Nana’s in intensive care

Dad goes up everyday
sits beside her bed
Mam makes meals and smokes
Paddy won’t catch Frankie’s eye
Frank’s still chewing over what Dolly said
everything’s topsy turvy
and he can’t ask anyone why.
Frankie writes in his diary
before he goes to bed,
he goes to the cupboard and reaches in
pulls out the hidden book, soft
and secret in his hands. He takes the gel pen
and begins:
I’m not sure what to write.
In my family we don’t write in diaries
we don’t talk about private things
we don’t think about words or poems
no-one reads anything longer than
a newspaper.
He likes the look of his black handwriting on the cream page
it is careful, definite, important:
he closes it and hides the book again.

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The journal

is velvety green
soft and fat.
Inside are creamy pages
blank as he feels
lots of them, it burrs
as he flick the leaves.
Corinne says It’s a New Year’s Present,
forra new start
she gives him a thin-nibbed gel pen
as well:
Corinne man, I’ll never
write enough ter fill that book!
Haway, she says.

He hides the book in the back of his cupboard.

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It’s quiet in the house

Frankie tells Corinne:
Paddy’s got a face like a smacked arse,
Dad’s got thunder in his eyes
and Mam just sits and smokes
and flicks through magazines.
I feel half asleep most of the time.
Corinne agrees:
I caught my mam weeping yesterday
she said it was the onions
but it wasn’t.
Frank is sitting on his bed,
his head rests on his chin,
his knees drawn up,
Corinne – do yer believe all that?
All what?
That story Dolly told us.
Aye, makes sense I spose.
I think it’s a key.
To what?
I dunno – ter everything.
Imagine if we could find out
where he was?
Do yer think we could?
Aye, mebbes. But not right now
with Nan so ill.
Corinne sips her tea, and looks
at Frank:
Why don’t yer try coming back to school?
Corinne man, the thought
just makes me shaky.
They sit and listen to the silence.
Then Corinne rummages in her bag
and brings out a packet-
This is fer ye.

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Not Important?

Frankie turns Aunty Dolly’s words over
in his mind, he understands
they want to keep it quiet
about grandad
but he thinks they’re lying
to themselves.
They can’t face it;
but Frankie can,
he knows that something’s changed
a little flame’s been set alight
just a spark, but it’s enough.

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Nana lies on the hospital bed

a tube taped into her arm
a clear mask clamped to her mouth.
Her skin is tinted blue,
her eyelids flutter, her breath
comes in slow rattles, chest barely moving;
her body has a shrivelled look
her bones have shrunk inside.
Dad sits on a plastic chair, leaning
on his elbows on the bed, hands together
as if in prayer, his face is tight
he looks at Nana’s wristband – Mrs Donnelly.
How are yer Mam?
Can I get yer summat?
Mam? Are ye awake?
All he hears is the rasp of breath
he’s not sure if she can hear
then he whispers:
Why did he have to go?

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Mam

is chewing her nails, fingering a tab
she cannot smoke in the waiting room.
She’s got a stiff neck, a headache
coming on, she wants to be gone.
There’s been too many hospital visits
since Christmas, and she’s got no strength
for this one, for what they all mean.

She goes to the main door, outside
it’s cold and dark, but there are stars
glittering far away. She lights the tab
holds her jacket shut, leans
against the wall and closes her eyes:
waiting. That’s what she does.
She waits and she sees.

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Frankie’s thinking hard

he’s wired
trying to piece the facts into a picture
he can understand:
So, he looks at Dolly,
Does me Dad know all this too?
Dolly stands, spreads her hands
then shrugs, I don’t know.
Like I say, we never talk.
Perhaps it’s better if ye say nowt.
Corinne and Frankie both protest:
But why?
Then Paddy, who has woken up, shouts:
Because it’s shite!
Who wants a bumboy in the family?
And he storms off out.
Dolly puts a hand on Frankie’s shoulder,
Mickey and yer Mam have got enough
to think of without ye bringing up stuff
that’s not important anymore.

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Dolly tells a story

Corinne makes them all mugs of tea,
they settle back as Dolly explains:
Mam told me
the night before my wedding.
Grandad came from a small place called West Sleekburn,
between the Wansbeck and the Blyth,
not far from Ashington – a pit village then.
A close knit community.
Was he a miner? asks Corinne
pulling the blanket up to her chin.
He might have been.
Dolly taps her ash into a saucer,
There was a group of men
known as the West Sleekburn boys,
he was friendly, in with them.
They sip their tea, Dolly’s voice is low
the gas fire glows
she hesitates –
So? prompts Frankie
Dolly shifts and clears her throat –
Me mam says they were known locally
as the bumboys.
Corinne turns and looks at Frank
there’s a ripple in the silence,
Dolly hurries on:
But he moved to Newcastle and worked at Sinclair’s
the cigarette factory bottom of Westgate Hill
it was there he met Nan.
She introduced him to her church.
Corinne wonders:
Did she know..?
About the Sleekburn business?
Aye. He said he was through
with it, that’s why he moved away.
Nana thought she could
change the man he’d been.
She was wrong. In the end.
So where is he – where did he go?
They rowed, about religion and
his way of life. She said he had to choose.
He did and moved away completely.
I’ve no idea where he is – he could be dead.
And like I said, she made it clear
she never wanted to hear his name
spoken ever again.
Corinne whispers:
Mam, did yer never miss him?
Aye. But what good did it do
to mope and wonder? I was only eight.
Now, it’s probably too late.

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