells them what they are waiting to hear. ‘Soon,’ she says. They seem satisfied with her answer.
Aboard the monorail on the way home Anna looks up the number for the cryogenic company and calls. There is an information session for prospective clients the following week. She books her place.
The company is situated in a technological district on the edge of the city. The squat building of four stories in industrial grey does not seem exceptional enough to contain the expanse of a century, but when Anna gets to the elevator she can see that the building reaches down into the depths by another twenty floors. She wonders how many people are down below, sleeping into their futures.
The conference hall is crowded. On the surface they look like a random mix of men and women, of varying ages and appearances. As she takes a seat, Anna searches those around her for some sign, some behaviour or expression that is common amongst them, something to indicate the shared desire to deceive time, to break from the hold and thrust of its linear unfolding. But she detects nothing in their bearing to indicate a yearning for a yield in mortality, a plasticity to bend and stretch at their will, the need to leave the present and sleep into another century.
The session begins with a lecture on the science of the process and a stream of facts tumble forth. They are assured that everything is sound. One hundred years is now a very safe time frame for this type of procedure. In fact, a vastly longer period of time would be possible, but government regulation will not allow for any advance at present. Power to the capsules is secure. In the event of electrical outages, solar-power can keep the capsules operating for years. If there is any breakdown in the system, the capsules are programmed to automatically begin the waking procedures on the occupants.
The process is similar to being anesthetised. One will be aware of going under and then waking again. There will be no dreaming, no sense of time having passed. Anna realises that her grief will not be dulled by the passing years. The darkness will follow her to the future, but she hopes that the light of a new world will absorb much of it. She will see the process as a rebirth, a fresh beginning in a transformed world.
They are informed that counselling is available for those left behind. Anna will not be telling her friends what she has planned. She could not bear another major goodbye in her life, or the protests and the attempted interventions that would no doubt follow. She will leave messages for each of them explaining her choice, to be delivered after she is asleep. They will not understand, but the course of the years will convey them along until she is an amorphous memory left in the wake of their lives.
The lecture continues and many questions are asked by others and are answered while Anna simply wonders how soon she can be put to sleep.
After six months of preparations, the day for her sleep arrives. Anna has passed the medical tests and completed all of the legal paperwork. She has sold the house, the car, most of the furniture, and has given what is left to charity. The company provides financial management for sleeping clients, but she has very little left after paying for a century of sleep. An airless square metre of space is also provided to store any personal belongings. She uses this to store a suitcase of clothing, a brown mohair jumper that had been Daniel’s favourite, and a small brooch of her mother’s. Despite her attempts to disengage from any feelings of sentiment, she found that she could not let go of these items at the end. Nor could she control the surge of regret that surfaced, an oily slick floating across a wave of relief when the time came to move out of the beach house. She has a vague notion that there is more she should have organised or could have taken with her, but her focus has been on dismissing the present. The less she takes with her, the more she leaves behind.
As she enters the grey building where she will spend the next one hundred years, she takes a moment to look back at the city skyline, registering its shape, wondering how much it will have changed by the time she next walks through these doors.
Once inside, Anna is processed with a speed and efficiency that gives her little time to contemplate what is about to happen. She suspects this is intentional, a way to counter anxiety for the client, but she feels no apprehension, only a sense of release now that the time has come.
Soon she is lying in a thin white gown, being given the initial injection that will put her under before she is transported to the capsule for the final preparations. She closes her eyes and the green-robed medical team are replaced by a drawing from a childhood storybook that appears before her, of a man with a long grey beard. He is lying beneath a tree, yawning and stretching, waking from a long, long sleep. Her mind slants and the image slips away as a stream of ice runs through her veins. She feels herself tumbling through space and then she is in the beach house. Daniel is there looking out towards the ocean. He turns to her and smiles as the house fills with a gleaming white light that seeps through him as he disappears. The walls fall away and the ocean floods in. She is lifted by the swell and finds herself drifting in a deep green wave before a cold current sweeps in and carries her away.
As he dresses for work, Harry wonders just how long his parents-in-law will be staying. They have exchanged their life in the suburbs for one on the road, selling their house and buying a large motorhome with plans to travel the country. So far they have only managed to travel the twelve kilometres across town from their previous home to his. Their monstrosity of a vehicle is parked in his driveway and has been for the past three weeks, leaching his electricity and guzzling his water. His in-laws, who sleep and shower in their motorhome, spend the rest of their time lounging about in his home.
Harry cannot abide their company, but there has always been that sweet sense of release at the completion of any engagement with them. Now he is cornered in his own home, snared by these wretched people. His mother-in-law, Thelma, is an impetuous woman, all urge and impulse, a mess of emotion. She cries or laughs at the slightest provocation, in a frantic sort of way that sounds as if she is in some sort of distress, confusing Harry so that he is never quite sure whether she is actually crying or laughing. This unrestrained disposition flows through all facets of her behaviour from the way she speaks, without any censoring, right down to her eating habits, the way she attacks her food in a vulgar bustle of gnawing and gnashing until her plate is empty. Her husband, Gary, is an arduous bore who is incapable of conversation, preferring to pontificate, or to tell stories which he stretches to tediousness. With winter setting in, Harry suspects that Thelma and Gary may be and hunkering down for the season.
Harry’s wife, Sherry, is behaving strangely. Since her parent’s arrival she has indulged in a childish energy that Harry finds irritating. She is laughing wildly at all of Gary’s predictable jokes, calling him ‘Daddy,’ and is constantly referring to him for answers. ‘What do you think about the situation in Afghanistan, Daddy?’ Or ‘why does the moon seem closer when it rises, Daddy?’ When Harry had pointed this out to her, she had behaved like a petulant child, sulking for the rest of that day. She is also encouraging her mother to do most of the cooking. Thelma’s bland concoctions of tasteless grey meat and mushy boiled vegetables make Harry squeamish. He misses his wife’s cooking. He misses his ordered life and his orderly wife.
Harry looks in the mirror and straightens his tie. It is emblazoned with the
‘Harry’s Hardware’ logo. The only place he feels any sense of composure at present is in the dominion of his hardware store. He lingers for longer hours amongst the neat rows of screws, glues, tools, paints, rattraps, hatchets, and buckets. He inherited the store from his father who had left instructions for Harry to sell it and to continue with his studies in journalism. Harry, determined not to let his domineering father dictate his life from the grave, discontinued his studies and kept the store. Finding it in a careless disarray of random stock and messy financial records, he had systematised the whole affair. From the shelves up and had slowly shaped the store into the methodical and productive business it is today. He has sedulously trained two employees to ensure that everything is performed to his design. He takes great pride in knowing that his store is the most efficient in town. And amongst the tidy aisles of the fluorescent world of the hardware store, he is at peace. A psychoanalyst might tell him that his need for order and control stems from his parent’s marital problems and their subsequent lack of attention to him during his period of toilet training.
‘Who’s there,’ says Harry. He pushes open the window and looks out into the garden below. The other thing that has been bothering Harry is that he sometimes hears someone talking, seemingly about him, but he has been unable to find its source.
‘Where are you?’ says Harry as he begins prancing around like a territorial rooster, looking back and forth, up and down as if searching for someone. ‘I don’t know who you are, or where you are, but you’d better bugger off,’ he demands. Anyone observing this scene could believe that Harry had gone quite mad as he seemingly addresses some invisible interloper.
The bedroom door opens and his wife, Sherry, comes in. ‘What’s all the shouting about? Is someone here?’ she asks as she glances about the room.
‘Someone’s here alright,’ Harry tells her.
‘I can’t find him.’
‘Who are you talking about?’
Harry stands quite still and listens. He takes Sherry by the shoulders. ‘Can’t you hear that voice?’
‘The one speaking just now.’
‘Are you feeling alright?’ Sherry puts her hand to Harry’s forehead.
‘Didn’t you hear that? He just said ‘Sherry puts her hand to Harry’s forehead’.’
‘I can’t hear anyone,’ says Sherry looking at Harry with concern.
‘Shh, listen carefully,’ Harry whispers. ‘Don’t you hear him? He just said ‘Harry whispers’.’
‘I don’t hear anything. I think you should sit down,’ she says as she eases him towards the bed.
‘I don’t need to sit down. I’m late for work.’ He takes one last anxious look about the room before pushing past Sherry and slamming the door behind him.
Arriving at work, a flustered Harry heads straight to the restroom. Locking the door behind him, he stares into the mirror. ‘Who are you?’ he asks. ‘Are you in my mind? Am I going crazy?’ Leaning closer to the mirror, he stares deeply into his blue eyes as if some answer lay buried there. ‘Ah ha,’ says Harry. ‘My eyes are grey, not blue. I would never call them blue. You’re not me… then who are you?’ Harry waits for an answer. There is a knock on the door. ‘Won’t be a minute,’ calls Harry. He splashes his face with cold water, adjusts his tie, and takes one last look at his reflection before opening the door to his working day.
There are a few customers waiting at the counter as Harry approaches. He notices one of his employees check his watch. Harry is never late. Just ignore him, Harry tells himself as he makes his way to the counter. With effort, he stretches his mouth into a smile and addresses an elderly woman waiting to be served.
‘What can I help you with today?’
‘I’m after paint for an outdoor wooden table.’
Harry knows just the one for the job. It is a waterproof paint compatible with wood.
‘You think so?’ says Harry.
‘Sorry… what I mean is, I think you should go with a hard wearing paint. It’s not waterproof,’ Harry says smiling smugly towards the ceiling, ‘but it will last longer.’
‘Oh… if you say so. I was thinking of a muted colour, perhaps a beige.’ Perfect thinks Harry, who likes the colour beige very much.
‘Aubergine would be a good choice,’ suggests Harry. ‘I think aubergine goes nicely on any surface. It’s one of those versatile colours.’
‘Oh… well okay then… if you think so.’
Harry does not think so. He hates aubergine, but he strolls over to the paint counter and proceeds to mix a vile combination of black, grey and purple.
After sending the uncertain customer on her way, Harry looks towards the ceiling. ‘You think that I’m some sort of puppet, that you can read my thoughts and predict my actions? Think again,’ he says to nobody in particular, before spending the rest of his day second guessing himself and leaving many dissatisfied customers in his wake.
The following morning when Harry wakes, he lies quite still, listening for a few moments. ‘You’re still here,’ he sighs.
‘Where else would I be?’ asks Sherry.
‘I’m not talking to you.’
‘Harry, what’s going on? You’re scaring me.’
‘Can’t you hear that voice?’
‘The one speaking right now.’
‘Harry, maybe you should see a doctor.’
‘I don’t need a doctor,’ insists Harry. ‘Leave me alone,’ he shouts to the room.
‘Shut up. Shut up the both of you!’
Sherry pulls the covers over her head and sobs.
At dinner that evening, Harry sits silently while Gary tells a protracted story about a holiday that they took to the coast when Sherry was a child. Although Harry is preoccupied with listening for a voice that only he can hear, he feels a trickle of jealousy at the story. His own childhood had held none of the adventure of his wife’s. After Harry’s father had left, just getting through each day’s routine was an overwhelming affair for his mother. Their house had reflected the disarray of their lives, everything out of place and out of order. His mother was oblivious to this, living largely within the narrow world of her own mind. Harry would fantasise that he was adopted and that his birth parents, who were organised and tidy people, were searching for him and would rush through the door at any moment to rescue him into a happy family life.
‘How would you bloody know?’ Harry snaps. ‘For your information, I was a very content child!’ Harry is in self-denial about the way he felt as a boy. At his outburst, Gary had stopped in mid-sentence and they all sit staring at Harry now, waiting for some sort of explanation.
‘Harry, what’s wrong?’ asks Sherry
‘Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s bloody terrific.’ Tears begin to well in Sherry’s eyes.
‘Tears begin to well’. ‘Is that the best you can do? Talk about hackneyed! Maybe it’s time you found something else to do with your time,’ laughs Harry.
‘Maybe it’s time we all went to bed,’ Gary says signalling for Thelma and Sherry to rise. The three of them hurry out leaving Harry alone.
Feeling as flat as a nail head, Harry leans back in his chair. ‘Oh, that’s clever, ‘Harry says sarcastically’. The similes are from my world perspective,’ he says to the empty room. ‘I’m not talking to the empty room and you know it. Come on, it’s just the two of us here. Admit that you exist and tell me what this is all about.’ Harry sits in silence as if he is waiting for some concealed presence to answer. Finally he shakes his head and says, ‘okay, if that’s the way you want to play it.’ He stands and opens the refrigerator, reaching for a bottle of beer. ‘You’d be mistaken,’ he says with conceit, pulling a bottle of chardonnay from the shelf. Harry does not like wine but he pours himself a large glass anyway. ‘Cheers,’ he says and takes a deep gulp. He fights the urge to balk at the flavour and continues to drink.
The following morning, dealing with an intense hangover, Harry watches Thelma’s tacky lipstick coated mouth move to the discordant tones of her voice. It cuts through his consciousness in an unintelligible babble. Sherry and Gary have gone to the supermarket and as it is his day off, Harry has nowhere else he needs to be. Thelma has just devoured a plate of bacon and eggs and Harry can see bits of bacon dangling from between her yellowed teeth. She is a truly repugnant woman, thinks Harry. ‘You think you know me and you can read my thoughts?’ he demands.
‘Well, Harry, I suppose I don’t really know you terribly well…’
‘I’m not talking to you,’ he says in an aggressive way that alarms Thelma making her jump. Harry laughs at her reaction and stands to leave.
‘I’m not going anywhere,’ he says. ‘Now what?’
‘Why don’t you sit down,’ suggests a confused Thelma.
Harry continues to stand, glaring obstinately into the room. After a few moments, he begins to feel foolish.
‘I am not foolish,’ Harry shouts.
‘Oh Harry, I’ve never thought you were foolish. A little droll at times, but never –’
‘Take this,’ he says grabbing the back of Thelma’s head and plunging his mouth to hers in a kiss that tastes of eggs. ‘How’s that for repugnance?’ he shouts.
‘Oh Harry,’ exclaims Thelma, ‘I’ve always felt that there was something between us.’
She moans as her greedy mouth finds his again. He pulls away to make his escape from the loathsome woman. ‘Is that right?’ he challenges before pulling her up and sweeping her along the hallway to the bedroom. Tossing her onto the bed, he pulls his trousers down and leaps onto her, raking her nightgown aside.
‘Oh Harry,’ she swoons as he pushes into her.
‘How’s this for aversion?’ he calls to the ceiling.
Harry is momentarily surprised at his level of sexual performance before he finds himself flying backwards through the air and landing on the floor with his trousers around his ankles.
‘What’s going on?’ bellows Gary, standing over him, fists held high.
‘He pulled me in here and forced himself on me,’ Thelma shrieks.
Harry stumbles to his feet, pulling his trousers up as he rushes for the door, pushing past Sherry who is wailing uncontrollably. He feels a momentary surge of compassion for her. ‘Shut up!’ he shouts as he pushes Sherry against the door with his hands around her neck. ‘How’s this for compassion?’ he cries. Sherry is struggling to take a breath. Gary grabs him from behind and throws him to the floor.
‘Hold him down,’ Gary shouts to Thelma, who throws her naked body on top of Harry, pinning his arms down with her thick thighs.
‘You think you’re in charge, that you can read my life with such confidence? You have no idea and your narration is so clichéd,’ Harry laughs. ‘Come on, ‘surge of compassion’, I’ve heard it all before. You’re so banal. And why the formal language? Throw in a few contractions, mate.’
‘Shut up, Harry,’ yells Gary as he tries to console a bawling Sherry who is slumped against the door. ‘Make him shut up, Thelma.’ She presses her bacon- scented hands over Harry’s laughing mouth, which makes Harry laugh even harder.
Harry is still laughing when the police arrive. As he is handcuffed and pushed out to the patrol car, their words wash over him: rape, attempted murder, hears voices, yells at people who’re not there.
Harry tries to explain to the police about the voice he hears. Nobody seems to understand, until they send in a psychiatrist who asks him all sorts of questions and believes that he can indeed hear a voice. Harry is relieved until the psychiatrist testifies in the court, calling Harry a paranoid schizophrenic. Harry shouts out that it is not true and he calls to Sherry and her parents to help him, but they will not look in his direction. He is dragged from the courtroom, yelling profanities at the ceiling.
Harry is committed to an institution for the criminally insane. The doctors will try many medications, but none will prove successful. He will spend the next seven years trying to convince them of his sanity until the fine thread that holds him together snaps. His mind will close down and he will simply stare into space for the rest of his days, never to utter another word.
Sherry does not visit Harry after he is institutionalised. She just wants to put her life with him, which was unsatisfying even before his mental health issues, behind her.
She files for divorce and once it is finalised, she sells the hardware store and begins an affair with the real estate agent, Barry. Sherry experiences lust for the first time and a year later they wed and continue to live in the home that she once shared with Harry. Sherry’s parents continue their stay in the driveway.
Sitting in their mobile home that is yet to travel very far, Thelma and Gary discuss how they much prefer their daughter’s new husband to her previous one. As Gary watches Thelma, he wonders if he will ever be able to nullify the vision of her in bed with Harry, of her calves wrapped around his skinny white buttocks.
‘Did you hear someone?’ Gary asks as he looks about.
‘Oh Gary, that’s so funny. No Gary… or should I say Harry, I didn’t hear anyone.’ Thelma laughs in that frantic way of hers. Gary hesitantly joins in and Thelma does not notice his furtive glance towards the ceiling.
And so you see, life goes on and nobody misses Harry… not even me.
…The behemoth towers/ A fractured edge of the city/ Forged in its rows of sightless eyes/ And as darkness smears the day/ An elevator grinds and rumbles/Fills its belly with humanity/Radios and televisions fuse/In a babbled soundtrack/
From a selection of poems titled The Citadel
‘Whilst the night deepens/ The mortals within/ Fortify against the incubus of the dark’
The behemoth towers
A fractured edge of the city
Forged in its rows of sightless eyes
And as darkness smears the day
An elevator grinds and rumbles
Fills its belly with humanity
Radios and televisions fuse
In a babbled soundtrack
With the crackle and spit of pans
That dance and leap in ritual
Above the fetor and clabber
Of yellowing stoves
Somewhere a baby cries
A plane whines overhead
Whilst the night deepens
The mortals within
Fortify against the incubus of the dark
And when heavy muses surface
The dreamless and the empty
Fill in a chimera of icons.
There is one within who sits
A reluctant companion to the night
Circled by cobras of smoke and regret
She rolls another cigarette
Dwells on her creaseless face
Her adamant and tight body
Plundered by the years
The hands of time dragging
Straining and stretching her
Into another shape
She no longer reads time
In the faces of people or of clocks
For time is no longer on her side
She waits for him
He who is plunging his memory
Into a bracing splash of the past
Whetting dry frustration
With the potent promises of youth.
Bible pyjama’d close
Dreaming of knock-knocking
Peddling his brand of religion
On glossy pamphlets printed in China
Converting his way to paradise
While Armageddon looms
She summons him now
Through the screened door
And the deep bee-drone
Of a distant lawnmower
Provides background harmony
As her weeping hair
Sullies his body
With wanting and pain
His sin sputters and spills
Into the yielding mattress
That holds him tenderly
Under a heavy crucifix
Rigid against the peeling wall
While in the kitchen
The obscene dishes nag to be washed.
Creamy and bubbled
In his party-hatted
Hip hip hooray love
He suspends her
Dulls her senses in fairy-floss solace
Pads the enormity of hundreds and thousands
In soft white bread
Still she yearns for the cut and slice of life
The ache that scratches pen to paper
As words come serrated and sharp
Stained with reality
In the slumber before dawn
She dreams him away
Before sweet-toothed and longing
She calls for him
To float once again
A lounging marshmallow
On the hot chocolate of his love.
A shrine of burnished trophies
And effigies suspended in frames and time
Conjure a haunting apparition of her daughter
One year in the ground
Her dreaming moves with a moaning wind
Through the graveyard until she watches herself
Dusting the plastic flowers that hold their shape
Against the hard glint of black marble
The polished surface interns her
In a back to front present
Where time twists and contorts
Uncanny and out of order
Crumpled and invalid her will lies
In the bottom drawer of her being
While her empty womb
Frets for the forsaken babies
This grave calls and claims her
Yet she must linger until her name
Lies in the hollows of a headstone
To be uttered in silence by a passing stranger
Enshrouding her is a vision
Of the ground taking her under
As her daughter holds wilting flowers above
In the melting colours of a sinking sun
She grieves for the earthbound birds
Whose feathers send the dust skyward
Summoning mirages of ghosts
In the clear morning light.
Through the back door of his mind
He seeks to read the shifting signs
Of her artistry that lies in covert stains
Or inscribed in the soft sands that surround him
She is the black ink of his secret imagery
Indelible marks smudged in his unknown
Surging now as dancing signifiers
In the bewitching hour of his dreaming
When the day slides through shallow curtains
His thinking slowly rises
While wheelie bins
Like fat ancient Greeks
Purged of night-time ritual
Lie dew splashed and winking
In the sane morning sun.