Corinne can’t bear this

But don’t you want to see him?
Lot’s of parents get divorced.
I don’t think they ever did,
she downs her glass.
Frankie is amazed-
So they’re still married?
I suppose so – if he’s still alive.
Wouldn’t he want to say good-bye
or know that Nana’s ill?
It’s not that simple Frankie.
Why not? Why does no-one
tell us owt?
Dolly gets up, goes to the mantelpiece
she finds a lighter, a packet of tabs,
she lights one up, her back to them all.
Frankie feels his heart beating,
he holds his breath. Dolly turns:
She made me swear to keep it secret.
Oh, what the fuck.

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It’s half past one

half the whiskey is gone
it’s loosened their tongues.
Paddy’s nodded off,
Corinne’s in pyjamas, curled
in a blanket with Frankie,
she asks:
What was Nana like
when you were young?
Was she strict?’
Aye. With us and herself.
She had her way of doing things,
they had to be right.
Did she really go to mass
every day?
No. It just felt that way – she’s pious
God fearing. I think it kept her going
all those years.
Frankie hesitates, his mouth is dry
as he asks:
What was Grandad like?
Dolly swirls her glass
staring at it. Corinne and Frankie
wait, looking at her:
Tall and thin,
I think you’d call him a snappy dresser.
What do you remember most about him?
He had nice hands. Always clean.
Was he kind, or strict like Nan?
He laughed a lot, he’d tease us,
making jokes. But not when Nan
was there.
Why did he go?
Dolly pours another whiskey
for them all and hesitates,
Frankie takes a sip, shudders and asks:
Do yer know where he is?
Dolly shakes her head and closes her eyes:
He left when I was eight.
I’m not sure how we’d find out where he is.
Nan wouldn’t want to see him.

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It’s twelve o’clock

Corinne, Frank and Paddy
are round at Aunty Dolly’s
drinking tea and watching DVDs
in the dark, waiting for news.
They hear the key in the lock
look up as Dolly comes in
dark rings round her eyes
a bottle of whiskey in her hand,
Bunk along, she flops
onto the settee, Corinne Pet
get some glasses.
Dolly lights the lamp and sighs:
Yer Ma and Da are still there.
They’ve got her stable,
but she’s not out the woods yet.
Corinne brings some little tumblers
Dolly pours: Here, get this
doon yer neck. She raises her glass
and takes a swig,
I always thought she’d gan on for ever.

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Yer Never?

Corinne is amazed:
You asked Nana that?
Is Grandad dead?
Yes – No – she didn’t really say.
Aw, Frankie Man!
Nana said I had strength of will
not like him.
What did she mean?
I divvent kna.
Frankie’s lying on his bed
Corinne’s brought pop and chocolate,
it’s a grey Saturday afternoon.
She looks out the window,
I think yer do have a strong will
she turns and looks at Frank
who shakes his head,
she says: It’s like training.
When ye swim, yer really focussed.
To train hard takes mental will power.
Frankie sighs: I wish I could be like Nana, so certain
about God, and everything.
Frankie – yer not going ter get all religious?
He looks at Corinne: Sometimes it seems easier – to let someone
tell me what ter do.
She’s irritated: Yer divvent believe all that stuff!?
Their conversation’s cut short –
Mam opens the door:
Nana’s collapsed – I’m gannin ter hospital.

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Nana calls round, she walks slowly
but her tongue is sharp:
Right. Ye – come wi me!
Put a coat on, it’s cad mind,
them cotton things are nee good.
She pulls at Frankie’s hood,
Wear a scarf and gloves.
Haway – we haven’t got all day.

He follows her out, the air bites,
her breath comes in white puffs
Where we going Nan?
To a place where troubles are sorted.
They set off up West Road; halfway
Nana has to stop, her chest heaving
sits on the low wall of the funeral parlour
beside the old Fire Station.
Frankie stares at his feet, the tips
of his fingers tucked in his armpits.

Nana takes his arm, they walk on
her grip is strong despite her failing lungs.
She stops outside heavy wooden doors,
a red brick church dark and dour;
But Nana..
But nothing – c’mon.
He steps inside, incense
thick in the air, candles flicker,
footsteps echo. Chairs scrape, they sit.
Nana closes her eyes, her lips
form soundless words. Frank looks around:
the silence, the power and scent
surround him, he wants this shell
to hold him close, transport him to a place
of healing and acceptance.

He closes his eyes and clasps his hands
tight in his lap; he forms a plea, a prayer
a question – to have no body, no physical
self, to be a spirit, a soul that can float away
that nothing can hurt.
He hears a male voice drone, he looks up
the priest has grey hair with a yellow streak
his first two fingers on his right hand are stained.
Frank remembers Ned like a sudden pain in his head.
He’s lost the moment.

Nana and Frank walk slowly home.
Nana says nowt, Frank feels wrung out;
he walks her to her door, pecks her cheek,
she grunts Yer a good lad.
Let yer father guide yer away from trouble.
Frank’s not sure what he heard,
did she mean God or Dad?
He turns to walk home,
Nana calls him back: Haway!
Stop for a coffee lad.
He looks around and sees a rare smile
on Nana’s face.

Nana shivers in her kitchen
making milky coffee:
Put that gas fire on she calls.
Frank clicks the switch
the blue and yellow flames light
instantly, then glow orange.
She comes in – Not Full on, Frankie!
I’m not made o’money.
He turns it down to number three,
she hands him a plate of soft ginger biscuits:
Easier on the teeth.
Frank and Nana dip them in their drinks.

Nan? Frankie stares at the fire
Is Grandad.. where is he? Is he dead?
Where, when? How did he die?
He left me an the bairns when your pa
was ten. Far as I’m concerned
he was dead from then.
Thirty one years and not a word.
But maybe, what if he was ill
and that’s why he left?
It was deliberate, that’s all I know.

Do you think I’m like him?
Nana looks quick and hard –
What yer mean?
I ran away.
Good God lad, yer a young man
who needs a strong hand, that’s all.
Let the Catholic church take yer
to it’s bosom.
Frank blushes at the word
Nana leans: Yer divvent need them pills.
It’s strength of mind – you’ve got that
and that’s what yer Grandad lacked.
She stands to take the empty cups away
Frank hears her in the kitchen
lighting a tab, and then her hacking cough
he pops his head round the door
Nana waves him away, and he’s off.

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He doesn’t leave his room for days

hardly touches food, three mugs
of tea line his windowsill,
clothes pile in heaps, cds
and papers lie discarded.
He won’t speak, but sleeps
all day, then has restless nights.
He hears Dad’s voice rising up
through the floor, he can’t hear words
but the meaning is clear.
Next morning Dad comes in
rips open his curtains:
Right. It’s the doctors
fer ye; we’ll see
if there’s owt wrong.
Frankie doesn’t argue
but goes along with Dad
to see the lady Doctor
at Ethel Street. She smiles
asks Frank lots of questions.
Can you describe
exactly what you feel?
Frank tells her about the shakes,
the beating heart, the noisy world
outside his head.
Dad shifts in his seat
Aye, but that’s not ill is it?
The Doctor looks at Dad
I think your son is suffering from
Depression. I’m prescribing Prozac.
Let’s see how he gets on.
Dad mutters as they walk
back home: Pills!
We just got on with it.

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New Term

Corinne’s standing in the hall
her skirt is short, her tights are black.
Hiya Auntie Marie.
She hops from foot to foot
waiting for Frankie,
Mam calls up the stairs.
He stands at the top
hovers, then descends
as if he’s wearing heavy boots.
Will yer be ok? says Mam
Frankie looks at her:
Do I have to go?
Yer Dad thinks it’s the best way.
Yeah, but what do you say?
Haway says Corinne and reaches out
linking arms she walks him through the door.
Mam watches from the window
then lights a tab and drums her fingers
in the kitchen.

The pavement’s icy, there’s a whipping wind
Frankie feels cold and weak and thin.
Corinne’s chatting on about her christmas phone
showing Frankie pictures. He hardly looks
then up ahead he sees a group of lads
standing on the pavement and he freezes.
What? says Corinne
Frankie feels a hand
twisting his guts, his eardrums ring:
I’ve got to go home he whispers
the colour’s gone, his skin is flayed
his heart is beating much too fast,
Corinne, Please.
The traffic’s loud, his senses on overload
he’s turning circles, grabbing Corinne’s hand.
Ok, Frankie. It’s ok.
She takes him firmly by the arm
walks him back.
He cannot find his keys
so Corinne rings the doorbell.
Mam’s there as if she was waiting
for this moment; Corinne calls:
I’ll have to rush for registration.
I’ll drop by after school.
Frank is shivering
Do yer want a cuppa tea?
Frank shakes his head and drags upstairs
crawls in, fully clothed, to bed.

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That night Paddy rolls a joint

they kneel on Paddy’s bed
leaning out the window
sharing smoky breath
a quiet conversation,
icy fingers touching
as they pass the blow.

Paddy talks quick and low
Yer bring it on yerself
What? says Frank.
Just act, yer kna,
a bit more normal.
Dissin yer was easy.
He takes a draw
he holds his breath
then passes it.
Becca said –
What? what did she say?
Nah, nowt, don’t matter.
Tell me.
She said – yer canny lookin
but yer act dead weird.

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Dad lays down the law

to Frank and Paddy.
Yer Mam an me have been talkin.
There’s ter be nee more of this
drug business. Right?
Them pills or that waccy baccy.
That’s what’s wrong wi Frankie.
We seen it, in the papers, an the telly, man,
So sort it, right?
And that goes fer ye an all.
Dad points a finger at Paddy
who’s hiding a laugh behind
a mug of tea.
Mam says nowt, as usual,
but eyes Frank.
Dad, certain he knows right from wrong,
thinks that’s it – job done.

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