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.
I like you. I like you because you unnerve me sometimes with your unpredictability. I like you because when I consider your unpredictability I realise that you were unswerving, straight. It was me who hadn’t seen the pattern; hadn’t quite understood. I like that you know when to stand up and when to sit down; how you’re quick to speak and quick to stop speaking – how you speak clearly. I like that everyone thinks you’re the boss because you have that air, but that you always know your place. You are never the boss. Everyone is the boss. The people.
I try to shut the thoughts away but the words he says prise open my every defence. I can’t not hear it. He talks about his life, his friends, the plans we’ve made, the things we’ve achieved, places we’ve been. He talks about his grandmother, about my own family history. He claims he’s talked to the bank manager. He shows me photographs of us in the pub, laughing with his mates. One of me in a dress – says I look fit. But he never once asks me how I feel: never imagines that I could be the one in charge.
Breathing heavily but gaining elevation, the tramp up the rocks that have been laid to raise you, the village church and shops shrinking away into miniature, the gentle hum of traffic and chatting tourists silenced, your face burning with the effort, your feet in your socks in a sweat, the faces smiling that have already found the summit, the hope of fair weather, a view, the worries of whether you are fit or unfit, your general health, whether it was really something to embark on, and thoughts of never achieving it, never, climbing up, never seeing, doing it for yourself…