the animals smell it,
scent it, and it makes them
contradictory, running away one
moment and coming close the next,
lying by the olding man, so
close they cramp his movements,
share warmth into his cold skin,
and breathe new life into his
when he stumbles from house to
fields, they shy away, chase their
own shadows into hiding places
only they know, resurface when
his rattling falters and grows
silent, when he stops moving, when
tiredness becomes too much to fight.
they watch him and understand,
but struggle with compassion and
fear, sometimes growling into hate.
around the time of calm, moments
his fears abandon him for music
or imagination, and he is motionless
on the chair, they creep up to him to
lay their heads on his weary hands
to squeeze themselves flat against
his wasting thighs while his eyes,
bright in the dark, expect recovery
around the corner, health and youth
the next second. it doesn’t come.
the animals know, when they are lucid
and not bound by instinct.
they have carried their own death
around with them since they walked
the week after they were born.
This came to me in the early hours, and feels like it will be the first in a sequence of at least four poems.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 194
The road grows even wider, more lanes, more cars, some trees and fields off in the distance, wild life fenced off from the rest of the world by concrete, barbed wire, and ownership bestowed by unelected monarchs and fiefdoms. Aggie briefly opens her eyes as she feels the direction change to almost straight south, puts her right hand briefly on Lilibet’s thigh, squeezes, pulls away, closes her eyes again. The film runs again, stops at the dead eyes, the mouth moving, no sound coming out. She rolls the conundrum over every which way she can, and there’s still no sound. And when she rewinds it to the words she does remember, she has no recollection of voice, of pitch, of accent from the monster in the chair, nor from the monster that was so strong before and inflicted her will on all those she gathered around her and kept prisoner in that place, wherever it was. Aggie’s brain spasms – there at that point, her jumping onto the snowmobile, legs akimbo, like riding a horse. But the snow is the point. It can’t be Scotland, even in the old days they can’t have had enough snow to warrant motorised transport. The cogs click, but don’t connect, and then the film disappears, and however hard she tries, Aggie can’t get it back. She keeps her eyes closed, sits without moving, just lets the darkness overtake her. Sometimes she wishes she could sleep, wishes she needed to sleep, had to sleep. She’s weary.
‘Shame you didn’t fly from Stansted,’ Lilibet whispers.
‘Mmmm.’ Aggie keeps her eyes closed. ‘No open ticket flights there.’
‘How the other half lives.’
‘Without happiness, I should think,’ Aggie says. ‘Convenience doesn’t make happiness.’
‘Makes life easier, though,’ Lilibet murmurs.
‘Who for? Two sides to every coin. Poor bastards keeping the rich in their convenience. Servants.’
‘I can’t argue with that.’
Aggie sits up straight again, opens her eyes. The M25 now. A more soulless road has never been created. ‘Do you want me to drive again?’
Lilibet shakes her head. ‘I’m fine. Quite enjoying it, actually. No are we theres from those two. Not like the kids.’
Aggie turns round. Marit and Katharina are fast asleep, or at least seem to be. ‘I suppose this has been quite exhausting for them.’
‘I think so. I feel a bit sorry for them, to be honest.’
Aggie reaches out, squeezes Lilibet’s thigh again, so Lilibet will look at her, and when she does, Aggie shakes her head at her.
‘Oh,’ Lilibet mouthes. Then out loud ‘Another hour at least.’
‘Just drop me at the terminal and then leave again straightaway,’ Aggie says. ‘No point having a family expedition and emotional farewells outside Security.’ She reaches down to her calf. ‘Just don’t let me forget to give you my knife.’
‘And don’t be tempted to use it,’ Aggie says. ‘Use your guns but not my knife.’
‘I’ll miss it.’
‘More than me?’
‘The same, I think. It’s just as much a part of me.’
‘You say the sweetest things,’ Lilibet says, no sarcasm in her voice.
‘I know.’ Aggie lapses into wordlessness again. The memories won’t allow themselves to be played again. It worries her.
An hour on. Lilibet pulls the car up in a layby ten minutes away fro Heathrow. ‘Your knife,’ she says.
Aggie bends down, undoes the buckles on the leather sheath, hands it to Lilibet. ‘Take care of it.’
Lilibet nods, puts the knife and its holder in the gap under the dashboard, pulls off again.
Too short a time later, Lilibet has the ticket for the drop-off zone in her hand, the window still down, cold fresh air blowing into the car, and brings the car to a stop in one of the vacant bays. ‘This is it,’ she says.
‘Yes.’ Aggie grabs her bag from between her legs, quickly checks everything is in there. ‘I’ll text you when I get there.’ She kisses Lilibet full on the mouth. ‘PLease be careful.’
‘Good luck,’ Katharina says.
‘Thanks, all.’ One last squeeze of Lilibet’s hand, and Aggie jumps out of the car, pushes the door closed and heads off to the terminal without looking back.