The Letter That Was Never thrown Away

There’s a pile of faded papers
and an envelope on top –
Dad takes it out, gives it to Dolly.
The envelope is yellowing
and furry at the corners
the stamp is a man’s head
with a pointed nose, wearing a fez,
the address has flourishes,
the handwriting curls across the paper
as if it wants to fly away.
Dolly stares at it in her hand:
Why did yer never tell us?
The franking ink is purple
Frankie makes out the word Maroc,
reminding him of labels on tangerines.
So Grandad went to Morocco? he whispers.
Inside is one sheet of flimsy airmail
in faded airforce blue.
Dolly looks at it, then with a tight voice says
to Frankie, Here.
Frankie reads
Dear Margaret
I know you will never forgive or forget –
your God was never going to let you.
He was never going to let me either.
I loved you and the bairns in my own way, truly
and will never stop. But back home
I could never live with you the way a husband should.
Here, there is no shame in what I am.
I’ve changed my name, I’ll never contact you again.
I think it’s best this way.
I’m sorry.
Patrick

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Frankie tells Dolly what he saw

all those years ago
about his Dad’s locked cupboard
at the garage. Dolly’s not sure:
Could be anything – bills
old love letters from yer mam..
her voice trails off, Frankie says
But what if it was something about Grandad?
Dolly frowns:
Well. Why don’t we go an look?
Frankie, Corinne and Dolly
all arrive at the garage. Dad and Paddy
are leaning over the open bonnet
of a Fiat. Dad looks up, suspicious,
his eyes darken as he sees Frankie.
I’m busy. What ye want?
Dolly looks at Dad, she hesitates:
Micky..
I divvent want te talk aboot Frankie. It can wait.
No. says Dolly, It’s not about Frank.
Dad starts, his face white: It’s not Marie?
Is she all right?
She’s ok. It’s something else..
Dad’s irritated now, he leans forward
over the car again, talks to the engine:
Well it better be important if ye have to come doon here.
I’ve got a man waiting on this Fiat, I’m trying ter fix a gear box
before this afternoon. I cannot drop everything for a cup of tea an a chat…

Dolly takes a breath:
Frankie says ye’ve got
some papers or something
locked in a cupboard.
I want ter see.

All goes still and quiet, Frankie chews his lip, Dolly stands firm,
Corinne watches Paddy who looks at Dad; there’s a faraway rumble
of traffic, and a trickle of radio 1 from Dad’s cubbyhole office.

Slowly, Dad stands up,
then he says, a low menace in his voice:
What the hell are you gannin on aboot?
I’ve got nowt here of interest ter yee –
cars, machinery, tools – my work, ok?
I’m busy.
He turns back to the car. Dolly insists:
Frankie thinks it might be something ter dee
with Grandad. I just want ter see.
If you’ve been keeping secrets from me, Micky Donnelly
I’ll… I’m yer sister – he was my Dad too!
Frankie looks from Dad to Dolly.
Dad’s neck is red, he folds his arms:
The past is dead and buried.
That’s how Mam wanted it.
I respect her wishes.
Dolly explodes: Fer chrissakes Micky!
It’s the living that need
ter be respected now!
Our kids deserve to know
about their Grandad. I deserve to know.
Dad is angry too:
Some things are better left alone.
Divvent gan raking up
all that shite – ye’ll regret it.
I’ll regret it if I don’t, Dolly takes a step,
Is this the cupboard Frankie?
Frank nods nervously, eyeing Dad.
Dolly holds out her hand:
Give me the key. I’m not afraid to look.
Dad shakes his head, pulls
the oily rag from his pocket
takes his time wiping his hands
as if considering what he’ll do next.
Stiffly, he goes to the locker at the back of the garage
a small grey safe in the wall
dusty and hidden behind old cans of oil
jars of swarfega. He clears the cans
so he won’t knock them over, finds a key
on a big bunch in his pocket
fits it in the lock,
then the metal door swings opens.

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Eventually he creeps back

through the shiny wet streets
it’s one a.m. He rings Corinne, hears
her sleepy voice:
Frankie? what’samarrer?
Haway. Letus in. Canna stay
at yours the neet?
He’s standing looking up
at her window, he sees her light go on;
two minutes later the front door opens.
Ee yer soaked.
He looks round once and slips in.

Next morning, Dolly eyes him
gives him a tab, lights his
and her own,
Don’t tell me Dad where I am.
She blows out smoke,
Frankie, pet, he’ll worry.
Let him. He told me ter go.
He didn’t mean it. What about yer Mam?
Frankie frowns, Corinne begs
Can’t he stay for a few days?
Dolly considers this, sighs
Till things settle then. Yer Dad’s had a rough year.
Frankie opens his mouth, but Corinne’s indignant:
What about Frankie? I’ve seen it,
more than you.
I know, I know. I think
ye’ve done fantastic, Frankie –
pullin yerself together, doing
GCSEs, getting a job.
And everything else…
Yer think? Frankie relaxes
takes a drag. Dolly muses:
Yer Dad was so proud
when he had twin boys, went round
with a geet big smile fer days
tellin everyone.
Aye, an it’s bin downhill ever since
I’m just a geet big disappointment –
he hates me.
No Frankie, yer wrong.
He loves yer, even though
he might not show it..
I know me own brother –
he keeps his feelings
locked up tight.
That jogs Frank’s memory, he nods:
Aye, he does,
I think Dad’s got
some other things locked up tight, an’ all.
Dolly looks from Frank to Corinne
What?

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It’s stormy

and hot, like the air’s waiting –
Frank’s listening to QBoy,
the lamp is on, making his shadow
into a landscape on the wall.
Suddenly there’s banging and shouting,
then an army coming up the stairs,
his door bursts open and there’s Mam,
her back to Frank, arms spread wide going:
Micky, Micky. Don’t. Don’t.
But Dad pushes past her.
He fills the door frame, like a monster.
For a second he just stands and looks,
then he’s raving:
he rips posters of David Bowie and champion swimmers off the wall,
It’s all puffs pictures, fuckin perverts!
He scrumples them in his big scarred hands
the light jumps off his shaved head.
Then he comes towards Frank who scrambles
back against the wall, and Mam is still repeating
Micky, don’t, Micky, don’t.
And he stares right down at Frankie, his finger
punctuating the space between them:
You. Little. Dirty. Bastard.
Did yer not think about us?
He grabs at Frank’s wrists, dragging him off the bed,
onto the floor.
Frank’s trying to curl up,
hide his head and belly,
expecting blows. But Dad
sits bang down on the bed,
his head in his hands:
Thank god yer Nan’s not here ter see it.

Frankie’s heart is kicking to get out of his chest
but he uncurls and stares at Dad’s feet
puts a hand towards him.
Dad leaps like jumps leads
says: Don’t you touch me!
Stalks out. Frank is crying,
Mam hovers, then turns and goes out,
Frank lies on the floor, staring at the dust
and trainers under his bed.
Then stands up, looks at ripped posters,
feels his wrists red from Dad’s hands
opens his mouth, shouts:
Dad!
jumps down the stairs two at a time.
Dad is standing by the front door.
Dad, stop.
I got nothing ter say.
Lissen ter me..
He shakes his head. Mam says low:
Micky.
Dad sits down on a chair and stares at the wall.

Ever since I was little..It’s like everything
I did was wrong. I’ve tried so hard, to make yer pleased,
but Dad, I can’t.

Dad’s going purple and banging his knees with his fists:
Will power! That’s what you lack.
Yer give in ter yer perversions.

Tears are rolling down now,
Frank’s nose is snotty,
he wipes it on his sleeve

I work hard, to put food on the table.
Ter live decent. I’m not perfect,
but at least I can hold me head up
when I walk around the streets.

I’m still yer Frankie.

Dad stands up and punches the wall,
God didn’t make men and women
so people like you could – ah, god.
It’s .. it’s sick!
Veins stand out on his neck.
Then Frankie cracks, can’t get his words out,
like a river rising in his throat:
No..No! It’s you that’s wrong, not me. You!

Dad roars and picks up the chair
holds it over his head,
throws it, sends it smashing
on the wall beside Frank.
GET OUT! Get out. Before I do you damage!
Mam put her hands to her face.

Frankie runs to the front door
pulling on his shirt
out into the boiling night,
heavy with thunder and rain about to fall.

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Paul’s gone home

and Frankie has to face it eventually.
It’s dark. The leaves on the trees
are flickering round the street lamps
jittery in the breeze.
He’s dropped two Es, feels
braver than he should
knowing what’s waiting.
He walks fast until he gets to his door,
suddenly he runs off round the estate,
then back to the front door,
fumbles with his key
the house is quiet: Dad must be
at the pub. Mam is watching tv
she says nowt, she knows he’s there
he gets a glass of water
goes up to his bedroom
and waits.
He wants Paul
but knows it’s madness.
thinks about his face:
thin, like a mike stand with black hair
hiding one eye. That eye says
it all:
scornful or sexy
tender or distant.
Paddy’s out. Frank’s got the bedroom
to himself. He’s taken off his T shirt
it smells of Paul. He rolls it in a ball
and holds it tight as he lies there
heart beating in the night.

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Frank is high

on fear and excitement.
Sunday is sunny
Dad and Paddy are fixing a bike
in the backyard.
Mam’s eating chocolate and reading Hello.
Paul knocks on the back yard gate,
Paddy lets him in, grins, says nowt,
Dad looks up, puzzled.
Hi says Paul,
Frankie’s watching from the kitchen
he shout Who’s fer coffee?
Mam puts down the Hello, stops eating
says Frankie?
He says It’s ok Mam
Paul’s out the back making conversation
he knows about bikes, he’s talking
derailleur gears, panniers, WD40.
Dad’s smiling, Paddy’s looking hard at the wheel.
Frank comes out with four coffees:
Dad with two sugars, same for Paddy
one black for Paul and Frankie’s white.
Dad, he says, This is Paul.
Pleased ter meet yer, son.
He’s my friend,
he pauses, swallows, looks into his cup,
My boyfriend.
Dad’s smile disappears
his face is a plank of wood. He takes
his coffee, goes indoors without a word.
Paddy looks up and shakes his head.
Paul gives Frank a peck on the cheek.
Frank’s knees go wobbly, coffee
spilling all over.
They hear raised voices: Mam and Dad indoors
then there’s a loud shout: Frankieee!
Oh Fuck he says and Paul says C’mon
and they leg it out the back gate
down the lane, laughing and feeling sick.

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Paul texts Frankie

Sorry – I miss u

They meet, and talk it over
sitting on the steps
beside the Baltic art gallery
watching people come and go
over the Millennium Bridge.
Frankie’s made his mind up.
This is it –
I canna be doin with livin a lie,
Dad in blissful ignorance.

Paul says Aye?

Frankie takes a deep breath:
I want yer ter come round,
meet Dad and Mam.

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Frankie waits

on the Monument steps
watching the evening sun
light the stones a warm cream;
girls are stotting in their heels
down the bank, their squeals
ring out as they head for the quayside.
Paul’s an hour late.
Frankie knows in his heart
he’s not coming.
Miserable with indecision
he phones Corinne:
Will yer come and meet me?
he pleads.
Two hours later
he’s drunk and sobbing
I’ve blown it. He hates me.
I’ll never see him again.
Frankie man – it’s yer first spat.
Everyone has arguments.
And if he doesn’t come back
then he wasn’t worth it.
Aye, yer right, yer right.
Yer my best friend, Corinne.
yer’ll always be my best friend.
Aye, Corinne sighs,
C’mon. Let’s gan.
And they stumble back up
Westgate Hill in the lilac light.

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It’s nearly five at The Singing Hinny

Frankie’s wiping off the tables
when he sees a face peering in,
it’s Paul;
flustered he goes to the door, says:
What are you doing here?
Well that’s nice, I must say,
not even a hello?
It’s – we’re nearly closed.
I thought we were meeting later.
Yes, I just wanted to give you
a surprise.
Anyone might see!
See what? I’m allowed to buy
a cup of tea.
Look. I’ve got to finish
wiping up. I’ll see you later.
Frankiiee! a voice calls from the back.
Quick – before he sees you!
God Frank – you’re paranoid.
Paul turns without another word
and doesn’t look back.

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