All text copyright Stephen Coates 2006 - 2015


“The Trans Pennine express will now be leaving. We’d like to apologise for the delay and for any inconvenience caused to passengers”

The announcer didn’t sound particularly sorry and as the train started to move nobody really paid any attention anyway – well, certainly not me - who had other things to think about. But then, of all the many inconveniences caused by late departures and arrivals over the years, I couldn’t have realised the particular significance of this one - though there may have been a clue a little while later when, gazing out the window at passing fields, I felt overcome with a strange, gentle but intense feeling of unexpected contentment.

My sister met me at the station with open arms.

“He just died.” She said and started to cry.

The time I last saw him, the window by his bed was open and the spring breeze wafted the sound of Astrid Gilberto’s ‘How insensitive’ into the room from the little radio on the ledge. The handsome, skinny, black French man in the next bed was depressed and defiantly resentful with the loudly cheerful nurses. But who could blame him? This was a waiting room - and for him, dying with cancer before his time - what point was there in social niceties?

My father's skin seemed like a membrane wrapping his shrinking body but it had become strangely beautiful in its detachment. The purple and blue bruises, the copper-green wriggles of veins, the parchment like transparency blended organically with the plastic, plaster and bandage fragments of various recent,fruitless, surgical interventions. As with apparently anybody whose body is fading, his eyes had assumed a dark, bright luminosity.

Things were said – too personal to record here where they might seem clichéd or banal – but which of course in that place had a poignancy and depth amplified by the context and our previous emotional reserve. But profundity jostled with non-sequitorial nonsense, dream seamlessly mixed with reality as the morphine ebbed and flowed. Expressions of affection were chased down labyrinthine corridors by peremptory instructions dryly issued to imagined companions. The ward itself became superimposed upon a room in our family home and floating names from the past attached themselves to passing visitors. However, it was a mistake to try to empathise by pretending to concur with his hallucinations for he could at any moment open his eyes, stare straight at you questioningly with complete lucidity.

I tried to keep him alert by talking about things from years ago. Childhood holidays, favourite relatives, a shared love of old English dance band music. We sang "I’ll see you in my Dreams" and a few other old favourites together a few times. He fell asleep again and so I sketched him as the afternoon slipped away. Then, just before it was time for me leave for London, he opened his eyes and said:

“Thank you”

I was shocked

“For what?!”

But he just looked at me and the distinctions of parent and child seemed to disappear. I suppose it was simply just one person being grateful with another for having been alive. No need for explanations or protests or polite humility. And, amazingly, that would be the last time I spoke to him.

The funeral was held at the Church that had been such a significant part of our childhood. I had rarely visited it since but the old words slipped out as easily as if I had said them only the Sunday before. So many turned out for the wake that we were startled into a re-evaluation of the respect in which his peers and a wider community of acquaintance held him. My friends Glen (who feels like a brother anyway) and Jed - who had known him since we were all children - came up with us to say goodbye. Afterwards, we climbed the hill onto the moor behind the house and drank and laughed with my sisters and the kids.

Who knows what the soul looks like? And who knows how another really sees or really feels themselves to be? At the hospital, I had spent some time with his body. The priest had gone but I was thinking of that traditional Catholic vision of the final journey to the Pearly Gates and suddenly a very palpable image of my father appeared in my mind. But strangely, I didn’t imagine him struggling up the steep road towards St Peter on crutches as I last remembered him. Nor striding purposefully toward his maker as I recall him from childhood – a tall, strong, implacable defence between me and the world. Nor, even as he must have been in his prime - in soldier’s uniform in some train carriage - before I even existed or before even my Mother knew him.

[ LISTEN - I'll See You In My Dreams ]

No. It was most peculiar. What I saw was a dirty faced, dark haired, eleven year old boy in short trousers turning, looking up and then running wildly up a green hillside toward a brightness on the skyline.



Alexi Falls said...

That's beautiful...

Bojangles said...

Incredibly beautiful, sad yet hopeful. Your dad will be proud of that one.

Stella Polaris said...

That's... incredibly beautiful and personal. Thank you for this one. It strikes home for me, in a way, since my mum was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She's had her surgery now, and it seems everything's ok, but... things might've been different.
So, thank you :)

By the way, by Glen, do you mean Duncan?

clerkenwell kid said...

Hey Thankyou. And Stella glad to hear about your mum's recovery

Yes, Glen and I are childhood friends but he's more like family really. Top tip: his new novel 'The Bloodsone Papers' will be out soon - it's remarkable. Top tip two: 'His novel 'I, Lucifer' is in production as a major movie this summer.........

Stella Polaris said...

Stephen, the news about Glen Duncan's new book is wonderful! I've been waiting for something new from him since I finished his latest book, death of an ordinary man.
I read about the movie on IMDb ages ago, but I'd feared it was stuck in production limbo or something. I'm glad it really is being done :) And surely some of (The Real) Tuesday Weld's music will be heard on the sountrack?

clerkenwell kid said...

Yes, and it stars Ewan McGregor and Daniel Craig -the new James Bond....double o six six six...

I'm hoping we can do some music too - although I really don't know what kind of film it's going to be - but it would tie the whole thing up somehow...

Stella Polaris said...

double o six six six...

:D Fitting.

I don't. I just hope they won't rape the book... sadly, it often happens when books are converted into movies :/ Glen's writing is so smart, in a non-elitistic and non-pretentious way, it'd to him great justice if the tone of the movie stayed like that.

And personally I (and probably several other readers) link the book and your music in their heads. They'd be making a big mistake if they decided to leave you out.

Alexi Falls said...

I listened to the music before I read the book, and I think a great scene would be a montage of the newly embodied Lucifer, after waking up in the bath, jumping excitedly round the flat, stuffing food in his face, tossing off frantacically an inhuman amount of times, all with 'Bathtime in Clerkenwell' in the background. Is that just me?

clerkenwell kid said...

Well it's funny - Glen wrote that book in my flat in Clerkenwell and that's my bath - so obviously I would rather not think about anybody else - be it the devil, Declan Gunn - OR Glen Duncan tossing off in it - but you know, now I will always have to.....

That track is probably the one most related to a specific scene in the book. It came out of taking some acid and getting bored. Not that I'm mytholigising illegal drug use of course..

It will be interesting to see what sort of film they make - I mean with that plot treatment you could go either way - like 'Angel Heart' or 'Bruce Almighty' right?

LC Greenwood said...

This was just lovely.
I've been reading and listening since I got back from Manchester a couple months friend Gina... your videographer turned me on to you, and it's so good to have a current place to get my RTW fix.

Also.. Fav line in Lucifer:

...The feeling that someone, somewhere was quiet, simply, without a concealed agenda, telling me that it was alright, that stillness would come, that peace is purchased in the currency of loss.."

Much Love from the US.