In my winter bedroom, snow flowers
bloom on the frozen pane. Tonight’s
hot water bottle wrapped in drowsy dreams.
Matthew Mark Luke and John
Bless the bed that I lie on.
Dad covers me with his khaki greatcoat
to keep me warm. Medals unpinned. Three
cold stars from India, Africa, Italy.
The Empire Medal & all the others
dropped in a drawer with rusty nails,
twisted screws, broken files.
Good night. Sleep tight.
Mind the bugs don’t bite!
Boys like my brothers steal eggs.
Climb trees, stopping at high branches
poke fingers into warm nests
peering into crevices
in crumbling stone walls or
any hole that looks promising.
They part hawthorn bushes, red
with berries, careless of thorns ripping
through sleeves of soft woollen jumpers.
Arms outstretched, fingers and thumbs
feeling for eggs. Boys like my brothers
at the end of the long day, broken
fingernails, bloody hands. Each boy
cradles a prize in his palm,
not trusting trouser pockets.
Brings it home to blow
goodness and life gently out.
Careful not to crack the blue
speckled, silent shell.
It joins others on the window sill
in the back kitchen, next to a sliver
of green soap and a comb
with broken teeth.
Note ‘egging’ is a dialect word from North Yorkshire
Most times it’s winter. White as bandages. Red with scarlet fever. Two men wearing peaked caps appear on the road, driving a cream coloured ambulance. When I see them stop a few doors down, I hold my collar until I see a dog for luck. So do the other kids. The ambulance men carry out the taxi driver’s daughter, Josie, on a stretcher.
Valerie’s father vanishes every few months into the Merchant Navy. After he’s gone, she stops holding her breath, smooths her rainbow skin and comes outside to play with me again.
Our neighbour, the soldier, gives his wife a black eye, breaks her nose and hides in our attic. The Military Police wearing red caps drag him down our stairs. Mam scrubs and scrubs until the blood goes.
Across the road, a baby boy called Peter burned in a Moses cradle. Growing up, he has a hook for a hand. Half his face ruined. One eye. He chases me across the street ready to strike. I manage to open the front door of my house, slip inside, slam it in his face and disappear. His hook gouges out a chunk of wood in our red front door.
Dad grows our food: potatoes, onions, spinach and cabbages. Dad does not roam. He never leaves us like other fathers who go out their back doors shouting they’re going for cigarettes and never come home.
I am going there again. Leaving the shouting and pushing and falling over. Slipping through the gate to find the place we’re not allowed where everything feels right. It’s behind a hedge that scratches and you have to know the place to squeeze through and we do. I go with my brother not on my own.
There’s a long pool you can walk around and look down into water. We don’t touch anything not even the water. We just look at the big white flowers floating like soft stars. We don’t know how they float like that.
It’s dark where the pool is but the light gets in through the slats above our heads and lets us see fish gliding, swimming, weaving in and out beneath the surface. We don’t catch them. They are silver and gold and bigger than the goldfish that swim in the glass bowl on our sideboard. We look for a long time. Some kids might throw a stone into the pool but we never do. And we don’t say anything because it’s quiet.