One thing I’d come to realise about living in the city was that movement was different here. At home, in the countryside, there was a slow ebb and flow to life. An adagio to the city’s allegro. But it wasn’t the speed as such, more so that the currents of life seemed hindered here. Momentarily dammed. It was stop start, staccato. At home, my walks to school flowed freely down narrow lanes and I could go miles without having to come to an abrupt stop. There was a sleepy somnambulance to motion, where pothole, grounded pheasant or wide wheeled tractor were the only things that caused pause or deviation. At worst it would be a side step or a gentle leaning into an obliging hedgerow. Even the transition of day into night seemed freer. Day handed over to night with ease, a blowing out of the candle that seemed accepted and respectful. But the city was different. Here there was a ‘rage against the dying of the light’ from neon shop fronts, street lights and the blues and twos of police cars. Walking here seemed angular and unforgiving. It needed concentration. Attention. While the countryside seemed to ask for little from those moving through it, the city felt possessive and needy in its navigation. Chicken shop bones, black bags scarred from scavengers, street peddlers and broken paving slabs turned walking to my new school into an act that demanded deft footwork and turns of torso. It demanded that eyes were drawn to floor rather than horizon. It was about the immediacy of now rather than what lay ahead.
I made my way through the rows of back-to-back Victorian terraces, their red bricks and crooked slate roofs nods to the simpler past. Satellite dishes pockmarked with rust and iron grills on windows both a nod to the complications of present and future. It was here that the narrow capillaries of Autumn Place and Kelsall Terrace widened into the artery of Woodsley Avenue. I remember the pavement, daubed with the neon sprayed arrows and circles that nominated fragments for future repair. Hieroglyphs that turned walking into a clumsy game of hopscotch. I remember the newsagents and how the owner would be outside, cutting through a ribbon that secured the day’s news in neat monochrome bales. But there was to be nothing neat and parcelled about today.
I remember you, lying face down in your garden, half way up Woodsley Avenue. Your arms and legs curved like parentheses around the brief sentence of your body; the black rubbish bag an erotreme beside your head in the grass. People saw you and walked by. Assumed that you had landed here in your garden beside the road through overindulgence rather than injury. And I did the same. I walked on. But something drew me back, to check on you.
I leaned down to you. Your face a crescent moon, half illuminated the light of the morning and the other darkened and obscured by the night of the soil. Neither a hand on your shoulder nor the unfamiliar tones of my voice moved you further than flutter. From where I kneeled, perspective contracted the words of you, hyphenated your body and beyond you I saw the open door of your home. I remember your feather weight as if you were bird bone hollow, elbows angled like the broken wings of a sparrow that had confused window pane for the horizon. As I carried you, I remember the black bin bag tangled up in us, inflating as we moved softly through the air of your garden. A deployed parachute determined to drag us backwards, to brake our motion forward as if danger lay ahead. But now, as I write this, I think I finally understand what it was trying to keep us from.
I placed you carefully on the sofa in the middle of your home, blanketed your frame in my coat and called for help. As we waited, I sat beside you, perched on the welt cord that seamed the cushions of the sofa. I talked to you, told you help was on the way, that it wouldn’t be long. Your home suggested you lived a simple life; it was muted, utilitarian even. Papered walls, a table and chair, a small television, a fireplace. Your home was clear of clutter, clear of the burden of the sentimentality that filled a home and brought consternation when it came time to dust. It gave nothing away other than a life lived simply. But there was something. Two small frames punctuated the clear lines of your fireplace and television. Three others of brass, wood and plastic formed a mismatched ellipsis in the middle of a bare wall. Within them seemed to be a figure of a man captured in colour. I remember that it was at this point that you spoke for the first time. They were not words but the sound of air; a deflation that came from deep within you. Steam rose from your open mouth, growing fainter as it climbed upwards until it disappeared and I could not fathom whether your home was cold or that this was you leaving. I held your hand, circling an age spot with my thumb as if this would somehow summon a quicker coming of help.
As the doctor attended to you, I moved to stand in the corner of the room, my back to you both. His exploration and spoken medical terms had suddenly got too much, got too close to the bone. I pretended it was privacy I was giving you but my turned back was to hide the contortions of suppressing my tears. A feigned stretch of arms and an arc of thumbs wiped my eyes and the outlines of the three framed pictures on the wall suddenly became clear. Within them was the same man but set in different times and places. The other two photos, the same. I knew him. These were not portraits on sharp edged gloss paper but on the matte of torn newspaper cuttings. It was Patrick Swayze. This was not a shrine to him but a gallery of your small family. A remote son who visited at Christmas. The Boxing Day matinee idol. And now, as I write this, I think I finally understand that the parachute you carried back along the garden path was your ally, protecting you from the blight of disbelief from The Outsiders.
That afternoon, I walked home and paused outside your house. The day’s wind had all but lifted your compressed outline from blades of the grass. But there, rising and falling in the air at your now closed door was the black bag, faithfully waiting for your return. A return that I discovered would not come. I hoped that it would fly away, out over the city, and not be there tomorrow, still and filled with all you left behind.
Amazing as usual. I never can stop reading, because just when I get acclimated to the beauty of the words, the story takes a turn... and when I get acclimated to the story, a keen and insightful sentence draws my attention to the beauty of the words.