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Swifts nest in the eaves of our house every year. My heart rises when they herald spring and falls when their absence marks the first of autumn. Watching them fly at their peculiar height is a melancholy fretted joy of summer. On hearing scratching noises closer than usual I opened the door in our loft cupboard to find a trapped fledgling swift next to it. Its scimitar wings and forked tail seemed too big for its hungry, yellow chick mouth. I lifted it and took it downstairs. Sharon opened the door and I walked though. It sat on my hand for a second then took the air.
My grandmother’s funeral had passed without incident. That, in our chapter of the family at least, was an achievement. That evening at my parent’s house I immediately felt vulnerable when Gerard and his family left. After dinner John made a deeply offensive joke about my son and when I challenged him he offered violence.
Whilst out in Largs with Jim, Sharon phoned me on my mobile. She sounded resentful and distressed mentioning that Gabriel had taken a long time to get to sleep. She had been crying and saying ‘monster, mummy’ while pointing into an empty corner.
A thin bloodline assemble
lit by the desperate sun of late winter
among us, in this most functional of suites,
it was almost invoked,
that grey flaccid devil
the shadow on our double helix
the nurtured cancer
Bonnybridge golf club nineteenth hole
the adequate soup and standard issue steak pie
served too early for a life stretched too long
flesh not able to sustain or contain
a spirit with so much left to accept
As a child I visualised my soul as a chest x-ray, sins were like cancerous black shadows smudged in the hollow of the rib cage.
John returned from Iraq in the March of 1991. He was bed ridden for two weeks with a mystery illness. Whilst he was asleep I crept into his room and took ten pounds from his wallet. I bought a bottle of Buckfast, ten cigarettes and a gram of hash.
When he rose from his bed we went drinking in Rockburn Park. It was obvious that he had been affected by his experiences. Francis and I exchanged several nervous looks. He broke down in tears, shouting into my face ‘Have you ever seen a foot in boot? Nothing else – just a foot in a boot?’ It felt like a desperate plea for identification I could not give.
My brothers shot birds in Thankerton woods. I tried to follow them as they would not take me. I was too scared to cross the railway at the top of the Clay Road, so I stopped and watched them disappear into the trees. I shot a Starling from their bedroom window. I watched it fall, fumble and flutter in the dust just shy of the kerb on the other side of the road. When I came down there were shrills and blood coming from the open beak. The dark, liquid eyes were terror and a plea for life. Some say birds have no feelings; this did not feel true in that moment. I thought that perhaps their emotions were muted, so as to fly without being overcome. But here there was enough to fill me with a terrible emptiness.
The room was as before, only the bed in the wrong position. The walls transparent, with black metal-spike fenced lane and school field visible beyond. As we lay together in the grey light, back to me, staring at the wall I heard her voice ‘This is living in the ashes.’ Then I felt her move away.
‘If the dead could speak, we would not understand them’
John Gray, Straw Dogs