Somewhere he walks with children


I loved my uncle Robert even though – or perhaps partly because – he was an irrepressible, irrisponsible alcoholic.

I was nine the first time we sat at the mouth of a river, drinking cider that he’d hidden inside his jacket. My mother and aunt believed him when he said we were looking for shells.

In the mornings it was best to leave him sleeping until late, when he was ready to wake, to evade his ill-tempered hangovers, but the rest of the time he was endlessly entertaining to we children, even though he may irritate anyone over twenty eight or so.

I must have been eighteen when his lung cancer was diagnosed. What with his dicky heart, his schlerotic liver and other complications, his body was not strong enough to survive.

After he died, my brother’s best friend, Pete, with whom I had dallied for a while, wrote a eulogy. The guy wanted to be Bob Dylan, but couldn’t, as the post had already been taken by a better poet.

Pete’s pretentious poem was read out at the funeral, accompanied by his inflatable ego. It claimed that my uncle knew something clever about glass houses which the rest of us didn’t. It sounded good, but wasn’t true; all my uncle knew was where to get the next drink, and how to blow up balloons so children would follow him down the street, in a parody of the pied piper, but without any harm coming to them. He loved children because he never ceased being one.

They laughed as they ran, and so did I, but the laughter stopped for a time after he died.

Maybe I grew up that day, standing with my family as his coffin was lowered into its resting place. I tried to see his face through the wood; to take in the truth of what it cantained. I had seen him several hours after he stopped breathing, and yet it was difficult to understand this final leaving.

My left hand clutched a sodden tissue to wipe my stinging eyes; my right one was plunged deep inside my pocket, fingers squeezing secret balloons in the bright hues he had liked. I’d placed them there with the intention of filling them with air while the grieving trickled dirt into the horrid oblong hole, but when the moment came I thought it would appear pretentious; just as Pete’s poem bore no relation to my uncle in life, so the balloons bore no relation to him in death, and there was a risk they may upset my aunt, who already gave the impression that her face was melting.

Those balloons stayed in my pocket for months before I threw them away. Even then I wondered if, in not inflating them, I had let my uncle down.

The last wisps of resentment cling tenuously as I admit P. had previously written a bitter poem about me, making the damning claim that I was a fake (to which I would have liked, childishly, to respond, “It takes one to know one). The reason? I didn’t love him.

Maybe he thought my uncle did, but Robert was pretty indifferent to all but children, mothers, relatives and alcohol.

The one thing P. said which made sense was:

Somewhere he walks with children

I hope he does.


©Jane Paterson Basil

32 thoughts on “Somewhere he walks with children

  1. This was so touching…. I had lost my cousin brother to the waves in Goa… before leaving he left a half finished cigarette and told me to keep it safe hell finish it on coming back…. but only the news of him swept away by the sea came. His body was fished out after week, in an terrible condition half eaten recognisable only by the sacred threads tied by aunt on his waist and neck… those horrible moments are still etched in my memory… I was 19 then, and now at 46 also I feel his loss…. ah that unfinished cigarette… I could not throw it away, I could not keep it. Lest my mom discovered it and thought that I indulged in smoking… so even though I didn’t smoke I finished it. I smoked it. All the while shedding silent tears as I knew he wouldn’t be coming back to finish it now….

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s so utterly sad – all of it; you watching him swim away, waiting for his return, the cigarette, the long wait before his body was recovered… No wonder it’s left such a scar.
      If you wrote the story in full it would probably read like fiction. All of the most terrible truths read like fiction.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not good at fiction…. but yes… maybe I’ll write a poem on this, sometime… some wounds always stay raw I guess… you can block them in your memory… but when you see our heart something even remotely connected to it… it becomes raw again

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I know what you mean. 20 years ago my daughter’s partner died. Even now a trigger can take me right back to that moment when I touched his cold face, and knew he was dead. Then all the images of the following weeeks rush in.
          You’ll write that poem if and when you feel moved to do so, and not otherwise. If you write it, others may feel connected to you through that pain, and it may help them.
          I write all my hurts, over and over. Maybe it helps me, or maybe I do so purely because I have to write, like my mother had to dance.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Yes, and maybe others have other creative ways of doing it. My sister finds solace in painting, on of my brothers finds it in music. Our method is more literal; telling it like it is – a bit like talking it through with a counsellor, but (in my opinion) better; come to think of it, on the blogosphere we counsel each other, which is ideal.

              Liked by 1 person

    1. To tell you the truth I rarely think about him these days; I’ve seen too much death and suffering in the interlude, but remembering those happy days of being favourite niece to a mad, silly uncle,makes me smile.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. It was awful. She lived with him in London. About 3 years after my parents moved from there to the South-West of England my aunt left him and moved into a caravan in our garden. He followed her, and moved in with her. She didn’t have the energy to leave him again. They lived together in misery for a further 16 years or so, until he died.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. She wasn’t the easiest person herself.
              Mum’s twin, with oodles of charm – and she had a good side – but she was a scorpion. She’d butter you up, and then blame you for getting fat. If I’d married her I may have drunk myself to death. I loved her, but I didn’t forgive her for her deceits until long after she died. My bad.

              Liked by 1 person

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