It goes off like a timer does your heart,
Much like a ticking bomb,
It bleeds and twitches
On your outstretched hand;
The back beat to your needing song.
I sense your ticking crocodile
With its sinus rhythm grin;
It circles round my consciousness
And hooks me further in.
Your world is full of traps and debts
You dream of keeping hold
You ask a price I will not pay
You cannot have my soul
His heart is the compass of my soul.
Cross stars I hear him sigh,
We shared the moon
But that’s enough
We recognised our mutual dance
Of moth and flame,
And let each other fly.
He lives in never-can-be land.
And I must live in mine.
Well, as dear-John letters go, thought Wendy, that one’s a doozy. She brushed the poem flat, and stuck it on his laptop screen. She turned around once more to memorise the room, the view from the window, and the pile of books by his chair. Resisted the urge to shake his cushion out, breathed in, held it; then let it go; picked up her bag and left.
Wendy supposed that there was a time when she hadn’t been used to the sound of closing doors. Now she hardly noticed the final… tock.
Once on the pavement Wendy took her phone out of her pocket and deleted his contact details. Then as an afterthought she deleted his mother’s and best friends numbers as well. The upside is that she can’t be tempted to slip back… to call him. The downside is that she might answer a ‘number unknown’ and it be him calling. She knew that there would be wobbly days, but probably less this time than usual.
Wendy kicked up a few curly brown leaves, and then stamped on a pile. There now, that felt better. She checked the street and wondered where Nan was; she hoped that she wasn’t going to be too long.
Wendy knew that she couldn’t stand still in case he came home. He called them surprises, she called them checking up. He didn’t like it when she sat by the big window watching the stars blink in and then out. She didn’t notice that she was doing it. In fact she’d been doing it for as long as she could remember. He didn’t like it when she made grey lace, said it was like shadows, and that she should make white lace like everybody else.
Wendy wrapped her coat around herself. The wind was stirring. Her kicked leaves tumbled back into place.
At last! She could see Nan’s car turning the corner. The windscreen caught the sun and sparkled for a moment. Wendy stepped out between two parked cars and waved.
‘Hiya, thanks for this’ she said as she threw her bag onto the back seat.
‘ Not a problem, anytime’ said Nan accepting a kiss on the cheek ‘now where too? Mine? The spare bed’s made up…’
‘Thanks, if you don’t mind. Just for tonight’ said Wendy strapping on her seat belt. She patted her coat down and smiled at Nan.
‘That’s good, I’ve got the wine in, oh and our favourite DVD’.
Wendy smiled; but she didn’t feel like the boozy conversation and the sad end movie. Tonight she felt like doing something different.
‘Oh I don’t know maybe we could try something else’ said Wendy looking at her old friend.
Wendy and Nan had known each other since she was little. Nan was only a few years older than Wendy. It seemed that she had always been in her life.
Evening found them, walking arm in arm down the street. They had been for a meal and were walking back to Nan’s. The streets were broad, and lined with parked cars. Rosy streaks of the sunset reflected in the windows of the houses casting a children’s picture book beauty onto the unloved streets.
‘I know, let’s take a detour’ said Wendy pulling on Nan’s arm. ‘I used to live down there, let’s go and have a look’. They turned into a side road. It was sorely in need of rediscovery and yet in the dusk you could almost get a sense of how it used to be.
‘It’s all a bit sad and neglected around here’ said Nan’ in fact I think your old house is flats now’
‘Well I come down here occasionally, when I need to walk and think’
‘Really? Do you have good memories?
‘Of when I used to live here… I mean, your mum looked after us so well. Did you mind?’
Nan shook her head.
Tall chimneys were silhouetted against a deep coral sunset. Wendy felt a tingle of fear, excitement maybe. She wasn’t sure. She hadn’t been down here since she left home. .
‘What are you expecting?’ asked Nan
‘Oh I don’t know… to believe maybe?’
They walked on, Nan’s heels clicked on the stone paving slabs. Wendy walked on tip-toes.
‘Breathe, Wendy, it’s just a road’
Overgrown privet hedges tumbled over into the path. A crumpled crisp packet and an apple core, discarded from a child’s lunchbox, lay in the gutter. In the distance a car alarm wailed.
A movement in the shadows made Wendy jump. Nan reached down and stroked a cat. It meowed and followed them for a few paces, then promptly sat down and washed its shoulder.
‘Relax Wendy, I can feel you shaking’ Nan touched Wendy’s shoulder ‘I mean what is there to be scared of?’
Wendy wasn’t sure if she was more scared that he would be there… or scared that he wouldn’t.
‘I don’t know, Nan, I didn’t realise that it would be such a big deal’
They stood in front of the house. It looked small. The front garden had been concreted over to make space for tenants parking.
‘Let’s look round the back’ said Nan indicating an open side gate
Wendy paused and closed her eyes; she knew every inch of this garden. It came to her in dreams. It was a forest of sumptuous greenery and flowers, orchids, bougainvillea. Tall curling ferns arched over her head. Bird song filled the sky.
She leaned forward slightly and moved toward the side gate. It was always shaded and cool here, even on the hottest day. Wendy flinched; a sudden bright light blinded her. It was a security light, triggered by their body heat.
‘Come on’ said Nan ‘let’s be quick’
Wendy stepped through into her old back garden. her eyes gradually adapted to the dark. She peered into the garden, remembering how it had been. Over there had been the dog kennel, here, by her side was the place that she had sat and read books to her little brothers. ‘ She turned and looked up at the house. The curtains in each window were different. There were new down pipes taking water from new kitchens and new bathrooms.
Wendy stepped back and looked higher, her bedroom window on the top floor was still there. It was dark and looked unlived in.
‘Look, that’s my window, just there. ‘She said as she pointed toward the attic bedroom ‘I used to think that I could see forever…It used to be so much bigger’
‘You were smaller Wendy, just a little girl’
Wendy smiled sadly and moved further into the garden. There was a bird table in the corner. Wendy knelt down to look. It was the dead stump of an elegant hazel tree with a wooden tray nailed on the top.
This was my tree to heaven, thought Wendy stroking the bark. She ran her fingers along the trunk. There! There it was. She could feel something carved into the trunk. She had scraped their initials, PP above WD with an arrow through them, into the tree trunk. Wendy searched the carving with her fingertips.
Wendy’s heart sank; she sat down on the cool grass and hugged her knees. They had cut the trunk right through their names; all that was left was WD and the tip of an arrow. Nothing of him remained.
‘ Let’s go Wendy, I’m getting cold’ said Nan, holding out her hand.
‘I thought there would be more of us here’ said Wendy sadly as she brushed grass from her coat.
‘Oh things move on…. At least some things do’ Nan looked at Wendy sadly. She bit her lip for a moment and then said ‘ I got to say this… I can’t bear to watch it again, Wendy, really I can’t.’
‘You’ve got to stop looking for lost boys’
Every one, every man you’ve ever shown interest in has been a lost boy, lost, sad, dependent on something, in trouble, needing rescuing, needing mothering…’
‘ Yes, really and what’s more you make them your children. You organise them, you do everything for them, you make them a home, love them, you turn a blind eye when they behave badly, you forgive them.’
Wendy nodded slowly, astonished that she hadn’t noticed.
‘ And if they don’t go down that road they get clingy, manipulative, possessive, or attention seeking to hang on to you’ added Nan ‘ Please, promise me, next time, you have to find a grown up’ she put her arm around Wendy’s shoulder and led her back towards the front of the house.
“Think about it… Peter is the one who wouldn’t be found. He chose to stay lost. You have to let him go. Give up the search. It’s impossible’
‘I don’t know how?’ said Wendy. She felt so miserable. She knew that she kept making the same mistake. Some women keep marrying their father, or at least someone just like him, in the forlorn hope that she can make him love her this time. She keeps seeking out the same trouble, the same pattern kept repeating itself. She was drawn to men who needed rescuing…. Mothering’
They walked in silence back towards Nan’s house.
Nan poured them a glass of fragrant red wine and they sat quietly, thinking about their conversation..
Wendy swirled her wine around the bowl of the glass, and sighed.
‘So, if I am going to stop looking for lost boys, how will I know that I’ve found a ‘found man’? Do I have to be a little girl?’
‘God no! Look for someone who doesn’t want to be a white knight on a charger. You’re not a princess, that’s a whole other story. You don’t need rescuing, just a way to be yourself and to be loved for that.’
Wendy nodded slowly ‘I don’t know what to do… so maybe the answer is….’ she paused for Nan to end the sentence.
‘Nothing. Don’t do anything. Have you ever considered not looking for a man’
‘What giving up?’
‘No a sabbatical… time out… find out what makes you happy’
‘Happy…. Now there’s a thing’ Wendy smiled ‘God, imagine!’
Wendy was awake, it was 12.34 a.m.
She was writing a new leaving letter …
I have to smash my compass heart,
The red tip point is killing me.
I cannot bear the flickering
Pull of the needle.
We knew the candle flame would
Leave us wingless,
Flapping on the ground.
I thought I’d die, there in your light
But your careless shadow cuts me down.
Wendy got out of bed and wrapped a shawl around her shoulders. She opened the spare room door and crept into the dark living room. She took a match from the box on the mantelpiece and crouching down, swiped the match against a firebrick deep in the throat of the fireplace. She watched the flame flare, waited until it had settled and then ran it along the bottom of her piece of paper. Once the flames had spread along the bottom and were creeping up the side of the letter, she reached out, and let it go.
‘Bye Peter’ she whispered then she blew a last kiss as the paper rose up into the chimney and disappeared