By Victoria Hendry
The lookout post dwarfs the veteran who leaves it, glancing over his shoulder. Has he missed the fire that will spread its suffocating smoke through the forest, turning the green into a grey, impenetrable wall?
It is hot and he strips to the waist, walks bare-foot, jumping the sparks of his anxiety which glitter and snap at his feet. Will they ask how he missed the spark that started the conflagration that burnt the tower and the man. He turns back to the tower, climbs up rung by rung. It is a crucifixion, a suicide. He embraces it. Looks out. Nothing. It is his mind that has clouded over, become a blank canvas.
‘You are too anxious,’ his children tell him. ‘Relax and all will be well.’ But he knows disaster is coming for them. Feels it is his duty to spot it, to warn them, to give them time to flee.
At his cabin, he switches on the radio. A ship has sunk, people have drowned, there is a war, like the one he remembers. Nowhere is safe. He knew it was the case but no one would listen. Looking-out will change nothing.
He walks back to the forest and takes down his tower, pulls out the nails with a claw hammer and lays them in a row. He stacks each rung of the ladder in a pyre of jenga bricks and burns them. The sparks catch. They jump and bite. He is running barefoot from the flames through the wall of smoke. It curls deep into his lungs, numbs him like a drowsy bee in the tender hands of the bee keeper, and he drifts into a grey peace.
Silent One 2010.
The tumour has taken root in your brain and grows there in the soft jelly. I stand on the edge of the abyss with your former self. The doctors drench your body in steroids to shrink the tumour but it is your pancreas that collapses, and your mind is roasted in sugar. You hear music that no one else can hear. It plays in your head – ambient shop music on the loop of your collapsing life that revolves each day in ever smaller circles. You think the toy in the corner of our room talks to you. It tells you that there is a certain time pressure. You say the crow at the window is larger than normal crows. Nothing is as it should be. I bring you tea and we watch telly. Maybe this evening, when the kids are asleep, I will wash you on a plastic stool over the bath.
There is no return as I join you in the abyss. The nurses at the hospice say to me later, when it is all over, that their hearts sank when they saw us come through the door because we were so young. I remember somewhere someone was playing a piano.
I stand on the edge of the abyss with your former self and your face shines in the darkness. You are out of reach but I see you still.