Aware, as we have aged, Mam, up through her eighties, of impending mortality; an age where illusions no longer delude. We sat together, spent names like fate’s dice rolled across the table: as if that’s all they were! Shed a tear: this was the life we were conscripted into. I’d collected Harold, flat cap, heavy coat, outside his house waiting for us. His street in an earlier incantation celebrated a monarch’s ascension as an empire descended into twilight. Cobbles then bare, now part covered by tarmac and pot holed. Kids played the same on street corners, aerials, satellite dishes, camouflaging chances that had not improved their expectations. Was it death we talked or something more profound than how our endeavours will close? Some of those we talked about live, some of those we named were dead, none were unscarred. I sipped wine in an oversized glass, tea was drunk, food placed cheerfully on our table: last suppers, catholic purgatory threatening to envelop us in gloom amidst sensuous pleasure. Then misery.
“He was dead”. Did anyone really think as he once was so he’ll be resurrected?
“Made redundant three times”.
“Does odd jobs”.
“Ex-army, doing nothing”.
“She’d toes removed: poor circulation”.
“He was killed in a motorcycle accident, wrapped his spleen round a lamp post”.
Mothers cried cold tears; expectancy of tragedy genetically coded offered no surprises
– even God no longer wrung her hands. In the sadness of this place, more tears fell; “he escaped to New Zealand, moved to New York for the United Nations,” died before his sixtieth year. Remembrance Sunday replayed without pomp. Reginald over six feet tall, killed. Donald wasted artist, died alcoholic, alone on the floor, four days before the police crashed in the door to his stench filled flat. Emma still lived around the corner in Janet Street. What sweet innocuous names, in irony no different than the jokers who called the south end tenements gardens.
Who worked? Who’d a good life? Who’d lived satisfaction? Had anyone escaped their preordained fate? Mam, born into better, had lowered herself for love in this city of tears slapping against stone docks. Her tribe cultured the language of others, spoke of gods in their poetry and spilling around the globe, constructed much of it. We continued talking. Slaves built wealth, reflected poverty and affluence. Outside the sun was shining, cars parked, the man in the white jacket, elsewhere sophisticated, here was out of place. We devoured a small part of the restaurant, worthy of renown, as the names of the people we’d spoken of reverentially.
Water world dammed its connection to souls, became a barrier to those remaining: families whose names are nothing. Their capital, suffocated by life and low expectation, became the earth they rotted in. Worse, the secret of its collusive power: myths of racial superiority, and tales of what they call God’s Own Country. For those left behind confessionals absolved. Owning their impoverishment empowered them as victims, provided oysters grist to define and explore what, who and where they where. Why was never part of the equation. The poorer they were the noisier they became; clanking loose change in a drunk’s pocket. Coins don’t have two side, heads or tails, good or bad luck, tossed to determine fate, merely two images united.