It was his room, not theirs’! Mum slept in with my sister. Except when he needed her, but she didn’t stay all night. Sometimes you heard the muffled conversations in there. A there that was now empty of him, it had become a dingy, depressing room, stale, an ill place, the curtains seldom open. A dangerous silence, a creepy sense, a feeling of not knowing what you may find. The certainty that there would be the one visit that you’ve been dreading but also wishing for closure. We never knew if he was ready.
That visit had been and gone.
I picked at the paint on the door frame that was chipped when the coffin caught it as they carried him out. I stood on the threshold tense about crossing. Done, it was physically painless.
Death seems to be all around, September 5th ,1972, the Munich Olympics, the massacre. I am twelve. The bedding lies ugly, untidy, unmade, the blankets latterly too heavy for his emaciated torso and fragile twigged limbs are now bundled at the base.
He was always his own man. Did things his own way. Selfish? If he were different could we have had more time? A better time? Alcohol, self- medication he called it. That was his wish. It worked for him.
He is gone now yet he remains. The Richmond tipped, used twenty packs. A Gideons bible. Help or hinderance? A bottle of Old Spice aftershave and a half empty Johnny Walker Red label sit mirrored on the dressing table. Once again, I remember the instinct, the yearning to tidy, to make it nice for him, and that experience has taught not to. To accept that was not what he wished. Respecting was hard.
A copy of the Racing Post, an unexpected catalyst, lies on the nightclub sticky carpet by his bedside. I have been robbed. The morning ritual right up until yesterday. It only took five minutes. Five precious minutes. I would read the form, the odds. Write his bet. Drop it off at his bookies at lunchtime, call back hopefully to collect at the end of school. It was ours, just ours. He always soothed us both quoting from Kipling’s If –
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch and toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss
A frivolity he attached to all his world.
She disturbs me, my mother as she pulls the curtains wide, sunlight invades the room, warming. The dust speckles amongst it rays. Opening, the window creaks, breeze brushing the curtains and a robin’s chirping echoes outside. She is tight, stiff , mechanically she clears the sheets, blankets, pillowcases, a pile in the small hallway at the stair top.
She returns. Standing by the bed, with empty cradled arms, she swings them gently towards the window. The sun catches the damp of her eyes. My older sister joins us and I smell her shampoo. He loved her golden long hair. She comes closer to me, grasps my hand it feels comfortable. It feels right.
My mother drops her arms her shoulders relax, she turns to us, we hug she whispers.
“ His spirit has flown.”
Don Russell 01/04/2019