She wore an air of separateness and something else
a quiet that couldn’t be taught and I had yet to learn.
It was most obvious at morning break
there, amidst assembly-line homogeneity, was difference.
While the others talked of children and trivia
swapping stories of school, shopping and TV hero foibles
she decoded cryptic clues
rapidly filling in the blank across and downs.
Memory is exact she was exactly twice my age.
34 to 17
not a coming of age story but
a departure from grace.
She had been practice manager for a legal firm
a glorified secretary self deprecation claimed
engaged to a junior on the brink of a partnership
when chance encountered – an old high school flame.
The school she attended wasn’t bad
just not distinguished, a convergence zone
of almost middle and not quite working class
her early boyfriends from school, mostly good the odd rascal.
This one she remembered even when wise enough to have forgotten
he was in business and needed administrative help
distribution was his line. Stolen alcohol the product.
Things were simple then, no electronic surveillance or record-keeping
a huge warehouse, stock churned quickly no one knew the real numbers.
The work was light, the pay heavy. She was in.
Things were good for a while. Then a bust.
A prison sentence of three years one was served
remission for good behaviour and first offence.
The moral was not to get greedy she said.
In the early days everyone was known in the first person
then friends of friends, later acquaintances of friends of friends
finally a scruffy pale skeleton who looked like a junky
and drove the sorriest old Volkswagen you ever did see.
Except that last day when he arrived in a large sedan
accompanied by colleagues. The police.
Only got myself to blame she said.
Now nothing remained of the once future or fiancé
there was only the present, assembling electronics.
Margaret shouldn’t have got the job
by logic she was runner-up
Her references were good
but swiss cheese work history
solid with gaps
“ chefs,” she shrugged beaming
it’s what we do, work and travel
travel and work
a great ticket to see the world.”
Despite the willing vivacity
there was something of an underdog about her
backing the underdog such a human reflex.
She got the job.
In other times she would have been labelled gay
she had that quality. Gaiety.
bossy in an endearing way.
An individual. An unreformed smoker who enjoyed football
and rode a motorbike, 650cc
arriving and departing cigarette in one hand
helmet in the other.
The delegation stood at the door
two or more, storm clouds. Always.
“ about Margaret
could you speak to her …….. about body odour.”
It wasn’t easy. She was unaware and hurt.
How is it that summer can end abruptly
passing directly to winter without autumn
cold and dark.
Standards declined. Sick days rose.
Counselling. Warnings. Dismissal.
Six months elapse to an unexpected question
“how old was Margaret?”
39, recall thought
a quiet woman wonders if this is her
in the back pages
……graveside service today 2 p.m.’
it is yesterday’s paper.
Later I learned of the psychiatric history
It relieved me of the stalking guilt.
John was different from other backpackers
older by a decade
the longitude of his face
mapped much experience.
The eyes of a soldier
returned from war …. but not to peace.
Alaska was home
Unspoken, but understood not to have always been.
the state which displaced Texas
was that kind of place.
Coincidence can randomly tumble combination
opening the vault.
A casual conversation
about significant mountaineering landmark
a first ascent of North America’s highest peak.
Cobalt bleached eyes gaze through the pause
stepping into the silence
a low hypnotic recitation
the voice of God.
The mountaineer had come into his workplace
for late, fine tuning purchases
just in case fuel
transactions settled by a pretty Japanese assistant.
The climber turned to leave….. then back to the woman
speaking their native tongue.
softly asking if she will
The request shifts to spiritual
a salesman’s plausibility
“it could be the last time.”
The ascent was bold and direct
archaeology confirmed the summit
a telephoto lens
anticipated glory’s eve
He was never seen again.