I wrote this short piece in response to something I read on Sacha Black’s blog, a sort of mass movement to write about forgiveness. Forgiveness is not an easy or straightforward concept; it sometimes changes between the giving and the accepting. It isn’t an automatic solution to grief either, as I tried to show in this story.
(please imagine the image of the dead ginger cat that I have but decided not to post).
Ginger was dead. Betty wasn’t allowed to touch the broken body. She wanted to wipe away the blood smears but she was afraid of hurting the cat even more. Her father had scraped him onto an old towel and they were going to bury him in the garden. Betty watched as her father dug the hole, but more than her father, she watched the towel and the paw sticking out with the delicate pink pads. They looked so perfect and alive. She crouched down and reached out a finger to touch them, one after the other. Still soft and a bit spongy. But cold.
Mr Ritchie across the road had run over Ginger while he was backing out of his garage. He’d said sorry. He’d gone now, off to the supermarket as if nothing had happened. But he’d said sorry. Betty ought to have forgiven him because that’s what you did when people said they were sorry. But if he was sorry, why didn’t he cry like she had done? Why had he gone off to Tesco thinking about cornflakes and soap powder?
She must have been glowering because her father stopped digging and came over to give her a hug.
“It wasn’t his fault, you know. He just didn’t see Ginger in the driveway. He was very sorry about it.”
Betty said nothing. Mr Ritchie was sorry, but not sorry enough. People who are sorry enough don’t do the things that would make them sorry. She looked at the towel and the very slight hump that the squashed cat made inside it. She looked at the beautiful pink pads and she sobbed. Mr Ritchie was sorry. But Ginger was still dead.
Inspired by the painting by José Navarro Llorens
She looks for him every morning when she wakes, reaches out a hand expecting to find him there, his warm bulk curled around her protectively. Every morning, the knot in her throat tightens, and the sharp sting of memory pricks out the tears. It had been on a still-hot autumn day, chill in the early morning, when the dead leaf flames fluttered, that his life faded, snuffed out before the night. Now the leaves begin to turn again. She takes the child to the green mound where the tall trees sway, and they listen to the breeze whisper his name.
Painting by Modigliani
Neat little house,
Pavement swept in front,
Clean net curtains.
At an open window, an old man
Elbows resting on the sill, chin in hands.
He watches without seeing, the world pass his door,
Blue eyes, bright and empty,
Seeking a reflection perhaps, to fill them.
Once whipcord wiry,
He is frail now, bones as brittle as the white hair
That flutters dry and thin in the breeze.
I wonder, is he watching for her,
A sign, a word, a white hand waving?
Does the light breeze carry the sound of her voice,
And does he listen for the ring of her familiar step?
From the great sadness that sits in his eyes,
Blue and empty as oceans,
His face, immobile as he sifts the city sounds,
I would say he watches and listens in vain.
In the north, in Flanders, where the earth is deep
Are the golden fields where the mud was red
And beneath the crosses hospital white
Lie the broken bones of a million dead.
Now in the flat lands poppies blow
Around the fields where the grain grows high
And a million dreams that flutter still
When the poplar leaves in the north wind sigh.
Dreams of love and life and home
Of a vanished world once full of light
Blow with the breeze and rise with the lark
Dance in the rain running crystal bright.
Over the flat lands the wind from the sea
Sighs through the poplars as it ever has done
Stirring the blood in the deep rich earth
And the dreams of the dead so they dance in the sun.
Now that the din and the dying’s all done
And there are no words left that have not been said
The lark in the high sky still sings its sweet song
And the fields full of poppies remember the dead.
Trying to get the sadness out. A haiku, a short poem, and a tanka.
Grief pangs twist the heart
Wring tears from vague sentiment
A sea to drown in.
A child is dead
And another and another
All someone’s children
All my children
So many parents’ tears
A flood of heart’s blood
To quench the fires of hatred
But ideals do not listen
Fanatics need guns
I did not know you
never held your hand in mine
or called out your name
but I grieve for your absence
the world is a darker place.