the start

Ten ways and who knows how, which way or when,

but somewhere she is stuck.

One life gone,

And sixteen other lives won’t go away,

and she isn’t going to stay

so she strips her possessions like she gave his away.

 

Is it betraying him to leave?

Did she betray him when she stayed?

Will she betray him now?

 

“It’s all for sale, yes everything.”

“What would I stay for, here?”

“Take it. I bought the bowl not dog.”

“Where to? I’ll let you know.”

 

she won’t

 

Somehow it’s right that all she has fits in one bag and somehow it’s too much. She climbs on the bus leaving her coat at the stop, her book on a seat, a drink on the bench. She’s shedding. Her snakeskin’s coming loose, and maybe once it’s gone she’ll be shiny again.

This isn’t something that she can shed like a skin. Maybe she needs to be arachnoid and emerge from a body somehow larger, but right now she’s not larger, she’s smaller and she shrinks inside it.

Have I done the right thing?

Have I done the right thing?

Have I done the right thing?

There isn’t an answer, and the snow’s still melting, and of course she’s going south but just because spring is turning into summer it doesn’t mean things are getting better.

Fuck metafor.

She likes it better when she can turn her microscope on cells, not words.

She sees that fragile new lime green leaf, effortlessly shred, is formed of cellulose, given rigidity by something as fluid as water, and she looks and she looks until everything that she can see is broken down into its component cells.

 

Smaller and smaller …

smaller and smaller …

… smaller and smaller

“This stop for the airport.”

 

So she goes.

 

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Does it matter?

I lied, you say,

I lied to you.

I lie a lot these days,

I’m fine,

It doesn’t hurt,

Not any more,

I’m moving on,

It’s fine. I’m strong.

 

Pick one of ten,

Then spin again.

Russian roulette,

Perverted odds.

Come in number thirty nine, your time is up.

 

So does it matter if I lie,

To you?

To me?

To him?

What does it matter…?

What is true to you?

I’m lying now,

That I don’t care,

That I’m not angry with you,

That I’m not angry with him.

 

And what is true,

A trillion cells,

And which one lied?

And what is true,

One leaking vein,

And still he died.

And what is true,

No suicide,

No heart attack?

(No coming back.)

 

What’s true is that,

He lied to me.

I lie to you.

Dream, she says

And when I wake, you’re not here.

 

Ice softens outside the window, my eyes forced open to the grey,

Sky, white sheets,

Framed in gold-brown pine.

And the grey shades to gold, and the ice drips

And you’re not here.

 

I close my eyes, desperation-driven to go back again,

I scrabble against the white,

Snow melts,

There’s nothing to grip,

And if it won’t be held,

I seek the void again.

 

Blackness is kind, a little death each night,

Inspired by hope,

(I will not hope, I cannot hope).

I close my eyes and somewhere I hope,

In sleep,

I will no longer be alone.

 

Hope much betrayed.

Night after night.

Sleep drags me from the day,

                And I go willingly.

 

One night I swallowed small white discs,

Promise of sleep easy earned,

But what is sleep without dreams?

 

And what are dreams when you don’t show?

Night.

Night.

Night.

Night.

Night.

And in unexpected sunlight,

The ice is melting.

Drops that fall in snow,

You were here, I know. 

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.