Life Goes On

Here’s a quick thing I wrote for Hour of Writes, the weekly timed writing competition.  Worked out a sight darker than I’d imagined.

“Life goes on”

My heart still beats. Nothing musical mind, but the panic stricken thrum of machinery pushed past all tolerance. It’s the pulse of childhood’s nightmares, the unacceptable vertigo of failed dreaming; the need to know a security and home that now is lost.

They’ve given me her handbag. The cream, canvas handbag into which we used to pack shopping, that seemed to be bottomless in days before retail had no meaning other than not trade. Emergency shampoo came in sachets, coffee wasn’t decaff and corner shops took bottles back; it was her single life that I shared and filled with my troubles.

I’ve been through the bag now.

This handbag used to hold cakes that we ate in the car alone, a flask of soup after swimming and the smell of good tobacco. She’d returned to using it of late, inspired no doubt by the carrier bag charge and memories of its sheer tolerance. She was measure of that bag herself; comfort and tolerance; a tendency to gaining weight and friends.

The nurse brings tea. A chipped cup, missing a saucer; too small and saccharine sweet. My aunt would have approved of the size, the shape; far better than my canteen tea habits and bitter-strong brews. My mother found her difficult, whimsical, flighty. Our house felt brittle in her presence.

Her semi, two miles from my childhood street, was my escape. There we played records and dominoes in my teens, plotted holidays in my twenties as the dozen years between us narrowed. She knew my stories first; my first crush, my first kiss, my first proper job. She wiped my tears and told me with conviction that life goes on. I was lucky to have someone in whose eyes I made sense.

She brought flowers on my wedding day, vodka at my divorce and taught me how to cover a tattoo.

when i was raped

when i was raped

When I was raped she told no one. Listened till there was nothing left to come. Listened again. Whatever meaning I had possessed was eaten by that violence. I lost my own story from the start of the summer until the trees were bare. She was always there.

She bought me a train ticket to Rome and some second-hand boots; told me that both the boots and I needed a new start.

On my return to Crewe station on Halloween she’s there with a taxi, in fancy dress and she looks thin. Spirit like. I’m scared.

She tells me the lie of all’s well. All Saints Day and my tears and tantrums wash the truth from her. She’s ill. Chemo. The worst.

In the days that follow we plan a fictional future. The husband I will find. The lover she will take. A place in Spain. I am uncertain why we have not pursued these things before. She laughs and tells me, heavily, that life goes on.

I get a job again. At the station, selling news, touting oblivion between the hours of 6am and noon. It pays the bills. I date the man from the 8.32 to Bank Quay. He’s one of the good guys. She likes him but cries when he leaves after dinner.

she will not tell me why

no matter how I ask

It’s like a shadow and after a few days she tells me not to keep asking. That’s when my nightmares started. That missing part is something that cannot be fixed.

And I cannot fix the cancer. I know I am failing at this game of life.

My t-shirt is wet where I’ve been wiping my eyes. In the bottom of bag is a newspaper clipping in a yellowed envelope.

“Local man missing after wife’s rape claim.”

Life goes on.