The final fact floats free in chill November air.
Wispy theories seep through gaps into my living space;
a sluggish swirl too vague to disarrange my hair.
He is dead.
The pathologist estimates two weeks.
When I saw him last week, the wind
seemed to twist him, and his coat –
the coat he wore to keep the winter out –
his coat was out of step with him
as, tied closely apart, they swirled
in schizophrenic dance of love and hate,
flinging exhortation and despair to the wind.
As I watched him spin I had no way of knowing
he was a wraith struggling to escape
an unwelcome netherworld
and return to this place.
A wide road winds out of town,
its white lines blind to distance and insistent tick of time,
flowing past rural scenes and memories
that strangers keep between fading album covers
bulging with sunshine and smiles.
Still more fond secrets lie stored in the archives of their minds.
Distant kin we never knew
sleep silently beneath the fallen leaves;
so many griefs do not reach us.
We hold hands with those we choose, not letting go
until long beyond the final call.
The mindless road winds on to motorway,
passing towns and cities as it goes, while all the way
the straying ghosts of those we never knew
evade our sights;
we’re rarely touched by unknown spirits
passing through our skin.
Somewhere in the erstwhile smoke of London town
a mother weeps to hear the news:
she’s lost her errant son.
She holds no blame, yet that will not console her.
I dare not weigh her loss against his crimes
and what he might have done if he were still alive.
I cannot feel relief while she holds her hollow womb
and teardrops fall,
but it is sad that I don’t feel a twinge
of anything at all.
The police might be treating Joe’s death as suspicious. They’re on the street, keeping their questions low-key. They know him by his reputation and by his history. Those who may have expected to be future victims of his insanity are addicts too weak to be perpetrators. A woman who had been threatened by Joe was approached and told about his death. The police asked her a few questions. She was quite casual about the conversation when she spoke of it to my son. I’m glad she’s no longer at risk; she was bravely supportive toward my daughter after Joe beat her up.
In spite of the suffering he caused, I feel distanced from his death. Even when he was shouting threats up at my window, I felt separated from his circle of psychosis. As soon as Laura went into recovery, he receded into the murky past.
©Jane Paterson Basil