Richard Pierce


Day 243

the woman

the woman grieves for the man
asleep in the chair, grieves for her
part in his descent, how he has pushed
her to the margins of his existence,
sleeps with his back to her, the space
between them an unknown universe,
and longs for some kindness, some
sanity in the despair.

she sees the animals around his
sleeping hands, how they crave the aroma
of him, the closeness he doesn’t want to,
can’t, give of his own free will,
their need to feel his touch. she
feels the same, but his resistance
bears down on her, and reduces her
merely to an onlooker, an observer,
a judge of decay.

he isn’t old, she knows that, and
sees his mind decimate his body
with a million fears she can’t push
back into their boxes, with an abundance
of worries he shouldn’t carry constantly.
she feels helpless and lost in a maze
of his involuntary making, and tries,
each day, to find a way out.

but he doesn’t see her anymore, not
in the fields nor under the trees, nor in
his wild goose chases across the moors,
nor in the echoes of the times they had.
at night, the animals come to her
when he finds sleep at last in
the arms of something different.

Poem 3 of the sequence. One to go.



The crowd moves, and Aggie moves as part of it. Down the gangway with its low ceiling, its sloping floor, the vibrations of the wind against its suspension, the movement of it with the hundreds of feet that now rush towards the metal structure that will shortly lift itself into the air and head west. Aggie can’t remember ever having been on a commercial plane, can’t recall ever having been greeted at the silver portal with white light shining from it by women and men in uniforms and with uniform smiles, of showing a flimsy piece of paper with a number on it that denotes the privilege of sitting one side of a curtain where there are fewer wider seats. She nods, she smiles, she allows herself to be shown to her seat, allows the rest of the mob to pass by her, doesn’t hurry her movements, keeps her body lithe and malleable, and tight as a coil inside. She sits down by the window, puts her backpack between her feet, feels the comfort of the expensive broad seat, the armrests at least two hands’ lengths away from her thighs, pulls her seatbelt on and closed automatically, and leans against the curved wall of the aircraft, thrumming with the power of the engines, with the pent-up energy that will be released once it has to push against the wind to get it up into the air.

A woman in red uniform has a tray in her hand, tall glasses balanced on its surface. ‘Champagne, Madam?’ she says.

Aggie nods, in keeping with being unobtrusive. ‘Thank you.’

The man now seated next to her smiles at her, leans back as the flight attendant reaches across with a glass. ‘Very elegant.’

Aggie smiles and says nothing, takes a sip. ‘Very nice.’

‘You fly often?’ the man says.

‘Often enough,’ she says. ‘I always sleep on the way out. One glass of this.’ She raises the glass a little. ‘No food. Sleep. I hope you won’t be offended.’

The man shakes his head. ‘I do the same, and I hope I won’t snore. I would hate to be an inconvenience.’

‘I’m sure you won’t be. Thank you.’ She sips at the glass until the attendant comes round to collect them all.

The sun has gone by now, and the cabin is an artificially-lit tunnel. Attendants run through pre-flight routines that most passengers pay no attention to. The plane rolls backwards away from its mooring as the announcement is made that it’s normal during evening take-offs to turn the cabin lights off.

Aggie stares out of the window, as the plane keeps reversing. It turns a quarter of a circle, and starts inching forwards, the sound of the engines rising and then falling as the plane gathers enough pace to roll effortlessly along the tarmac across a jumble of pathways and runways, until it joins a queue of other planes waiting for their turn on the runway proper, like ski jumpers waiting for their turn at the top of the ramp, Aggie thinks, and doesn’t know where the thought has come from, closes her eyes for a second of a second, and the image flashes into her that she and Anna and the others were made to ski jump from a huge ramp hidden in the forest (snow again, must be north east continental). Back to the reality of now. The plane sidles onto the runway, the engine noise drops to nothing, and the cabin becomes a cathedral of hush. She knows this feeling from inside when she’s about to defend herself or attack, that gathering of pace inside, as the engines rev and rev until it sounds like they’ll detach themselves from the plane, and then the whole thing bursts forwards, like the sudden release of a stone from a catapult, and Aggie and everyone else is pushed back into their seats with an ever-increasing force, and the engines whine some more, and the wheels seem stuck on the tarmac for far too long, and then the nose of the plane lifts, and the wings shake, and the wheels leave the ground, and there is a fragment of time when everything is weightless, a collective breath held, and motion suspended. Gravity kicks back in, the plane a metal bird now, with one wing down to earth, starting a wide curve into the right direction, still climbing, still falling away from the surface of the planet, on its way at last.

Aggie turns away from the window, unpacks the blanket from the cellophane bag, covers herself with it, although she doesn’t need it, closes her eyes, and pretends to sleep.

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