Alternative

What if it was me, not him?

He’d be here and I’d be gone.

They’d let me go.

 

He’d be the focus of their kind concern,

a freezer full of family stews.

He would stay,

so I couldn’t go,

and, green, I’d watch,

cling on with vaporous tooth and claw,

he’s mine, echoing in their heads.

Pain driven I’d find my way inside his head through artery and vein until,

we’d both be dead.

So why hasn’t he come for me?

 

What if it was me not him?

And he was shedding me?

betrayal hissed across the snow with bin bags starkly black on white,

He’d glance up and wouldn’t know.

 

What if he found a new wife?

A knife cuts fresh my flesh.

 

I won’t go there,

won’t dare,

won’t bare my skin again.

 

And if he couldn’t come with me,

Would I wish him well?

Wishing well,

Fantasy,

That he’s still here.

 

But it was him, irrevocably,

And empty as I am he doesn’t want me now.

No power to turn things back.

He’s gone,

I go on.

Counting Down

In two years I’ll be forty and what I have I done? Two degrees, one marriage, no children … it doesn’t add up. Five, ten, fifteen years ago I had hope, infinite belief that I’d change and things would be better, and they were until we heard two words.

Brain cancer.

Two words, eleven letters, thirteen months, that’s all it took.

From trillion to billion, they cut it out. A billion cells remain and that’s your best chance.

I could write longer words, temozolomide scored in my mind, synonymous with hope, with failure, and it only seemed to make you sick.

Palliation.

“It might be worse without it.”

How could it be worse? It might have been over sooner. How do you measure worse or better, when your life is full of shit and puke and empty of dignity? Medical economic analysts count it with QALYs.  Who and what could represent each moment gained, each day lost, each week I watched you lessen, until everything shrank to the essence of you with me in that stripped grey room? The stats weren’t good at the start, but five year survival rates must mean someone survives. It must, unless the numbers lie. Why didn’t you survive?

Eleven years of marriage, what does it count for? Was it nine men before you, nine other lives to live? Maybe I’d be a fat mum of four in France, a divorced woman with one son in Canada or Bulgaria or …

What’s the point?

I wouldn’t change those eleven years, I wouldn’t trade those thirteen months, or the last five weeks when we knew they really were the last and the three days I waited, just you and me, and the final second when you took that final breath.

And now I’m nothing. 

In ambit and catenary

In ambit and catenary,

He limits her still.

She knows as she walks the perimeter,

Each book,

Each pen,

A girder.

Each fabric thread,

A chain.

Each bowl he used,

A stop.

 

She stops,

Picks up, replaces it,

With care,

Just where.

If she leaves them, he’s still here,

In traces,

dna remains.

 

No crime scene here.

He had that courtesy,

To leave the home,

Be gone,

Before,

In dreadful courtesy, she thinks.

 

He chose with care,

Just where

Seventeen.

He knew,

Not two,

Not twelve,

Enough for no way back.

No track,

To follow, bring him out.

(The forest, dense, stands peaceful still,

No crime scene there,

He’s liberate.)

No antidote,

No undignified bout,

Over days or weeks to drag him back.

 

She chokes,

A boulder in her throat,

He swallowed seventeen (no boulders there)

He made it stop,

… before what?

 

She’d seen him count,

Each morning, night,

Three, no more,

Kept him alive,

Go on.

His choice to leave.

 

She may grieve.

Not yet.

In grief a certain freedom lies,

The chance to rage, to rave, to fly,

Unchained to earth, to let it go.

Not yet.

 

She walks the house, perimeter.

Pick up,

Replace,

Safe.

A trace of him

Remains

In ambit and catenary

She’s chained.

 

Decomposition (Edited)

I could get a dog, she said, as she stuffed his worn clothes into bin-bags.

But if I got a dog I’d have to stay, and I don’t know if I can.

He’d worn the old coat so many winters, she should have it cleaned, but she put it in the bag. No use now.

She took the coat out of the bag and wore it to go out. Later, deciding that it didn’t help to see the green shoots pushing through the late snow she stayed in.

Take more time, her supervisor said. You’re not coping, is what she heard as she tugged at the frayed cuffs of the jumper he’d bought her.

 

It’s silent here, but the CDs were his too, so she places them in the bag and it rips and spills his life down the wooden stairs. Finally she weeps over the coat he won’t wear next year.

Couldn’t they have made life more robust, so a tiny rip in a vein in his brain didn’t scatter her life in pieces too? Why couldn’t that be darned like his clothes?

Something stinks in the kitchen, but she can’t care enough to track it down. It’s been there for days and in days it will be gone, decomposing as she sits on the stairs. Methane and sulphides release, a return to the infinite instant.

In weeks, or maybe months, he’ll be nothing more than bone, and she can feel her flesh begin to bloat in sympathy.

I could sit here, she says, and I could join him. If I sit still, how close can I get to being dead?

 

Sit.

Sit still.

Breath slow.

Feel the wood through skin, fat, muscle, bone.

Hold the pain until it’s nothing

Wait until neurones slow, stay, stop.

Be numb.

 

Frost bites unwise green spikes this night, and there isn’t a dog, and his life is still scattered and she’s drifting somewhere above the village, over the river.

Loose ice flows downstream, and she follows it out to sea,

and somewhere on the passage south the ice melts

and she’s gone.