Z is for Zoetic

Image source: wallpaperflare.com

An attempt to produce a poem or story from now until the end of April (except Sundays).
The theme for the 2022 A to Z Challenge is the human condition.


I have a photograph I carry around in my purse. The one of my dad on his fiftieth birthday. Mum and I clubbed together to buy him a hot-air balloon ride. In the picture, he is grinning like a kid on Christmas Day. You can see his excitement as he hangs over the side of the basket. His hands are a blur, but his eyes sparkle with two-dimensional joy. The face staring at me now is nothing but a ghost of that man.

“Look, he’s smiling at you!” Nurse Tina announces when she spots me standing in the doorway. She means well, but does she honestly believe that this dribbling wreck is capable of recognising his daughter?

Right from the start, even when my father still had some of his marbles left, her fluffy bunny act grated on the pair of us. She never realised she was dealing with a pair of heartless cynics. Neither of us wept at my mother’s funeral, bereft though we were. The fact my little brother hasn’t spoken to any of us since he left home twenty years ago, we take on the chin. No time for sentimentality; we liked our lives to be real. Nurse Tina, with her uplifting quotes and soft manner, was anathema to my father. So was being treated like a baby.

“Would you like to feed Dad?” she said on that first day, a beaming smile on her face.

“No,” I shrieked, ready to run from the room. My father’s eyes implored me not to assist. He managed a shake of the head. Nurse Tina probably thought it was just a muscle spasm. She pushed a dish of something gooey and pale at me. Invalid food, for my father, the invalid. Once a man of action, dreams and laughter, now reduced to a twisted jumble of limbs. Sitting on his bed, holding his hand and reading the latest Stephen King, no problem, but spooning gloop into his mouth, no way.

“Leave him some dignity,” I said without thinking. “He’s my dad, not my baby son.”

“Lunch will be over in half an hour.” Nurse Tina’s smile faded at my callousness. “Come back then.”

She dismissed me with a curt nod, and I wandered off to the garden, where I smoked a cigarette and resolved to avoid visiting at mealtimes. I would hold Dad’s sippy cup and pop peeled grapes into his mouth, but nothing more personal. We weren’t that kind of family. After a few weeks, he regained some control of his right hand. Now I could help. With Barney propped up next to Dad, all I had to do was cut the food and hand over the fork while Dad fed himself and his grandson with aeroplane and train noises.

Nurse Tina approved. “It gets easier, doesn’t it?” she would say and pat my shoulder. And I would smile back while stealthily wriggling out of her grasp. She was too used to touchy-feely families; bless her! When she told Dad about the room next door and how the wife would feed and toilet her ailing husband. Dad rolled his eyes and mumbled he would rather die.

“You are dying!” I said.

“Behave, or I’ll use your inheritance to pay for a trip to Dignitas.”

“You can’t: I’ve got power of attorney,” I reminded him. “And large fluffy cushions.”

“Do you hear that, Nurse? My daughter’s planning to kill me,” Dad slurred between snorts of laughter. “Don’t you dare try to stop her.”

Tina smiled in the way of one who will never get the joke, but hopes it is one.

Before I left that day, I told her Dad had a dark sense of humour and enjoyed shocking people. Not a total lie, but Nurse Tina relaxed. Although she has never been completely happy around me.

Today, she is wearing her compassionate face because my father is unlikely to last the night. His life force, the vitality that made him my dad, is ebbing away. Even I can see it.

I take my customary seat and clasp my father’s hand in mine. When Nurse Tina squeezes my shoulder, this time I don’t shrug her off, but I reach up and entwine my fingers with hers.

X is for Xeric

An attempt to produce a poem or story from now until the end of April (except Sundays).
The theme for the 2022 A to Z Challenge is the human condition.


Everyone else carries a satchel or a laptop bag, except my son. He is the only fourteen-year-old on this planet who carries a briefcase. It belonged to his mother, but she never used it. Her father bought it for her when she became a fully-fledged accountant. And my wife ditched that career almost before her father was cold in his grave.

When we met, Elise was training to be a chef. When she died this January, our restaurant had a coveted Michelin star and a three-month waiting list for a table. Just because she wasn’t a number cruncher didn’t mean she didn’t know how to use those skills. 

My son still misses his mother, but my daughter is coming through her grief. And only she and I accept the fact Elise isn’t coming back. I confess I still talk to her before I go to bed, and I still wear my wedding band. But life goes on, and I have to rebuild mine and start again. Every day, I force my desiccated heart onwards and upwards. It isn’t easy.

The grandchildren help. I take them to school for Charlotte and my son-in-law and at the end of the day escort them to whatever after-school activity is on the timetable. Ballet, chess club and judo are the current subjects du jour. Then it’s back home for tea with my despondent son.

Maybe it’s the age gap. Charlotte is sixteen years older than Jeremy, or Jez, as he likes to be called. But Charlie has always been self-sufficient when it comes to emotional intelligence. She wept at the funeral, and that was it. She mourns our loss, but to her, the past is the past and her family is the future.

I confess I enjoyed telling Oliver and Ruby my version of what death is, and where you go afterwards. It balances Charlotte’s rather brutal narrative of worms and a state of nothingness. Bless their hearts, but to my grandkids, death is not a thing to be afraid of. It’s what happens to old people. How I adore their unknowing innocence!

It’s only Jez who still struggles with the concept of gone for good. He tried a religious journey from Baptist to Zoroastrianism, but none of these satisfied his need to know what happens next. The idea of eternal life in the kingdom of heaven was a bit too Disney for him. And he couldn’t abide the thought of reincarnation. How dare some celestial being judge his mother and find her wanting? We are all human and all subject to human vices. Or as he said of these divine justices: who died and made them pope?

He tried spiritualism, but that didn’t help because of the tendency of the dead to come back and remind their loved ones to pay outstanding gas bills, and waffle on about how they were doing fine. Jez said it was like being at a party for the terminally boring.

The poor lad is suffering a psychological drought and wandering blind in the desert of misery. I don’t tell him to be brave or strong. I tell him to go with the flow because some days he cries like a baby, and on others he laughs himself into a hernia. And if he wants to crawl under the covers binge-watching Game of Thrones, then so be it. Sometimes I join him.

One thing I tell him, which I know he finds hard to believe, is it gets easier. In time, his pain will lessen, and the grief will be something that he will manage rather than it managing him. And on that day, his life will bloom again.

H is for Heartbreak

Image source: weheartit.com

An attempt to produce a poem or story from now until the end of April (except Sundays).
The theme for the 2022 A to Z Challenge is the human condition.
Also includes the Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt: HOW
.


“How much do you love me?”

He buttons up her wedding gown, but the bodice gapes and droops. Then he hands her the veil. But no pins or hair grips: she has no use for such things these days.

“I love you more than I did yesterday,” he says, cupping her face in his hands.

“But will you still love me tomorrow?” Her sunken eyes sparkle and gleam at him.

“My love for you will never die,” he promises.

“Can you show me how much you love me?”

He carries her out onto the terrace, where his tears flow to mix with hers. They share a kiss, and he steps back.

“Thank you.” She gives him one last smile and hoists herself up onto the balcony. For a second, she is silhouetted against the setting sun. Then her body tumbles into the lengthening shadows below.

C is for Crushed

Image source: usnews.com

An attempt to produce a poem or story from now until the end of April (except Sundays)
The theme for the 2022 A to Z Challenge is the human condition.


Titanic dreams
His plans for the future that became hers
The scrimping and saving to buy the ramshackle cottage with a plot of land

Titanic dreams
The love that was there from their first date
A trip to the cinema, with Jack and Rose racing through sinking corridors
“Jack!”
“Rose!”

Shrieking, laughing, running through their waterlogged house
Rain pouring through holes in the roof
Tumbling into bed

Titanic dreams
Pointing, plastering, painting
Watertight and snug
Planting, hoeing, harvesting
Selling organic soaps and candles
Slaughtering their first chicken
Holding it on the block as she lifts the axe
“Jack!”
“Rose!”

Titanic dreams
The car, the storm, the broken bridge
She floats to the surface
The woman in the nightgown
But cold water brought cold death

Titanic dreams
“Jack!”
“Rose!”
The echoes fade as she awakes
And remembers
It wasn’t a dream
How can her heart go on?

Song Lyric Sunday: Up the Junction

The themes for Song Lyric Sunday from Jim Adams are Birth, Death or Life.
The song must contain a reference to the prompt in the title or the lyrics.
If the song does not meet these criteria, please explain why you chose it.


Up the Junction by the British band Squeeze, charts the life of a relationship from birth to death. The song was inspired by a 1965 TV play of the same name, which in turn was adapted from a collection of short stories by Nell Dunn.

The phrase up the junction is polite British slang for being up a certain creek without a paddle. Which is the conclusion of the song’s narrator when his drinking breaks up his family, and he’s too proud (stubborn!) to beg for forgiveness.

Fans of EastEnders will notice Michelle Collins wandering around in the video’s background and, yes, that is a young Jools Holland on keyboard.

Are you ready for a bit of musical kitchen-sink drama with some crazy half-rhymes…?

I never thought it would happen
With me and the girl from Clapham
Out on the windy common
That night I ain’t forgotten
When she dealt out the rations
With some or other passions
I said, “You are a lady”
“Perhaps,” she said, “I may be”

We moved into a basement
With thoughts of our engagement
We stayed in by the telly
Although the room was smelly
We spent our time just kissing
The Railway Arms we’re missing
But love had got us hooked up
And all our time it took up

I got a job with Stanley
He said I’d come in handy
And started me on Monday
So I had a bath on Sunday
I worked eleven hours
And bought the girl some flowers
She said she’d seen a doctor
And nothing now could stop her

I worked all through the winter
The weather brass and bitter
I put away a tenner
Each week to make her better
And when the time was ready
We had to sell the telly
Late evenings by the fire
With little kicks inside her

This morning at four-fifty
I took her rather nifty
Down to an incubator
Where thirty minutes later
She gave birth to a daughter
Within a year a walker
She looked just like her mother
If there could be another

And now she’s two years older
Her mother’s with a soldier
She left me when my drinking
Became a proper stinging
The devil came and took me
From bar to street to bookie
No more nights by the telly
No more nights nappies smelling

Alone here in the kitchen
I feel there’s something missing
I’d beg for some forgiveness
But begging’s not my business
And she won’t write a letter
Although I always tell her
And so it’s my assumption
I’m really up the junction

Songwriter(s): Chris Difford & Glenn Tilbrook
© 1979 A&M Records Ltd, Universal Music Publishing Group