The You That Never Left
Go to the end of your street, cross the Rickmansworth Road and take the footbridge over the Colne, where reflections glimmer through the fringe of trees. Walk the gravel path to Batchworth Lake. Sit by the jetty. Water ringed by rushes, glittering wide in both directions. Sun bruising the oily surface by the shoreline. Backwash tugging the wrack and weeds.
When you see the stranger walking the path, know him as the you that never left this place. He’s older, weary; do not be unsettled. Greet him. Tell him you love him, even though he lacked courage – all wounded minds cherish the familiar. He will not acknowledge the disquiet that grew in you. He’ll say the town is changing: the High Street gets busier, younger; new flats breed to contain flocks of commuters. The lakes are ever more unconcerned by buffeting winds, ever more glinting in the light.
Winter comes later these days. All year the rains fall heavier – often the rivers burst their banks, leaving meadows and paths unwalkable. The ash trees speak to him, suck him into their spindly embrace, proclaiming their trouble: Don’t ever go, don’t ever leave us behind. And you’ll recognise, though you must be rid of it, your ache for this place where field and city jostle and merge. You do not deny it, as some are drawn to despise the abandoned. It’s a part of you still – and you love this man, as he strikes at your heart with fear.
My Door Self
knows when to open to strangers, when to slam shut. Loves the slip-through of words on a page. Finds corridors sexy, is unfettered at the touch of metal, but recognises this wedge, or at least its thin end. Has been alpha and omega to your numberless entrances, exits. Awaits the early-morning postman. Wishes dogs were better-trained, admits a weakness for cats. Teeters between known and unknown. Understands the importance of this wall. Would like to be fire-proof – triple-locked like the pension you yearn for. But while it keeps out the cold most days, it lets the wind whistle through on others. And aches with the shame of creaking joints; must turn a blind eye to the woodlice. Sure, could be more polished. Is tired of being mocked. (Knock, knock – the bruise is there.) Can’t help being two-faced. Feels moved by you daily. Needs propping sometimes, when so much depends. And confesses to you now: fears becoming unhinged. But even on dark days, allows for a sliver of light. Longs for the touch of your hand. Again.
Keeping it to Himself
Digs a hole in the ground with a spade. Soil colder and wetter the deeper he digs. Worms – pinkish/brown/big/small/chopped in half – writhing in the earth that he upends on the grass beside the hole. The soil crumbly as granny cake. But stones. And the edge of his spade clinking against them. Down on his knees on the damp grass, digs with his bare hands. Finds a child’s doll – jaundiced, three fingers snapped off, blinkable eyes sealed shut. Soil cold and damp enough that he can’t bear to dig further. Digs further.
Now puts the memory in. Covers with a layer of dirt. Says a prayer. Must believe in something – pain, or an honourable badge. Gets into the hole. Begins to sweep the soil back over himself.
Surrounds his body with wriggling worms. Cold stones. Child’s doll. Make believe in something.
Michael Loveday’s novella-in-flash Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018), draws upon the techniques of prose poetry and was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. His poetry pamphlet He Said / She Said was published by HappenStance Press (2011). He was judge of the inaugural Tongues and Grooves Prose Poem Prize in 2018. More at: https://michaelloveday.com/about/