Patsie

I remember in the kitchen
How you wouldn’t let me help
But I set the table with its little cloth
And made my porridge in the evening.
I learned of kitchen roll in cupboards
And leaving it around the kitchen
To wipe up spills and tears.

I remember footfall to London
On those bitter mornings
Holding each other up on ice
Then quiet sighs when the train was in.
Sitting together and whispering
Til Blackfriars and the river’s
Cold wind made the eyes weep.

I remember your Sheffield smile
Shining across the room at me
And the hugs we shared, eager
To sit and chew the news while
The men brought drinks and journey talk.
Walking together into the city
Umbrellas hiding the crying sky.

I remember how it was…
Your smile opened the door
Your smile made the coffee
Your smile snuggled into your chair
And your smile said good morning.
Your smile gave me flowers
And frowned ‘Take care of yourself.’

I remember the hospital
How much at home you were
Drinking our cappuccinos or
Watching at the bedside and
How hard it was to leave and
Find our way back through Chelsea
Freezing in St. Albans for the bus.

Watching our children grow
Watching fields fill with snow
Watching Coronation Street
And watching you fall ill.
Ella shouting at my laptop
Cos you were far away
But near enough to answer her.

The sacred moment when I kissed her
Whispering my thanks…
My sister.

Eileen Walke
27. 10. 2020

The Wearing of the Green

Two o’clock of an early March afternoon and into the hurly-burly of the supermarket to buy birthday cards and vegetables. We like the wonky ones and tea in the upstairs cafe. The grandchildren will like the gingerbread men. You can run, run, run as fast as you can…You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!

A cup of tea and a teacake later, I’m in the lift going down with the trolley while John, as usual, takes the stairs for exercise. Past the Easter eggs and on to the checkouts. I find a seat while veg and cards are counted up and slammed down to make the computer say yes. Then we’re off, past the secondhand books and bubble-gum machine, back towards the car park.

Under the hot fan, through the security bars and out into the cold foyer. A gunmetal grey sky – the same colour as my first high heels – and still the freezing rain on the windows. Past the bin guarding the outside doors and trolley-line, then the cold blast hits me.

My coat is a sort of spring green, like a young cabbage. It keeps me warm all winter and has a feather filling, so I have to dry it with three tennis balls in the washing machine to make it fluffy as well as clean. Ria turned up with it after Dom died – must have been in the winter of 2012 – “…to keep you warm Mum.” Since Ria died, I’ve worn it every day. I fasten the top button and feel for my gloves.

“Hello Leigh. It is Leigh, isn’t it?”

I turn towards the still small voice.

Isolated on a wet sleeping bag and rucksack, with her hands clasped under her chin, looking cold and anxious. Looking very cold. There she is.

“Yes, I’m Leigh. How are you?”

Don’t we ask ridiculous questions when we’re taken aback?

I bend down beside her, looking closely at her face to see who she is. Her skin is pale and her little face framed with tangled black hair. Eyes like small black sepals supporting petals of periwinkle blue and smiling at me.

“Have we met before?”

“Well, you talked to me and I saw your green coat.”

John leans in to us to ask if she’s hungry.

“I’m starving. Coffee and sausage from the hot food counter please.”

She puts her hands hesitantly to her mouth. Not hands warmed by soap and water.

“I’ve forgotten your name,” I venture.

“Kelly.”

“Where do you sleep Kelly?”

“Werneth Park. It’s my birthday on Monday – March the eighth.”

“How old will you be?”

“Thirty-seven.”

The hot coffee and sausages lend some warmth as we leave.

Early April now and self-isolated, I can’t get back to her. Kelly stays close in my mind. Just twenty years younger than Ria and fearless as a pirate beauty.

Stay safe. But where’s home?

April 2020

Ouse

You were never so Great.

Swan-song down-draughts of Lift

Feather-flung dippings of dive

This river-embrace of years and tears.

Your bread-on-the-waters women still

Share their far-bank love feast

And gaze into numinous exile-epiphanies.

… On this bank your motherless child

Glides into the sunlit shallows of backwater days.

Eileen Walke, 2006

to be

To be nobody but

yourself in a world

which is doing its

best day and night to

make you like everybody

else means to fight the

hardest battle which any

human being can fight

and never stop fighting

e.e.cummings

My Firstborn

When we were knee high to grasshoppers, my friends and I would love to walk alongside the wildflower and grass verges of Cambridge Road in Bedford, past the cabins and boats down to our left on the Ouse, then up the sandy lane to Cardington Mill and Mill Meadows. We watched the growth of the cooling towers going up on the new power station across the fields. We discovered the huge round pipeline ready to be laid under the meadows and had great fun being brave enough to climb and crawl in it.

On August 15th 1962, I was nineteen and in Bedford having a sleepover with my Auntie Betty because my Uncle Vic was on nights at the power station. I was company for her. In the wee small hours of the morning I soaked the bed when my waters broke all over my beloved Auntie Betty. Loving and kind as always, she reassured me, helped me get dressed and I walked home in the early morning, where the streets were all empty and the birds were stirring. My Dad met me halfway and we phoned the midwife from the phone box near the shops, but she’d gone out on her bike.

It was me Mam who delivered the 6lb 2oz bundle of joy with lots of black hair. We called this treasure on earth, Maria. My Dad played Bing Crosby’s True Love loudly on his radiogram downstairs, then came up with a little tray of sherry glasses to toast Maria. He adored her. She made the final days of his life very happy.

Our lives were blessed with you Ria, from that dawning.