So there we were, jammed together on the back seat,
Dad in the middle, me and Goneril either side,
holding a hand each when out of the blue
he comes out with that:
‘who’s going to look after me?’
Not ‘who loves me the most?’ —
that was some childish thing he made up to torment us later.
At first I thought he was joking.
We’d been sitting on the deck in the sunshine,
a good day; all right, I think,
perhaps he’s lonely, Mum gone all these years;
and of course Cordelia says nothing, up front,
pretends she’s concentrating on the traffic, though I know
she’s listening; so I think, yes,
we can put him up for a while,
put up with him for a while,
give him a break till we know what’s next.
If I lean back, I can see
the tiniest stratocumulus above us, following the car,
like my dreams just before dawn, the sweetest,
most playful dreams you’ll get; never a nightmare, never an angry word,
the kids still young, before their Dad developed his mean streak
It had nothing to do with the will.
That business started later, when he’d fly into a rage and threaten
to change it; as if his poxy little bungalow
meant anything to any of us; he thought it was his castle
even as it fell to bits around him:
the mould, the mess,
ceilings bruised by every passing storm’s fist.
But what could we do? His nights were the worst,
lights on, lights off, kitchen clangour at three;
many times, awakened myself, I’d go down to find him
peering through the blinds at the empty street
waiting for dawn
mumbling at the cat about the weather
provoked by late night TV’s insolent jesting.
‘Are you angry about something?’ he asks me from the sickbed
not needing to ask, though why or at what —
of course the dish I made didn’t agree with him,
of course then he slept badly all night, and tells me so —
one night, when the pain wakes him, I tell him
‘You know, I’ve made a bed on the couch nearby,
in case you call.’ And immediately I regret telling him,
immediately I think ‘Why tell him at all?
Why not show more love in the unannounced act?’
Maybe that’s what Cordelia sees in the rear view mirror,
but when I looked up at that cloud
beyond the darkness I was circling
as if bound to an orbit
that bent me taut, strung as a bow before its release
constantly on patrol, unable to keep my mind off the perimeter —
there’s a reason why they put the monsters in the corners of old maps —
not daring to look inwards and so not able to look outwards
when I looked up at that cloud, for once
I felt I no longer knew myself; a stranger,
as of a group met upon the heath.
Avalon Literary Review, Fall 2022