There are faces peering down at me, they
are trying to say something, but their voices are muffled as if I am
underwater, and then the sounds slowly fade away without having made any sense.
Are they Angels or Demons that have come to take my soul away? So often I awake
in this confusion, as though because sleep was so hard to achieve, my body is
unwilling to relinquish it and must keep fighting, but now the night is over,
and day is already begun.
I remember the first time that I saw
Fiona; she was standing in front of me in the queue at Woolworths, I
smelled a wisp of perfume that, for a moment, took me back to my youth, and
then I casually turned to look at her; her red hair and pale skin and those
piercing intelligent eyes, and already I was picturing her naked. She looked
older than me; I discovered later that she was forty-nine, just on the cusp of
being fifty, but she exuded sexuality and passion through every movement that
she made. She was not classically beautiful perhaps, but she had
something of an angel light about her, and I felt a powerful
feeling of lust as I stood close enough to touch her and share her breath. Our
eyes met as she finished paying and then she gave me a backward glance as she
unhurriedly left the shop so that I was able to catch up with her and then we
walked down the street together, her hand on my arm.
Can we ever re-capture the past? I long
to be in New York again; the busy streets, the sun on my back, and the noise,
most particularly the noise of talk and cars, going on all day and night. If
only I could be transported back there as a young man, excited to be on my own
for the day with no responsibilities or place I had to be. I cannot even
remember what I eventually did on any particular day; just the excitement of
setting off through the Big Apple. The bustle of the city was so familiar to me
through film and television so that I was expecting to see Woody Allen or Kojak
walking towards me.
I often think of the past as I get
older, but my memories are becoming distorted and fantastical, and I am scared
of completely forgetting my past. I remember so little of New York; what I was
doing there, where I lived, and I cannot even remember anybody I met, but I
must have had friends and colleagues. Now all I have left are a series of
images; a police car parked half on the pavement, spotting the jewellery store
Tiffanys and seeing a young woman walking out looking very happy and that
endless street full of people.
If our brain is a recorder can we not
play the best bits over and over again? The nights of passion? The time I first
heard Dylan singing Mr Tambourine Man as a fifteen-year old illegally drinking
in a pub and then meeting him thirty years later and not knowing what to say to
him, the women who have become so important to me, my wife and then Fiona and
most of all walking down that New York street one June morning, being at the
centre of the world and with endless possibilities before me.
How did that happen? It was as if
I conjured you up, and there you were, a handsome young man standing next to me
in Woolworth, who knew exactly what I wanted.
Yes it is as if
.. as if it
were a film or an erotic novel.
Oh much better than
I remember the feel of sweat on her
back, her skin glued to mine, and the smell of her. And between bouts we talked
of Keats; it was that I remember most, talking poetry as we lay together naked,
our limbs intertwined so that I was not sure which were mine and which
Fionas. Those times in bed which seem to last forever, but are over in a
moment, and then one day it is all gone; no more passion and no more intimacy,
we are back alone, which is how we started.
The first person I saw die was called
Edith. I worked in Byron Care Home in those days; I was only a young man,
having done a few dull jobs after leaving school three years previously. But
this job I enjoyed; I was good at it; having infinite patience with the people
I cared for and always ready to listen to their stories and complaints. The
home was not far from where I lived in the Cookridge area of Leeds, so I could
walk to work, and although the wage was not great, it was enough so that I
could give something to my mum every week and afford to go out and buy the
Each morning, starting at seven
oclock, we would get all the residents up; bathe them, dress them and
then take them down to the dining hall in time for breakfast, there were
usually around twenty people, although the less able would stay in bed to have
their coffee and toast. That morning I was working with my colleague Laura and
together we walked into Ediths room, she smiled up at us; she was a
friendly and polite lady who had been a nurse for many years so knew what was
We cant hide anything from
you we used to say to her because although her body was failing her mind
Edith wished us good morning and we
started to help her get up. Laura had been at the home for a couple of years;
she was slightly older than me and very beautiful with her dark skin and quirky
smile, and a deep reserve that few ever penetrated. I loved working with her,
spending so much time at such close quarters with someone so lovely and
graceful, although to her I suspect I was just another young member of staff
who would leave once something better came along, all that training
We are just going to turn you on
to your side Mrs Cooper Laura said as we got in position, facing each
other over the bed. As we turned her, Edith made the faintest of noises,
a slight groan, and Laura, in a slightly strange voice said.
Quickly Andrew, get the
matron. And then I knew she was dead. Suddenly, in the briefest of
seconds she had gone.
Later I walked out into the garden,
frost crunching on my feet, and there was Laura sitting on a bench looking out
into space, I sat down next to her.
Are you okay? she asked, and
then she hugged me. She felt warm, and I felt her bare arm on my back. She
started to shake and sob.
Oh my love I said to her,
my beautiful love. And then I kissed her on the lips and after a
moment her tongue sort out mine and she put her hands on my face, the most
loving kiss that I have ever experienced.
We got married eventually and had two
daughters, Tracey and Mary, who are both lovely girls and who I am very proud
of, but it is that memory in the garden that lingers, as if we were the only
people in the world, and who could be a more beautiful Eve than Laura? Whatever
happened since, my straying and our rows, the thought of her in that garden,
pressed against me, will stay with me for as long as I have
I feel as if I am drifting away whilst
my body and mind tries desperately to fight it. I can hear someone talking
faintly and the sound of something beeping, but then my mind wanders and
memories tumble through my head in no particular order; my dads funeral
where I was unable to cry but desperately needed to urinate, a holiday in a
caravan with Laura and the kids, and reading poetry to them, and an image of
the Hudson River, the sun glinting off it and dazzling me so that for a moment
I am blind.
A friend played me a Bob Dylan album
when I was sixteen; we were sitting in his front room having done some
homework, and he put on this record, Blood on the Tracks, which I
think had only just been released. The voice was strong and strange, unlike
anything else that I had ever heard before and the songs were both funny and
sad, it was as if I had been waiting all my life for such music.
Hunted like a crocodile/ Ravaged
in the corn/ Come in she said and Ill give ya/ Shelter from the
This is great I told my
friend, words not being able to convey all that I felt, and he put it on
Then a few days later I was in a pub
with a girl from school, we were trying to look grown-up as we were too young
to drink the beer that was in front of us. I casually walked over to the
Juke Box and there was a Bob Dylan song, Mr Tambourine Man so I put
some money in and selected it.
Listen to this I commanded,
and she tried but soon she was talking about her history essay and bitching
about a friend, whilst the song carried on, casting a spell of words and voice,
I put it on three more times before one of the regulars complained and told us
to lay off that hippy shit, and wondered aloud how old we
I dont remember the girl, not even
her name, or whether I saw her again, but I do remember the sound of
Dylans voice in that pub, carrying over the sound of Yorkshire voices and
the traffic outside. I started to buy his albums, and even now, when I need
something nourish my soul, it is to Dylan I turn.
And I have a memory of meeting him;
talking in some kind of building or studio. Where was I? How did we meet? All I
remember is him sitting opposite me and drawing, I cannot remember his voice,
just sunlight reflecting through his hair thick, curly hair and the thought
that this man is my hero and is sitting opposite me and I have no idea what to
say to get his attention, to make this as memorable for him as it is for
We were standing together in Leeds City
Art Gallery, Fiona and I, looking at an exhibition of paintings by Stanley
Do you see the religious in
everyday? She asked me, like Stanley obviously did? Jesus walking
down the Headrow? Or angels in Roundhay Park?
I shrugged, no, religion has never
been part of my life, even as a child. My parents did not go to church so
neither did I, well apart from weddings and then there was my dads
funeral. Are you religious?
I go to church sometimes, I want
to believe that this is not all there is. It seems a bit of a waste if
there is nothing more to life.
But dont you feel a
hypocrite, going to church when you are having an affair with a married
Religion is not all to do with
condemning and guilt, Jesus was human and we all need romance, and sex. If we
find love, does it matter where it is.
And very gently she touched my thigh
with the tip of her finger.
And then I remembered being in
Harrogate, feeling lonely and sad. Laura was at work and the children at school
and so on impulse I had caught the train to the spa town which I had visited as
a child a few times with my parents and more recently with my own family. I
wandered around feeling oppressed and on the verge of tears, unsure why I felt
that way and wondering how long I had been feeling like this. And then squeezed
between two shops there was a church, small but the door was open, so I walked
inside. The building was empty, but there was music playing from somewhere,
something religious and old and it felt in keeping with my mood as I looked
around at the stained glass and then at the altar.
I sat down and perhaps I prayed or just
went into a trance. The music sounded clear and seemed to echo within
My soul thirsteth for thee,/ my
flesh also longeth after thee/ in a barren and dry land where no water
I thought of my children sat in school,
day-dreaming maybe, or being inspired by their lessons, in the same school that
I had struggled through many years previously. My life had been plain and dull,
and I had a longing for something better, but I was not sure what. I realised
that I was crying softly to myself. Perhaps there would be a better world, a
world that was accepting and kind. I stayed there, crouched on that hard,
wooden pew, until I heard footsteps and an apologetic looking vicar started
pottering around at the front, which brought me to myself. I got up, and left,
catching the next train back to Leeds. I think that it was soon afterwards that
I met Fiona.
Sometimes at night I would read to the
children, even after they were old enough to read to themselves. When I left
school I had been given a collection of poetry by Wordsworth which ever
afterwards I kept by my bed, and one evening when we were sitting around after
dinner I went upstairs and brought it down and started to read to my daughters;
they were only eight and ten then but some of the poems were simple things and
even though I am unlearned and do not read much, I could see that they were
beautiful and worth knowing.
A lovely Apparition, sent/ To be a
moments ornament/ Her eyes as stars of Twilight
I remember recently, just before I
became ill, Tracey asked me.
Did you used to read poetry to us
when we were children?
I did not think you
We were sitting in her house, where she
lives with her girlfriend Diane, all the windows open because it was
unseasonably warm for April.
Read to me again and she
handed me an anthology of poetry from their book shelf and for the rest of the
afternoon, until Diane came home from work, we alternated reading poems. And
then all three of us cooked a vegetable curry and ate at the small kitchen
table, the words of the great Romantic poets still echoing in my
I am glad that I gave my daughters a
love of poetry, rather than just a love of Bob Dylan and a fascination with
American films and television, although Mary did tell me that she is saving up
to go America with her boyfriend. It is odd how our obsessions come down to our
children, and perhaps not the obsessions we want; not my capacity for hard work
or my practical side, but a love for American police shows and comedies, and
apparently Romantic poetry.
I feel infinitely weary and close my
eyes, and then I hear Bob Dylan singing and it is as if I am part of the song
and it is taking me with it. I wish that Laura was with me to share this and to
lie next to me. But then I was always on my own, but Laura, and the other
people in my life have made it more bearable and at times better than that. I
am overwhelmed by the sounds in my head, and suddenly light cascades into me
making me gasp and choke.
Laura looks over the man who was once
her husband. They called her in that morning at seven when he was already
We didnt want to wake
She is still beautiful, even in her
early sixties, her skin dark as if she belonged in Italy or even the Middle
East, a princess somehow transported to this cold and wet city. She strokes his
arm, cold and dead, the nurse, just a young girl, clearly local with her broad
Leeds accent watches her intently, wondering if she will cry.
He was a good man Laura
says, maybe to the nurse or maybe to herself, he never left Leeds or
earned much money, but he was a kind man, always loyal to me and the
Are they coming?
Yes, they will be here today.
Neither of them live in Yorkshire now; Tracey is in Glasgow, Mary in Derby, but
they will come up soon. It was so sudden, he only came in with a chest
infection, I thought he would be out with a couple of days, that he was making
a fuss, not that he ever did. I should have known that it was something
The nurse would like to have hugged her,
or even just patted her arm, but she looked so austere that she did not
He talked last night. He kept
mentioning New York. Had he lived there?
Laura laughed, No he never went to
New York, I think he would have liked to, but he had to leave school at sixteen
when his dad died, and then he worked in a care home for most of his life,
where we met. He had ambitions; to be an architect, to travel, to meet Bob
Dylan, but life was too busy and too expensive. She smiled in fond
remembrance, he did live in his head quite a bit, even I was not sure
what was going on sometimes.
Laura left the ward, and the nurse
started to prepare the body of what had once been a man, wondering who Fiona
was, who he had kept mentioning. We all have secret thoughts and fantasies, and
she hoped that he had been loyal to the tall, beautiful woman who tried to hide
her emotions, but could not manage, not quite. But most of all she hoped that
he had been happy, she did not think that he had been, certainly he had had a
hard timing dying calling out for Fiona and for God and then for his children,
but then few people were happy when it came down to it. Even she, despite her
kind boyfriend and having a reasonable job helping people, felt dissatisfied
and dreamt of travel and a perfect lover, and something even more than that,
although she was not sure what that was. She sighed and got on with her
work and wondered if she had food in for tea that evening.
The sun beat down on his head as he
walked along Wall Street, so familiar and yet so strange, he felt young and
full of curiosity like a child as he observed everything about him; the myriad
sights, the smells and the noises that saturated him. There were people
all around him pushing and jostling, and he could hear taxis hooting and voices
shouting in that American accent that he so loved. He wondered where he was
going, but then he realised that it was his day off and that he could go
anywhere and do anything that he wanted to. The crowds parted as he hurried
onward and then somebody took his hand and held it tight.