He arrives in the evening, overcoat buttoned to the neck, lips cold from the east wind. In the place where his heart belongs is air, space, wide mountains of granite. A queer hawk, tall as a shed. The roof, thick, wiry hair like spent matches stuck in sand. Should he kiss me with those mean lips I shall cry until sleep takes him away from here. His name is condemnation because of his need to inflict pain.
On the bedroom window-ledge, in the crack, a bluebottle lies feet up, its wings shadows, eyes like the center of a wilted flower. Mam doesn’t understand why I behave the way I do. Bed with no supper, for insolence, hasty prayers to my guardian angel and into the cold sheets, the hot-water bottle withheld for the night. The Old Man loiters in the picture-frame, the edges of the photograph stained, the smile tarnished by death.
Under the covers I read of the Sirens, and Odysseus’ filling of the sailors’ ears with molten wax. Across the back gardens fighting cats screech and house lights flicker on and off in the night. Below, in the sitting room, the national anthem plays, and his voice drifts up through the floorboards.
Maybe his heart is in the glove compartment of his car? Mam says it’s not his fault he’s the way he is – she blames the Christian Brothers. “Not a bone of Christianity in their bodies,” she says. “Skinned him alive when he was in secondary school.”
I don’t care. I don’t like him anyway, Christian or not. He is unkind, and smells of old clothes.
The hall door shuts a while later and an engine starts outside. From the bedroom window the tip of his cigarette is visible below and red tail-lights fade. Mam doesn’t come to bed for the longest time, and I know it’s because she’s crying over his missing heart.
published 17 June 2013