1. Twenty seven days. Feverish, I ask the doctor why. He looks at my notes, yellow folder telling him nothing and everything.

It will pass, he says.

Everything passes.

Take paracetamol, he says.

Universal panacea. Won’t it harm the baby?

It’s your first, you’re bound to be anxious.

  1. Anxiety knows no bounds as I lie there and sweat.

Do you feel the first lump, or do I?

It’s just your glands. You must be fighting off an infection.

Late night screen glows with possible diagnoses, cancer never far from mind.

My stomach grows, skin stretched taut, and I daren’t ask.

We … just … need … the … months … to  … pass.

And one day the lumps have gone anyway and I don’t think again, awash in breastfeeding.

Anti-apoptotically, your host cells persist and replicate.

Pro-apoptosis effector proteins, are disrupted,

Conformational change,

Proteins stymied.

The host will eat itself,

T.gondii triumphant.

  1. It’s amazing how quickly time passes with one young child, then a second.
  1. The first trace is a splash of yellow, bordered with black on the glowing red-orange of the back of his eye. Technology is marvellous, the doctor says as she shows me on the screen.

Can you cut it out, I ask.

It’s been there for years. He has two eyes. If you hadn’t had his eyes examined he might never have noticed.

Perhaps we should have remained ignorant. We were never meant to see the inside of our eyes.

  1. Is it obvious to everyone else? Omniscience is inhuman. Who knows?

I didn’t. And if I had known what could I have done?

I’m up late on the internet again.

Raw meat, soiled fruit, catshit? Nausea comes, years too late.

  1. Late nights are typical of teens, I read. In fact, it’s against nature to wake them early.

Let them sleep.

It’s normal for boys to become uncommunicative.

Of course it is.

It’s not normal to see things, hear things, that no-one else can perceive.

By then it’s too late.

Knife descends, repeat, and I wish I could have cut it out years ago.

Origin of self FINAL EDIT

A clap of wings startles me. The seagulls circle, then go back to the cliffs. I continue down the beach. My pelvis adjusts as pebbles shift and roll. My hips rise and fall, impressions on my feet. Stone-pain seizes my focus.

At the edge I hesitate, can’t do it again. A moment, you’re always too cold, but still I throw myself into you. Draw heat from me, I want to fill your lack. Always my gift dissipates too fast. You’re implacable: I’m bereft.

I kick off again, release, float, push against you, pull through you, surge, immerse. And beneath you, I’m gone. Moment in green. Perfect vision, until everything blurs, clears, blurs, salt filled eyes, mouth, ears.

Too much, I sink, stop, stand, relief in stone-made pain. I gasp. I’m not you, still within my depth. Still I ask, ‘Draw me out, write your name on me, gouge it in my skin’. I should stay, there’s safety at this edge, but I release the rock. Be in me, fill me, take me over. For a second I surface, breathe, submerge again. I’m in you, of you, and you enter me, every hole: every cell of mine takes you in, and my feet feel sea, just sea.

And it’s never enough.

Afterwards, I lie where the waves pour over me, in and out. A little way up the beach a dog’s nails scratch over stones, sharp against the hush of the waves. The seagulls circle again, screeches breaking the silence of the seas. [1]

Slowly, this time, so slowly. I descend. Spasm, contract, breathe, forced slow exhale, then down again. Painful pause, I crumple at your edge, inhale. Your waves reach out. At bursting point, I crawl until I’m in you, then I lighten. I need you as my body spasms, ice cold some relief. Contract.  Half standing, half floating for a moment, stones scrape my knees as I fall again. I scream, exhale, pant, breath subsides.

Hips widen, pelvis shifts, I open, push down, face full of salt, womb screaming, I give you more of me, all of me. I submerge, flow into you, expel it, release with one last surge …

It’s only instinct makes me hold him, warm against me, no breath yet, until we surface, dual gasps, both scream, bereft.

[1] Royle, After Derrida p56.

One step too far

We’re not together anymore. Skin ripped, bones fractured. I never thought I’d hate him. It was beyond his control. I never thought he’d resent me for doing what they told me was right. I didn’t do it for gratitude: he thanked me and everything changed. How do you live with someone who’s seen you in pieces? We’re better off apart, rather than living with the echoes of words we can’t unsay. My studio flat is quiet, nine floors above the city. I watch the headlights stream past, red gold blurs in the evening rain, and I think of him, thousands of miles away in the sun.


It’s funny, isn’t it? I work at the hospital, and when I take a day off, where do you find me? It’s ironic, I mean, not humorous. Nothing is humorous right now. I’m twenty six, for fuck’s sake. I’m not meant to be sitting by a hospital bed, cheering up someone who has no reason to be cheerful.

“You’ll be out of here soon,” I say. He can’t answer, and my words mean nothing anyway. “It’ll be okay.” “You’ll be fine.” ‘It’s a little better all the time (It can’t get no worse)’ runs through my head, accompanied by siren echoes. Words spill to fill not just the silence but his fear, and mine, that he won’t be fine, and out of here is not the place we used to live. Untested limbs in uncompromising environments, a world that we’re going to have to force to adapt while wishing we didn’t have to join this fight. We, together, in my mind. Who knows what he’s thinking, because he’s not talking. I look through the glass at the streetlights below and know that I can’t understand.


And anyway what happens when he is home?


It was easy when they brought him back. I didn’t think so at the time, but the ambulance men knew what they were doing. Now I have to do it myself. There’s a step. I’ve come into the house across that step without a thought. I forgot my keys, I’ll pop back in. Easy. I didn’t even look at it when I found the flat.

Now, we plan every trip. He’s six foot, broad, he used to play rugby. Used to. He’s put on weight: the only exercise he does is physiotherapy. So can we manage it? How much pain is he in? Is it worth the effort?

I’ve just got back from work but he’s inside all day and he’d be climbing the walls if he could. We decide we’ll try, but he’s not up to walking, not today. The NHS wheelchair flexes and twists as I heave it over the step, and he can’t help and I can tell how much it hurts as it bounces. He just jokes about whose turn it is to get the first beer. So we sit in the pub and I buy. We pretend things are like they were and all I can think about is how we’ll get him back over the step.


It’s not going to be better, is it? Being home, I mean. At least now I see him every day. But what do I really see? He doesn’t let me in, not far, because if we connect it makes it real and we’re trying to pretend that real is normal, and normal is how we were, and neither of us want now when reality is shaped by ketamine and a morphine pump.


His room reeks of disinfectant.

“Go away,” he says.

“But …”

“I said, go away.”

I go. I’ve got forty minutes so I sit in the corridor, and listen to the nurses talk, and wonder what’s so bad that he can’t have me in there.

That night I ask, “What happened this lunchtime?”

He doesn’t explain at first, then, “Fucking humiliating.”

I wait.

“I couldn’t go, all the painkillers they said, so they gave me something. It didn’t work at first.”

A sudden burst of laughter.

“Then there was shit everywhere. Fuck, I’ve never done that much. Two weeks’ worth all at once.”

“That’s why you didn’t want me to stay?”

“It might have happened again. I couldn’t … not in front of you.”

“Shit happens.”

And he winces as we’re both laughing for the first time in two weeks.


He’s never on his own in here. A battalion of brothers in injury comes through the rehab unit, bonding over drugs and ops and mutual hate of therapists. I see him at the start of the day, and if I get a break and in the evening too, but all we say is, “How’s it going?” and, “Much the same,” and of course it’s the same, and the physio prescribes the same, and people come and then they go and he’s still here and we wait for a change. I’d say breakthrough, but that’s not the right word now.

“How’s the pain?” the consultant asks.

Which pain? The pain from the accident, the pain from the repairs, the pain of all the things he can’t do, may never do.

“I did the Nevis bungy. Can’t believe you didn’t do it too then. You still could, though. I could watch.”

And we remember the break in the rain, the wide blue sky, and the bumpy dirt road up to the cable car, and the long drive down from Christchurch, and the hours on a plane, and right now he couldn’t even get to the airport. I put my hand on his. He pulls away and says, “Fuck it. I’ll do it again. I will.”


His mates come in. The nurse welcomes them at first. They bring beer and pizza, but they’re too many and too big and too noisy and quickly they’re hushed.

“One at a time.”

“Keep it down!”

“Right, that’s it!”

“Other patients have been disturbed, would you move down to the day room, please?” It’s a laugh, a riot, just like old times, like we’re at the pub, the club, like any other night out with your mates. Apart from the fluorescent lights, and the plastic chairs and the piles of tatty magazines and the stink of clean that’s everywhere. We all pretend as hard as we can, and no-one will look me in the eye.

Then Jamie spills a can of lager, piss-blond spreading across the tiles, and there’s pizza on the pale green upholstery (and it never comes out), and they all have to go on for another few pints. They say, “Why don’t you come, we could push you?” but we all know it isn’t really a question. There’s steps to the club, and he needs his meds, and when have the words, “Is there wheelchair access?” ever added anything to a night out?

Afterwards the ward is too quiet. Headlights stream past outside, hazy streaks. Nottingham is a night time city, the hospital runs twenty-four seven, but inside second hands falter.


“We should talk about arrangements for discharge …”

I feel sick. I don’t know what Tom feels. The hospital doesn’t seem so bad.


I’m alone, at home, and I’m always alone and it’s not like home, and it’s not going to work. I’m crying, and it’s stupid, and I can’t stop. My period’s due, and once I bleed I’ll feel better, that’s all I need and it’s nothing to do with the fact that we can’t go back and if I look forward, my vision blurs.

One time, we were in Dublin. We’d gone with some mates, seen a gig, tried the Guinness, eaten boxty, toured the distillery, and I realised I was late, and he was great, like I didn’t think he would be. We hadn’t been serious, and I wasn’t pregnant, but we talked about setting a date.

And now … my dreams don’t fit, and he won’t dream, and when he does he wakes in a sweat and won’t talk until it all comes tumbling out again and again the same, and there’s no white dress, no three bed semi, just falling and noise and pain.

He’s on his own, filled up with someone else’s blood, and I’m alone, waiting, because when I bleed, even if nothing is better, it won’t seem so bleak.


“What are we going to do when I come home?”

“I’ve given notice on the house. I’m looking for somewhere on one level.”

“Don’t. I’ll manage.”


But I do. He won’t. And when I see him every day I’m lying.


“I know you didn’t want me to, but I’ve found a new place.”

He turns his back, and I sit, wait, until I have to go back to work.

“You’re going to like it, it’s still in Beeston, only round the corner from where we …”

“I get it. Just don’t try to make me say I like it.”


“What do you think?”

“Fucking day release. It’s like being let out of jail.”

He looks better than he’s done in weeks, though, and we sit on the sofa and watch TV, and later he pokes through his stuff in a drawer and picks his copy of Redemption off the shelves. Then it’s time to go back and he says, “I could stay,” but they’re at the door.

“It won’t be long, another few weeks, I’ll be at work; you’d be on your own. I think you should go back.”  He’s still holding the book and I’m lying again as they take him away. I stand on the doorstep until the thrum of the diesel engine fades. He’s never lived here and I loathe every night. It’s getting dark, though, so I turn back to the TV and tell myself how lucky I am to work at the hospital, that I’ll see him tomorrow, and I pretend that will be enough.


I wasn’t surprised when it happened. There were weeks of, “Aren’t you making progress?”, or “Just roll over!” Expose your butt, one more test, wait in the corridor, “It’s not like you’ve got anywhere to be”. They were kind but who wants kindness when seventy-six days ago he could do everything himself.

Thank God the physio was Michael, or maybe that was why, maybe he wouldn’t have lashed out at a woman. And no-one was hurt, even if the therapy room took a battering. Michael laughed afterwards, said it was the longest he’d seen Tom stand unaided. We laughed with him, but laughter isn’t far from tears.


“If you just stick with the exercises …”

“Then what? I still won’t be able to run or climb or …”

“If you just keep going to the appointments …”

“Then what? My life will have form and meaning? I won’t waste tax payers’ money? Screw them.”

“If you’d just get up in the mornings …”

“Would I feel better when I’m up? I fucking hate this flat, hate it …”

“If I wasn’t here … would you rather I went away?”

“Fine, you go. I’ll sit and rot.”

I go outside and cry. Then because I can go and he can’t, I go back in.


“As soon as I’m better I’ll …”


“Things aren’t getting better, are they?”

“What do we do?”

He shrugs, and struggles to make his way back into the lounge. “I could go home,” he says as he leaves the room.

I sit at the kitchen table and shred the menu from the Lucky Cat into tiny pieces. “You hate it at home. When you’re better, I’ll go, if you want.”


I toy with staying put for a second. He isn’t going to make it through to me, so I go back to him.

“Sorry,” he says.

“Me too.”

“We have to work this out.”

“Not today.”

“Not today.”


“You’ve been drinking.”

“Why not?”

If he starts to drink at nine or ten, what will we do at six or seven? If he’s drunk when I came home … I’m scared of seeing him fall apart some more.

I bend down and pick shards off the sticky lino. “It smells like a pub in here. Did you try to clear up?”

He won’t look at me.

“I didn’t want it once I’d opened it. What’s for dinner?”

“When I cook it you won’t want it either.” I throw the glass in a carrier bag, and my blood drips on the floor.

“You cut yourself.”

“Statement of the bleeding obvious.” And we’re both laughing, and I catch his gaze and remember.


It’s another night out. We’ve won the match, we’re on the town, we’ve drunk too much, and we’ve started a fight. We get kicked out so we’re walking to the club, the lads in front as usual, pissing about, and the rain won’t stop us. Someone has a bottle of vodka and we’re passing it round, because drinks in the club are a rip-off. The traffic streams past, a taxi honks its horn, and the headlights make gold lines. Why wait for red? We’re young and fit and fast. We’re invincible.

He takes one step too far, too fast. The van slams into him, with a smack of metal on fabric, on skin, on bone. He rolls up and over, and over, then smashes down, and there’s blood on the road.

Power cut

We sit,

At the end of the screening,

And the credits stop,

Mid flow.


I thought,

It was dark, before.

But now, no light,

At all.


Is the man screening the film,

In darkness too?

Dissolve / Cross Cutting 2

‘You’re still beautiful,’

You say. I raise

My eyebrows, note that

You won’t touch the scars,

(But nor will I).

‘You’re my beautiful wife,’

You say,

As you drive into me again and again.

I close my eyes.

‘We still can, I mean,

You could just

Bottlefeed,’ he says.

We discuss it with the counsellor.

Adopt. Donated eggs.

Just get a fucking doll, I scream,

Then it won’t cry, either.


‘It’s so much better for you now,’

You say. No question.

And of course it is,

No battle pain.

But you don’t understand that I’ve lost.

‘I thought, now it’s all over,

Why isn’t it better now?

You don’t seem happy.’

I stand. I walk away.


‘And my son, and his sons,

Can you imagine?’

I don’t ask,

What if it’s a girl?

‘I stood by you,

All through, until …

We fell apart.

You don’t want me.’

You’re wrong, I say,

I don’t want me.


The surgeon smiles at his work,

My husband beams, expectant.

I fear my growing belly.

They say, ‘You’ll be fine,’

But they won’t tell me the sex.

It doesn’t end.

I thought it would,

Job done, a perfect 36C.

But you didn’t anticipate,

Another cancer within me.


And in the ninth month,

Je suis l’appel du vide.




Mainly, I was angry,

Five weeks I’d known you, yet …

Did you really care so much, or was it for effect?

A try for my attention. And it failed and failed,

Too influenced by Curtis and Cobain,

White circles, scattered in your hand,

Their power just threat.

And so I ran, first time I ran?

And now, rotund and middle aged,

Cricket and slippers, farmers market fruit,

A life in rural France,

What idyll might you have missed?

What more resolve?

One more week?

One more month?

How long would it have taken before you really …

Would you ever?

Never, I know, not like this.

And this was such a suicide,

Such betrayal,

Such failure,


He’s gone, like you never,

And must I go on?

Seventeen white pills, count them,

One for each year and one we never,

The choice he made hangs bitter,

In my mouth, like those sweet pills.

And I watch my own seventeen,

In your small French idyll,

Wonder what revenge on who,

And when and why and if …

A note would lay the trail

Of blame, but what’s the point?

A small revenge,


And you’re not him.

I want to scream,

But in this room,

I would be heard,

And not by you (nor him).

I grip the wooden frame.

Remembering betrayal,

Anger defrays and dissipates until,

I take the traitorous seventeen,

Not to my mouth but to another gaping yaw.

I throw each pill,


No smash.

No splash.

I cannot find the will to run,

As down below the franco-drone.

I don’t matter here.

No-one knows.

Joy divided, fractures.

Watch each pill dissolve,

Molecules swim,

Into new void.

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.


“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.