It was the week she discovered Bob Kaufman and read a poem of his (now forgotten) while the rain streaked across the window of her suburban flat. It was the week the cancer first looked ineluctably fatal.
The news streamed in dolefully: news of supporters and opponents, the disaffected and the quietly optimistic, as if they were some covert vigilante force, untrustworthy renegades all, double agents plenty.
The news was totemic, untouchable. The language was all wrong. The words she was hearing, the words that remained despite visits to the hospital – they were words beyond the window, beyond the rain.
Charles had bunked off. There was some story about his mum, but they were only told that he had terrible hayfever. While he was away friends started telling tales, bad things. And though not many would have known Charles’s influence, in his absence the playground became raucous. There were fights. The girls goaded the boys. The boys got rowdy. The teachers stepped in and were mocked. Lessons became chaotic. One lunchtime, a game of British Bulldog was turning violent. A punch was thrown. Against the brick wall of the school Andrew flicked back his hair. This time would be his.
I do feel unhappy, yes, although it shouldn’t be unexpected.
Maybe the darker mornings. And television, maybe.
Hell, and it’s not even over yet, there’s next week. Tis the season.
Well they’re setting us back years. The general polemic across all of them just appals me. I don’t know what’s to be done.
Don’t start me. It’s not opting out. I’m a full participating citizen. I couldn’t escape them if I wanted to. And I do want to.
I haven’t done for years. Is it any wonder? You’ve seen them. They’re all the same.
I work very hard in the factory and the machines go clitter-clatter. It is so hot. I have not changed clothes in weeks. I wear my yellow T-shirt and shorts and if I smell then we all do. There is a little sink where we can wash. We get to sleep in shifts. It is cramped but we are so tired losing consciousness is easy. Our money gets sent straight to family. I do not see it, but I get to eat. We make yellow T-shirts and shorts for the rich people. I am trying to make a good future.
We danced around the Maypole
With the ritual midst of faeries crowned
The queens of spring with wreaths
We welcomed up godesses
And all givers of life
And laid amongst the flower folk
Who ended winter strife.
We hoisted up the banners
And marched streets with flags
Scrubbed grub from working shoes
And belted up our rags,
To celebrate time’s rebirth
We sang comradely song
Resounding tunes of season’s worth
For past and suffering long
We pitched tents on heathen squares;
Made concrete just demands
And to swell the city’s purpose
Washed its feet and then its hands.
Some of us came from the factories, sons and daughters of coal miners and steel workers. Others were the children of doctors and professors. We were brothers, sisters, neices and nephews, friends, colleagues and lovers. You saw us only through what we did; the ways in which we toiled. We created glories, memories, happiness, and you took it all to the bank. Cash in hand you led us to nightclubs, bought us drinks and fast cars. We hatched plans and got drunk, occasionally made the news. And now we are gone and the obituaries written. You smile, averting your eyes.
To have your arms around me again. Your arm around my shoulders, resting there a moment. So many things come to mind. The times we have embraced and all of the reasons. Yes, love. Of course, love. We do love. That arm of support. The arm that draws me near, into your reach, to your steady, solid body. Your arm over me, so you can guide me, move me, show me the way. Your arm pulling me in your direction. The arm that means ‘well done’. The arm with which you say ‘Brother, I will always be older than you’.
A light aircraft just dropped out of the sky, enmeshed, literally, in its own trail of propaganda. Over our own heads are helicopters and, down in the square below, hundreds of office workers have congregated for a fire drill.
We are booking my birthday meal and discussing people’s relationships: how friends are feeling; what might happen in future.
I have made an Earl Grey tea with an out-of-date tea bag. Now it’s back to work.
The sun is out. Tonight we will drink.
Things go up. Things come down. It’s how they land that counts; the state we’re all in.