Corinne tries to cheer him up

She’s brought him chocolate
they sit on his bed, eating chunks.
Frankie says
I’m not sure the pills are helping.
But then, says Corinne,
It’s not surprising yer feel blue,
everyone else does too.
We just lost Nana
and we nearly lost you.
Frankie does a wonky smile.
Will yer think about coming back
to school? It might be better
than frettin at home.
Frankie lies there, saying nowt
trying to work out what it is
that feels so hard:
It’s just like I’m all wrong.
I don’t know where I belong.
Aye. Well. Have yer tried
writin in yer book?
Frank shakes his head,
Try thinking aboot all the things yer like –
music, food, places ye were happy.
Frankie rolls his eyes at her
and lies on his back
as the world outside
turns to white.

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On a cold sunday in February

the family are standing at Nan’s
new memorial in polished marble:
In Memory of a Loving Mam and Grandma
Called to Rest
Safe in God’s Care.
They lay down bunches of early Iris
and a pot of blue Hyacinth.
It’s a little plot in Fenham Cemetery
between low trees, looking out over
the Town Moor.
Dad and Mam are holding hands,
Corinne has an arm through Dolly’s,
Paddy and Frank stand far apart,
hands in pockets, keeping quiet.
As they walk slowly up the hill past
the General Hospital, Frank hangs back
with Dolly, tries to ask her questions:
Leave it, Frank she says
with a sigh. All are lost
in their thoughts under a white
snow-threatening sky.

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Back at Home

Later that night it’s cold and dark outside,
there’s flowers in vases
in every room.
Mam’s got the kettle on
Dad is maudlin
he looks up as the boys come in
I’m proud of yer – it was a decent send off
for yer Nan.
Mam says nowt but hands round tea
and tabs.
She was a good woman, the best.
Mam pats his shoulder, he holds her waist.
Frankie blurts:
I met a man who knew Grandad.
Paddy hisses Focken Shut up, man.
Dad’s too lost in thought to notice, they sip their tea
and Frankie goes on up to bed.

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Wake at the Club

There’s a dapper fat man
talking to Corinne and Frankie
says he’s an old pal from
Sinclair’s – knew their Nan and Grandad
and he’s asking questions.
Corinne’s tipsy with sherry:
My ma’s Dolores. It means Lady of Sorrows
mam got the wrong name, she’s always laughing
Dolly suits her better – she’ll belt out
Hello Dolly to the whole street
I say Mam be quiet, she just laughs more
she’ll do karaoke if anybody’ll let her.
Mickey’s my uncle and he’s older than Dolly
he’s Frankie’s Dad.
The dapper turns and looks at Frank in an interested way:
So Micky’s your father?
Frankie nods, the man smiles:
My name’s Bob Armstrong.
Let me get you both a drink.
He buys another sherry and a vodka for Frank
who’s feeling bold –
Did you know our Grandad?
Patrick Donnelly? Yes, I did.
Do you know what happened to him?
The dapper man looks at Frank
then away across the room,
No.
Then the singing starts and it’s too loud
for further conversation.
Late that night, as Bob shakes
their hands goodbye
they’re too far gone
to notice that he slips
a piece of paper into
Frankie’s jacket pocket.

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Order of Service

Dad stands up, his hands are shaking
his paper flaps, he says
Psalm 23 was her favourite
and reads:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Dolly stands and faces the crowd
says Mam loved Handel’s Messiah,
and then plays a recording of
I know that My Redeemer Liveth
dabs a hankie to her nose.

The Priest pays personal tribute
to Mrs Donelly – as mam and Grandma
then reads the traditional
Ashes to Ashes Dust to Dust

and Nana’s coffin disappears to the tune of
My Way by Frank Sinatra

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Nana’s send off

It’s a bright January day,
scraps of clouds, tissue thin
a sky of icy blue,
winter trees hold bare arms towards a weak sun
there’s a sheen to buildings.
Over the brow of the West Road crawl the black beetles:
Nana’s hearse and the family limos,
creeping down the hill
towards the tree-lined crematorium.
One by one they turn right
like formation dancers into the circular drive
draw up and release their load.
The gathering crowd hover, black crows,
around their feet snowdrops stand in their cold beds
solemn and brave.
Frank and Paddy in their new jackets and ties
beside Mam and Dad at the entrance,
Dolly white faced, and Corinne neat in black.
They are greeting mourners
waiting to pay their respects, say a few words,
give Dolly a kiss, shake Dad’s hand.
Paddy next to Dad
shaking hands and nodding to all these old folk
holding his head up, his posture straight
willing Dad to hold up too.
Mam stands half-hidden on the other side
biting the skin around her finger,
an unlit tab in her pocket.
Frankie flanks his Mam,
staring hard at all the faces
of these elderly mourners: looking
for clues, a secret, a sign that might lead him
closer to the mystery of Grandad
their missing piece of history.

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That night in the kitchen

Dolly is sitting, wet-eyed,
Mam hands round tea and tabs,
Dad has a pen, writing a list
on the back of an envelope:

Book the Crem
Father Michael?
Flowers – family only.
Announcement in the Chron.
Do at the club?
Food?
Order of Service.

Frankie and Corinne
are standing at the edge
Frannkie asks:
How will yer tell all her old friends
if yer don’t know where they live?
Dolly sighs,
The announcement in the Chronicle –
it’s the usual way.
Frankie persists:
What if they don’t read it?
Dad says
If they don’t read it,
they’re probably dead.

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Blow

The wind is funnelling down the Tyne
men flatten hands on hats
women bend into the air
bags ganging up against their knees
trees are shaking nervously,
litter is skittering – crisp packets
cans, plastic – all swirl
and scoot along the kerb.
Frankie is sitting in his room
feeling the house edge and shift
with each buffet; his hands
over his ears, the crack
at the baths has shaken him,
he doesn’t know if he can go back.
Mam is on the phone
her voice reaches him in low tones,
he goes to the stairs and listens.
Mam sighs, he hears the familiar
click, click
of her lighter, he steps down
slowly, sees her in the kitchen
hand over her mouth,
tears in her eyes:
Mam?
She turns and looks
Oh, Frankie. It’s yer Nan.
Half an hour later, they’ve collected
Paddy and Dad,
they’re all in the hospital car park.
Dad has his hand over his eyes,
his shoulders fall and rise,
Mam cups a tab in her palm
her hair blows across her face
Frankie is staring into space
his hood up, hunched against the blast.
Dad takes a tissue from Mam
blows his nose, wipes his mouth:
Reet then. We’ll have to sort
arrangements.

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Frankie wants a change of scene

he wraps up warm and heads for the pool,
just a gentle swim, he thinks.
The house is tense, it makes him twitchy:
the worry about Nana. In a funny way
he feeles responsible though he’s not sure why.
He rolls his towel under his arm and walks
to the pool through the quiet morning.
No birds sing, the branches drip with damp.
It’s hot inside though he shivers in his trunks,
there’s maybe half a dozen already there
as he slips into the shallow end
and wraps his arms around his chest.
Pop music distorts in the metal struts;
he pushes off and starts to swim.
He’s done five lengths when he cracks
head-on to another man.
They stop and stand, the man towers
over Frank and lets his mouth rip:
Focken what you doin?
I’ll focken have you – your dead
ye little bastard.
Frank’s frozen,
scared the man will swing a punch
he backs off to the edge and scrambles out
fighting back the tears.

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