21 degrees centigrade
Twenty eight minutes past two
- When you asked me if I wanted to come home that Christmas and I said no, I was surprised that I meant it.
- I started smoking when I was sixteen.
- I took forty pounds from dad’s wallet the first Christmas I came home.
- The next Christmas I visited, I brought fifty pounds to put in his wallet, but kept it.
- It all happened on the nineteenth of June, 2020, about half past four.
- I don’t regret leaving anymore, but it wasn’t your fault.
- I’ve forgotten most of everything the psychologists taught me.
- I still steal from shops. Don’t tell mum.
There are thirteen clouds in the sky. The bad number keeps breaking my concentration. I stand to carry on my way, checking my pockets and making sure nothing dropped out of them when I was sitting down:
Front left pocket: A penknife in desperate need of sharpening. Some lint of various colours. A Bic Mechanical Pencil, on the last half-inch of lead. A provisional driver’s license that belonged to an not-quite-pretty looking girl called Shelly Davis.
Front right pocket: Three chunks of beef jerky. A pebble with a small piece of quartz in it. A fishing hook wrapped in wire with a piece of tape over the pointy end. A mercury thermometer.
Back left pocket: A glass marble with a green swirly thing inside. A beat-up Zippo lighter with a ganja leaf design, half full. A list of things I’m going to say to my dad when if get home.
Back right pocket: Two four inch lengths of purple wool. One gram of cheap cocaine wrapped in a twist of wax paper. A three-year old passport photograph of my own face from before I left.
I know the journey to my Dad’s house in Clevedon better than I knew the back of my hand. I’d made the same journey back and forth dozens of times before, walking was just slower. The journey south had been the only thing on my mind for the past three months, each step made real in callouses and blisters.
Today I walked past two hundred and forty three streetlights, seventeen crashed cars, two stray dogs, seventy potholes, one dead body, and no bicycles.
I keep counting:
31 teeth, one gold, another in need of taking out.
Two ears, one silver stud.
Seven stitches on the chin.
Three moles on the left cheek, a perfect equilateral triangle.
The leaves are turning a lovely shade of gold
Afternoon, barely starting to touch evening
Corner of Little Heath Lane and Meadowvale Road
The clouds tumbled through the sky.
She clapped the notebook shut. Clapped. That was a very good word. She opened the notebook again and wrote ‘clapped’ in scratchy italic letters next to the other words she had written that day:
She closed the book again, stroking the blue leatherette cover. A label on the front read ‘Geoffrey Stenson’ in a doctor’s chicken scratch handwriting. She wondered for a moment who they were but got distracted by the colour of the dead oak leaves as they rolled past. She giggled to herself, running down the empty road in a damp swirl of brown and yellow.
17th January 2022
5 Degrees Centigrade
Cheltenham First Aid Centre
Patient 72 arrived at 13:21. Claimed to have been attacked by a girl earlier same day. Examination revealed large cut on left forearm, jagged edges, most likely from some kind of saw. Looks bad. Black veins around area, some swelling. Told him it wasn’t serious. Lying, of course. Probably blood poisoning, early stages. Seen lots of similar infections recently, more than usual (Contamination in food, water?) Told him not to worry, to keep wound clean. Lying again. Infection likely to spread. Dirty food and water won’t help. Likely slow death in end. Simple cure, ideally. Three injections. Half an hour. No clean needles. No medicine. No sterile theatre. No option for proper amputation either, shaky hands from shrapnel now. Barely a doctor anymore. Assistant cleaned and bandaged wound. Futile effort. No soap, dusty water, dirty bandages, but patient relaxed. Gave medication too. Two in morning, two in afternoon, two before bed, come back when symptoms regress. Sugar pills. Only thing left now. Everything else stolen. Left soon after, looking pale. I only hope he can get to a proper surgeon down south in time. Might not. Poor lad. Didn’t even get his name.
It might be Halloween?
The Sun is setting, but I just woke up
By Shelly Davis
Cast tossed? aside to the four winds like dead leaves
Red as blood
Red as Bright as fire
The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long,
But where does the fire go
When it is extinguished?
Perhaps it stays remains
In we those
Who witnessed knew its light.
Late spring, 2022
Still chilly, but getting warmer every day.
About half past nine. It’s a lovely day today.
Dad’s house, Clevedon
With the last chip of lead from the mechanical pencil, I finally finish the letter.
- I always said I liked autumn best, but spring is my favourite season.
- Time heals all wounds. Some wounds just take more time than others.
There’s probably more that could be said, but I decide to leave it at that. Ten is a good number. I fold the letter into itself and slip it through the letterbox, where I hear it clatter against the mat on the other side. He will never read it, but I think he would appreciate the gesture, wherever he is.
I sit down on the kerb outside the empty house. It faces out towards the bay, and on days like this you can just see Newport across the bay, a delicate smudge against the grey sea. Could be worth a visit, I’ve not been there in years. I get up, dry the corners of my eyes on the sleeve of my shirt, and push the keys through the letterbox, leaving the locked door of my late Dad’s house behind me.
Before I leave, without direction or purpose for the first time in over a year, I do a quick count out of habit rather than necessity:
30 teeth, one gold, one gap.
Seven stitches on the chin.
Two moles on the left cheek, and a pink scar where the third was burned off.
One arm, sleeve tied tied around a cauterised elbow.
In spite of this, for all the scars, gaps, holes and phantom pains in the world, it’s all still me.