Almanac Poetry: ‘Women’ – Tommy Mallet

 

 

 

Women

 

Two big smiles shift and move within the darkened hall,
a couple of glass doors between us.
They approach through shadow

 

and streetlight reflections,
gradually fleshing out into
beckons of generosity.

 

“You’re here again!?” one of them beams.

 

“That’s eight nights running,” the other grins.

 

 

“I’m the night shift,” I tell them.
“Can’t have the Old Man die alone.”

 

“Are you sure we can’t get you a bed?”

 

one of the insists.

 

“No, wouldn’t be right, but thank you” I tell her.
“My jacket’s warm.”

 

I try to always be polite,

 

like the Old Man.

 

“Well, good luck,” they say.
“He’s amazing,
your father,”
as their smiles recede to into chores.

 

“Maybe tonight,” I tell them.

 

It’s been seven days since the doctors stopped feeding you,
Old Man.
Three since your last words.

 

Yet these women
remain incredibly genuine,
warm.

 

You had nothing,
nothing!
You’ve been kissed on the dick to
end your days here.

 

 

*****

 

 

There’s the wisp of a memory
of the Old Man left,
as family roll in,
hugging and rubbing and kissing his forehead,
above those pathetic, departed eyes.

 

 

Speeches, well wishes,
heartfelt pleas,
tears,
he doesn’t react to a thing.

 

 

Yet, he’s always loved beauty,
the ol’ fox,
the once young fox,
the fox.

 

I throw my wife in front
of his remains.
“Por favour, mi amor, sing something
in Espaniole.”

 

She chooses the Paraguay national anthem –
a romantic, sad thing.

 

He lifts his head,
a plant to sunlight,
one last time,
widens his eyes,

 

his mouth almost coos,

 

 

in this sublime moment,
before the horrible days
and nights that will see him gone.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

“Do you think he’s in pain?”
the nurse asks, point blank,
near 5am.

 

Everybody tells me how peaceful he looks,
and other bullshit
they’re really telling themselves.

 

This man riddled with cancer,
starving to death.

 

Who knows what’s going on beneath the drugs?
Screaming?
Drifting?
Wet dreams?
A void?

 

“Do you think he’s in pain?” the nurse asks again.

 

It’s code.
Do you want him to have that shot?

 

He told me he does,
when he could talk,
but, is receiving so much love,
who knows?

 

I would – Oh, release me!
Cut me loose!
Let me be that thing before I was born.

 

But I’m not him.

 

“Well…?” she waits,
as I blubber and spurt.

 

“How do you say it?” I ask. “How do I
mouth the words; Yes,
make my father die?”

 

She just waits.
The order has to be clear,
mine.

 

 

“Yes, he’s in pain,” I say, somehow.

 

******

 

 

Tears fall everywhere.

“Old Man…” I cry.

 

 

The nurse ups his dosage,
while I fiercely hold his hand,
but his heart’s too strong.

 

His breath, not unlike a train wreck,
simply stabilises.

 

“Oh,” says the nurse, eventually.
“He’s tough.”

 

 

And leaves.

 

 

I take off my shirt,
wipe snot off me,
throw it in the bin,
free, calm.

 

The rest is love and duty.

 

 

Physically, I’ve said
my good-bye.

 

 

*****

 

 

The Old Man had wishes;
no attention, no fuss.

 

 

Pull the plug if you can.

 

Yet every time I enter,
there Auntie Jo is,
hovering,
a vampire,
slobbering all over his defenceless head.

 

 

“It’s the family tradition,
caring for each other
as we die,” she earnestly tells
his partner and I.

 

 

“When our brother, Louis passed,
I was there, washing
his face.”

 

 

“Where was his wife?” I ask, hard enough
to shut her up.
“The mother of their four kids.”

 

 

When she finally leaves,

 

 

I turn to his partner, “He met you
out here, in the country,
to get away from them all.”

 

“Feel free to tell her to go

 

 

to hell.”

 

 

And we sit,
in the most exquisite silence,

 

 

tattooed forever in my

 

 

soul,
not saying a million things,

 

just watching him breath,
as daylight slowly

 

 

uncurls.

 

 

*****

 

 

A carer sneaks in when she thinks

 

I’m sleeping.

 

Attractive, about 40, at a guess,
gaunt, but smiles superb.

 

“You were the one,” she says, in a tough,
working class voice.

 

“If you’d just been younger.

 

Look at your boy,
he’s a rooster, no surprise.
I bet you were, too.”

 

“You would have been the one…”

 

I want to tell her about his partner,
how she laughed with affection
this morning,
while recalling;
“He carried around a pair of scissors.
Every time he saw a rose

 

-snip!-

 

This is for you, the cafe girl…

 

-snip- oh, this is for you, the bank teller…

 

-snip-

 

when he got to my house, if any had been rejected,
this one was for me.”

 

But don’t, it would be cruel.

 

He obviously made the carer feel special
for a while.

 

 

*****

 

 

The Old Man’s partner and I sit in his room on dawn,
watching him.

 

 

The absence of words
saves us both.

 

 

His mouth is Death, hanging open,
eyes gone.
Only his impossibly strong heart remains.

 

 

It projects that hollow, sucking air
out from his passed lungs.

 

 

Covers us,
our clothes, throats, hair,
until we only notice its stench
when entering the room.

 

 

We inhale it, wear it,
day after day.

 

“He’s so stubborn,” she
finally says, lovingly,
as the softest dawn light
makes its way into the room,
via a thousand Renascence paintings.

 

 

It wonderfully frames her,
for its moments she is a masterpiece.

 

Something he would have observed,
without fail.

 

 

*****

 

 

Soon, the circus will be here,
a thousand slobbering lips
lathering his well-worn forehead.

 

 

Agendas, speeches,
family politics,
tears.

 

 

The Old Man’s partner and I
treat these last moments of peace
the way,
I imagine,
soldiers on the front
smoked ciggies to their nib.

 

 

In the background,
we hear Auntie Jo arrive.

 

 

 

“When I die, God save me
from the living,” I say,

 

 

to which his partner simply
smiles.

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

The day grows.

 

 

Woman after woman comes in.
Some relatives,
some on duties,
others paying respects,
his daughters.

 

“He looks so peaceful,” they all, at some stage, say.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

Dawn’s fully broken as I leave.
It’s taken just over a week
for the sensation of relentless routine
to set in.

 

 

Soon I’ll drive
to the farm shack we’re renting,
hug my wife and little girl.

 

 

Greet the owner,
with her long, faded hair,
stumpy Scottish husband and books and
banjos.

 

I like the way she meets us,
the way she says good-bye.

 

A touch of my shoulder,
a slight, cautious smile;
“I hope your father dies tonight.”

 

A truism that befriends me to her
for life.
Her honesty.

 

That neither of us would repeat
in front of family or strangers.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

 

Between family,

 

 

and my family
of wife and baby girl,

 

I need time alone,

 

 

So pull over
between one and the other.

 

Eat cheap food, sleep in the driver’s seat,
leg resting out the door.

 

The battered back stiffens,
flies dance,
still-aired heat makes me squirm.

 

The comfort of this lack of comfort
overwhelms me.

 

 

For an hour or more, the simplicity of my life
before women,
briefly returns.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Breakfast consumes more of our savings,
our family’s freefalling,
but there’s no going back home
until it’s done.

 

 

Sitting against the car’s bonnet,
while waiting for the girls,
I see a lesbian couple
in a leafy street,
hooking pinkies, releasing them,
hooking them again,

 

and wonder what the Old Man would have
noticed?

 

The awkward, yet somehow perfectly synchronised
motion of their arms?
The way only one of them smiled?

 

 

Ever the artist,
there was nothing he didn’t observe,
and, within that,
few things he didn’t see.

 

*****

 

 

A small magpie lands,
looking for meat for its young.

 

I could watch it for hours.
It seems content,
in a way that calms me.

 

Even though I know better than to
pretend I know
this is so.

 

 

*****

 

 

 

The chair gets too much,
I sleep in the floor, beneath the Old Man,
clothes covered in his hollow breath.
Hair filled with it,
face, ears.

 

That loud, desperate sucking,
that, every few minutes, stops.
Just plain stops.

 

Could this be it…?

 

Then his body spasms,
his leg kicks,
and, with an almighty inhale,
everything continues again.

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Another never-ending night finds the Old Man’s partner and I
watching dawn shift across
his hollowed face.

 

It’s been ten days, maybe eleven.

 

She’s been caring, loving,
positive.
Resolute.

 

I watch her watch him.

 

She never kisses him on the head,
just loves.

 

When I mention this, she pleasantly fusses;
“No, no, no, love is for the young!”

 

Yet, in private moments,
her face contorts.

 

The wonderful liar.

 

 

*****

 

 

I didn’t like the old man’s partner,
at first.
Too hoity toity.
Refined, upper middle class.
All art exhibitions, pip pip.

 

Yet she took in this lost, destitute,
lonely man.

 

At first, he complained, to me,
in quiet moments.

 

“I came here to not be tied down.”
The bounder.

 

The mid-70s bounder.

 

It was shameless, how above him
some of the women he
tried
to woo were.

 

But he found love in her,
the fool.

 

*****

 

One day, in in the pleasant garden,
of her pleasant house,
after pleasant lunch,
she said to him,
in front of me, pleasantly;
“You know what first attracted me to you?”
“Uh…” he gave a confused, expectant little look.
“Your shape.”

 

She recalled the tea party,
pleasant people,
before insisting;

 

“I thought, what an interesting shape.”

 

A beautiful statement.
Genuine, true.

 

That baffled him blue.

 

 

*****

 

A previous doctor,
from another place,
comes in to see off the Old Man.

 

She’s fat, and lovely,
and cries while kissing
his forehead,
whispering things just for them.

 

She is wonderful,
full of respect,
without once giving
anything away.

 

 

“He’s something special, your father,” she tells me,
barely taking her eyes off him.
“A wonderful man.”

 

I wonder what he told her,
how he charmed her,
flattered her?

 

 

I wonder who she really is,
the person?

 

 

What her life is?

 

 

The only thing he ever told me
about woman,
his one bit of advice,
came on my 15th birthday,
as he leapt into the cab, all happy,
shacking with joy,
before blurting;
“Oh, boy!”
Son, let’s go get a hooker!”

 

 

I hated his wife, the cunt.
The bitter, mean, abusive cunt,
a gentle man like him never
stood a chance.
But she was his wife.

 

He saw my look, and never
broached
birds and bees again.

 

 

Before leaving, the doctor stares at him,
just stares.

 

“Special…” she repeats,
while finally leaving,
with a warm smile.

 

 

*****

 

 

He’s close, but just won’t go.
I stand above the bed
many times,
contemplating helping him
cross that line.

 

A hand, a pillow…

 

But, oh, sorry Old Man,
I’m your family, and now
have one of my own!

 

Every time, I lose my nerve.

*****

 

On the thirteenth morning,
finally, the Old Man’s partner
looks at what’s left of him
and admits what I see.

 

 

“He’s not peaceful,” I tell her.

 

“No,” she says, angry,
unable to shift her eyes away.
“He’s not.”

 

I stay to confront the doctor,
telling him to do
what has to be done.

 

And he does
as soon as I’m gone.

 

 

Auntie Jo is there
for his final moments,
slobbering all over his forehead,

 

 

no doubt.

 

*****

 

 

Oh, ladies weep
for the polite one,
who never talked about you
in bad ways,
never bragged,

 

who charmed.

 

Who loved you all,
loved woman.

 

Ever since he was a boy.

 

There it is,
in his painting,
I only notice
packing away his room.

 

A self-portrait
of himself
as a boy,
after four backbreaking years on the run,
through Romania, then Germany,
escaping the war.

 

A freshly minted wog,

 

 

in a Geelong orphanage

 

with the nuns,

 

alone, with ten or more girls.

*****

 

 

It’s been weeks,
I ring the Old Man’s partner.

 

They were too frail for sex,
but would simply lay in bed,
talking about the universe
for hours.

 

She’s missing him horribly.

 

“Just to wake to
someone being so
polite
to me all the time…” she sighs.

 

 

End

 

 

 

You can read more poetry from Tommy Mallet HERE.

 

More poetry from Almanac Poetry can be read HERE

 

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Comments

  1. Malby Dangles says

    Sad and beautiful, Tommy. Thanks for sharing

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