Memories, often perpendicular to intimacy
those with whom time was patient
or circumstances liberal
decompose to unimportant
consigned to off-site lock-up
tombstones promised faithfully
visited aftermath fleetingly – then not at all.
Or placed in the spare room
walked by each day without reaction
and others not really known
loiter in the foyer of consciousness
leaping into being at the flimsiest of coincidence.
In five years less than 10 hours
would have been spent alone with her
perhaps as much again in group company.
Mid 1960’s cool granny spectacles
and bobbed auburn fringe
dangling earrings swinging in laughter
or flicked with contempt
keeping time with anecdotes unfurled in the Midwest drawl.
She was 34 on introduction
six years older
difference serrated by divorce
and fluency in worldspeak
scaled age beyond appearance.
When cancer won hand-to-hand combat with chemotherapy
42 thought 48, young, brutally young.
Stories, there were so many
in response to the inevitable question upon meeting
she replied, “ a painter
but support myself as a goldsmith
just as surgeons have gynaecology for a hobby
and make their money from obstetrics.”
When I heard she had died
the one about her mother came to mind
it lingered unwilling to leave.
Her mother she told us at coffee
once threatened to commit suicide
“so I went to the kitchen
got the sharpest knife
and said there do it.”
An epitaph mocking death
she would like that.
Fran was a good employee and a good person
reliable, hard-working, not given to complaint
kind and compassionate but broking no nonsense
worldly without being sophisticated.
if she hadn’t been God denying – emphatically.
She knew of my Catholic education
never making cheap shot
or seeking conflict
elevated eyebrows occasionally transmitting agnosticism .
Annie died aged 38 one Saturday
collapsing after a half marathon
three children left without a mother
all young – very young.
Fran asked if something was wrong
listened without question or interruption
to my grief
to my bewilderment
after a time of heavy, congruent silence
she spoke gently and with love
“do you still believe in God?”
It is said life is a comedy for those who think
and a tragedy for those who feel
a more compassionate
less back of envelope division
than half glasses – full or empty.
Half full or half empty?
as if the emotions of men and women
contain no ambiguity, no apostasy, no proselytism
never require bracketing of alternative.
Recall would never yield her name without struggle.
Thelma? Thelma, that was it.
Her head was always covered
mask at jaunty half mast
or cheerfully in place
a warm word
or ruffling smile of acknowledgement.
I saw her out of work just once
in a busy cafe
she said, “don’t you recognize me with my clothes on”
to the amusement of the table.
Risqué was fact
I had only ever seen her in scrubs.
It was her 16-year-old daughter who found her
one Friday afternoon after school
hanging in the lounge.
Where does the purity of snow go
when it bleeds dirt to slush
or humour when it’s creator surrenders to demons?
It was a line I used for less than a year
I could never repeat the story
without thinking of her
and how comedy became tragedy.