Too late


He was on the bench where I usually sat,
his aging face shadowed by glasses and hat.
As he spoke I could sense that his soul was crumbling,
his opening words were cultured, but fumbling:
I kept on walking, ignoring his speech,
so he spoke up louder, my attention to reach.
“Excuse me” he faltered, “I don’t want to pry
but I see that you’re sad though I don’t know why.
If you could give a few minutes to a fool such as I,
I hope I can help and I’m eager to try”
He looked at his hands and he gave a sigh.
“I must make amends before I die.”

I paused to look back, and I left it too long
to turn away and walk right on.
He moved along to make room on the bench
and I sat myself down, though I reeled from the stench
of spirits and urine and grime and sweat,
and the smoke from the butt of his rolled cigarette.
the poor man was filthy, and though he looked clean
I was shocked by the absence of simple hygiene.
He took off his glasses and looked in my eyes
as if he could see right through my disguise;
he held my gaze as he fervently said
“I must make amends, it’s too late once I’m dead.”

“Once,” he told me, “I was strong as can be;
no-one who knew me would recognise me
to see this wreck sitting here in the park –
I was bright as a button and sweet as a lark.
I charmed all the ladies with chatter and lies –
I wanted some fun, but I didn’t want ties.
I was foolish and shallow in those early days
I broke many hearts with my selfish ways
a marriage proposal made it easy to bed them
I’d use their bodies, then refuse to wed them.
Then I met a woman who I loved on sight
as soon as I saw her I knew she was right.

She loved me back, so we named the day
and that very same night I got carried away –
from long force of habit I led her to bed
but she glared at me, and coldly she said
that she hadn’t believed the things that she’d heard;
she should have taken her friends at their word.
They told her she’d be just a notch on my bed.
It wasn’t her fault, but the things that she said
angered me and punctured my pride,
so I cruelly let her believe I had lied.
I said “I don’t want to marry you”
instead of insisting my love was true.

I lost the girl but a lesson I learnt:
don’t play around or you may get burnt.
After a while I met someone new
and I followed the rules of the right things to do.
We saved for a house and we married in Spring,
soon I reckoned I had everything;
a job and a wife and a house and a child –
but the stress of it all drove me wild.
I stormed through the house in accusing rages,
while my life disintegrated in stages.
I took days off work and I started to drink
not seeing my future was on the brink…”

The man broke down, in heartrending tears
at the thought of all of those wasted years.
His unfinished story left a clear trail
while his current condition told the same tale.
I ignored my distaste, and shuffling over,
I gingerly placed my arm round his shoulder.
We sat together until he was calm,
while I tried to ignore the ache in my arm.

Then he turned to me and this he did say,
“As soon as a trouble comes your way
look for a cure the very same day.
Don’t let your anger sprout and lay
a trap that will take your life away.
I want to save you from going astray.
There’s no time left for me to delay;
I hope to be dead by the end of the day.”

I searched my brain but no words could I find
to give him a little peace of mind,
so we sat on the bench till day turned to dark
and only the foxes were roaming the park.
His breathing was laboured, but he was asleep
I had made up my mind a vigil to keep.
I had no intention of saving his life,
I figured he’d had enough mortal strife.
As the night turned colder I felt his heart slow
and I knew there wasn’t much longer to go.
His death rattle sounded just like a snore,
and my new-found friend breathed no more.

I took his jacket and removed his shoes
then looked in his pockets to see what I could use.
It’s a shame he came too late with his tale of woe.
Perhaps it would have helped me ten years ago.
But at least his coat will cover my legs
at night beneath the bridge while I’m drinking the dregs
of the booze that I buy from the tenner that I found
when I took off his trousers and it fell on the ground.

Posted for The Sandbox Writing Challenge 37

©Jane Paterson Basil


55 thoughts on “Too late

    1. Thank you Calen – but it wasn’t QUITE what I originally intended – the guy was supposed to tell me not to leave it too late to tell people the things I need to say/they need to hear – but it turned out he had his own script…

      Liked by 1 person

            1. It’s too convoluted to go into. They were brothers, but the dying man didn’t recognise the other guy because of the horrific burns on his face – really, it’s too silly, and I hadn’t worked out the details, thank goodness.

              Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Shannon. When I read it to my son he said “What? He stole the clothes off some dead guy? That’s really bad.” I was surprised that someone who, not so long ago, thought it was OK to deal drugs even if you weren’t doing it to fund an addiction, because “they’re going to get them from someone anyway,” thought it such a terrible crime 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I just put a comment beneath one of your posts, and it went into your spam folder. I have no idea why this is happening, but a follower alerted me to it a couple of weeks ago. Could you possibly restore the comment please – until I persuade bloggers to do this for me I can’t comment on new blogs I find.
      I promise I won’t blow up your laptop or steal your shirt, or whatever it is that hackers do.


        1. I’ve just been to your site and tried to post a comment, but it disappeared – can I be a pain and ask you to check and see whether it is in your spam folder? If not, it means my comments are being automatically deleted on your blog…

          Liked by 1 person

                1. Restoring my comments is all it takes, but I’ve been on a lot of sites belonging to bloggers I don’t know, and they’ve probably found my comments in their spam folders, and deleted them, thinking they are spam – and there’s no way I can contact them…

                  Liked by 1 person

  1. Really very good 🙂 Loved the unexpected ending – it wasn’t all neat and tied up, resolved and happy every after. It was much more realistic and as such had a real punch. I liked the rhyme scheme combined with the urban / gritty setting – like a fairytale set in an urban landscape. Clever, clever lady 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I had that with my son when writing a flash story last week – one I wasn’t very happy with. Chitter chatter about some game online he was playing with a friend. How is Paul, Jane? Bearing up okay? Is he being okay with you too?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. He’s been fine with me, but he’s gone AWOL. Nobody has been able to contact him all day. He should have come back to me for dinner, but I’ve heard nothing from him. I expect he’s OK. I think he’s finally discovered there’s a difference between girls and boys, and now he wants to investigate. I sound flippant, but I’m worried. I have to remember this is a familiar feeling. He used to be forever disappearing, and he still forgets to be considerate. He may be in his late twenties, but he’s still avulnerable child.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Hope he’s turned up, Jane – tail between his legs. It’s an issue that’s unavoidable – those old, sickening feelings being stirred whenever he disappears for a while. Let’s hope he learns to be more considerate in the future. X

            Liked by 1 person

            1. He answered the phone when I called the following afternoon. Let’s just say he has chosen to re-align himself with a young woman with whom he was involved a few years back whose mission in life is to destroy people – he knows this and he doesn’t even like her much, but he’s with her now. She’s determined to wreak as much havoc as she can (while telling me she loves me and all of my family) largely because, after years of keeping the peace, I told her to leave me alone. Paul’s in danger and there’s nothing I can do about it.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Oh, Jane, I’m so sorry. I understand it must be tough for him to sever the toxic associations he had before, but bloody hell, he’s not making life easy for himself and making it so very hard for you because all you can do is watch it happen. If only he could move away, cut those ties, make a fresh start. But I don’t suppose he’d be allowed, would he. Is there nothing his probation officer can do? All you can do is look after yourself, keep yourself well and centred and wish him the best. I’m so sorry. Much love to you Jane XXX

                Liked by 1 person

                    1. You’re entitled to. But that’s a marker of your personality, something that makes you remarkable – you keep on picking yourself up. Hope things are better soon x

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. My two older daughters and my eldest brother are looking after me, and I’m lucky to have plenty of other people who would support me if I asked them, though I’m not going to. When I step out through my door into the corridor I intend to do it by myself.

                      Liked by 1 person

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