Back to the Rocking Chair
by Richard Thompson
No birds today, Caroline. All sand is swooping in through the door like steam or smoke. Our house is hot now. My shirt lies on my bed soaked with sweat. My belly is folded in my rocking chair. The fields are not much but sand. The flowers are being strangled by weeds. How do you stop that? The orchard was poignant in beauty. Smelled like elderberries.
Who were you, Caroline? How did you smile like that every morning? Walk past with that smell of roses at sunrise? I can only see a tangerine ebb from the field in my rocking chair. Are you doing that? How long do I sit here? Waiting? The porch is splintered and dusty.
- It's hot.
- Get into your fucking bed.
The door snarls back. My silver chains from C are under the porch getting dusty and I get upset when that happens. I kneel under the porch and she's there – twinkling from under the sand all wrinkled and beautiful. She's smiling from the left and then it's all empty on the right. CLICK. Closed. In my pocket for a few minutes, it's a few minutes. Nothing more
Where are you, Caroline?
Take him to the middle of the world over in that sandy epilogue of the book of grass. Take his scrawny little fucking neck and drag him there. Take his clothes and his money. Take his face with the steak knife and dig hard and deep. Take your colt and rest it on his neck and bleed him like a fucking cockerel with the knife. Take his clothes but don't wear them, they smell of semen and reek of the old stench of stew from Caroline. Take the knife to his belly and open up his chest. Take that treasure and put it in your pockets. Take his name and his life but it's too late to take his life. Take his name and tear it up like one of them fucking poems from Mrs. Haydn.
What's he saying, Caroline? Don't you know? Is it your name? He take you down to the town and buy you the nicest silk from the store? Undress you and then later put the silk on you? Like he owned you like a dog with a leash? As far as I remember, C, you weren't a dog who was ever on a leash, Caroline. You were the prize rooster and the little life strutting past every door. You were every scurrying, walking, flying thing in those numerous crumpled, unmade beds across the unmade world.
I'd like to thank you for giving her that silk and giving her your hand and your heart. She collected hearts like crops from a field. I don't know if I was ever the man she liked best but I knew I was the man she loved best. She never scurried or flew or walked. Caroline smelled good next to me in our cosy little universe. Her brow was always matted with sweat and the harp sounded every time she looked at me. She'd turn back and over to her side, the sheets between us. Our eyes wandering somewhere else that I didn't know anything about. I wish I knew where they went.
- Is the clicking on our roof the sparrow or the magpie?
- The sparrow.
I told her the wrong answer so she could turn back and challenge me. However, she was too ignorant; she just stayed over there pondering about her last fuck.
- Does the sparrow flee from the magpie because he's dark?
- The sparrow flees from the magpie because he'd kill the sparrow.
- Why does the magpie prey on the sparrow?
Her hair was black like shoestring. Seaweed when it was wet. I never talked back. I feasted on her shoulder and she nudged my teeth away. I pulled my clothes on and stormed out the door, feeling like that orgasm was once upon a time, far far away.
Caroline did not refer to me when she talked of the magpie. She referred to all the other desperate men who had laid her. The magpie chases the sparrow and has its fill without the need for consent. She never needed to give consent. It was her nature to go with whatever the magpie did. At dusk I was given the leftovers of a long banquet shared by all the magpies I never saw glide past. Like the bony stalking vulture I had my fill. At dusk.
When all the magpies had gone.
It was a sweltering day and I was in the middle of the square when Mrs. Haydn walked over to me. I was sixteen then, she was in her mid thirties. She wore a dress as if she had always been a teenager and as if she had always meant to walk into the Blacksmith's and then bump into me in that wide open village. Her hair was like the sun, her eyes were like a twinkling stream, her back drum rolled down into a perfect, curved behind. It all seemed better when I was at that age.
Mrs. Haydn's husband was a big boisterous faggot with a moustache like a wet flannel. His hair was thin as a daisy chain in the desert, and his forehead the roots of a cedar tree. I used to see Mrs. Haydn in the square and bump into her accidentally every afternoon and let her stumble into that wheezy little shack with me sauntering behind and do everything and nothing to me. In return she asked if I'd read her poetry.
Chilly was the mountain in the cold afternoon
And Danny and his mistress were always to swoon
When the cow mooed and the horses neighed
The crowd wept and wiped their noses in dismay
One day Mrs. Haydn's poetry was too much to bear. One day her brutish husband pretended to care for his wife's well being and took me to the shack with his even larger friend, Royce, and cracked my ribs and broke my jaw. I was left alone to burn for my sins in that dirty little shack across the way from that busy little village.
Where were you, Caroline? When I was born to a symphony of splinter and sinew? Where was your hand on my face and your sweet breath on my skin? Your impertinent bare arms and your blessed eternal legs? Where was the gas to make me paler, and the spark to light a fire? So the rancid shed could burn me to the sand and leave but that broken skeleton? Why did you come from afar on the back of that cart that day and tend to my aching lips? Why had I become the vulture and not that passing magpie?
His large arms could do nothing now, nothing but flail in the midsummer morning. Words are nothing to me but drops of poison. Nothing but a foul excuse dribbling from the lips. Strands of grey saliva hang from my scalp, hanging and dragging in the wind. My arms feel so cold and ache, but my heart beats until this magpie is reformed.
- What's the noise out here?
- Get back into your fucking bed.
Joshua's large arms held Caroline closer than mine ever could. His voice was sweet like strawberries, his poetry and words were the heavenly chorus to my hellacious banter. I found them grasping at one another's necks in the shack that should have been burnt. The blanket hid their beauty so no one else could see. Before then I had always seen the bare backs and fronts and the bushes. For once C had not shared something with me. I had always forgiven her before then. This instance I did not forgive her. I stared from the shadows with my talons sharp. I could smell happiness and she had deserted me.
That night I fled with a backpack and her sinful little fingernails clinched in the bottom of my fist. We fled to a heaven I had never dreamed of. A mountain loomed over the desert and the sun would rise over where the world was round. With my bare hands I scraped through rocks and broken wood and made a new shack – a new home. The sand smelled of limestone and the mountain smelled of train steam.
- Isn't this what you always wanted?
From that day Caroline only smiled vacantly and sat by herself. She never uttered a word. Never discussed the sun or the birds or love. She was a blank page. She had become the house we now stayed in. I could not for the life of me touch her perfect skin again, only hammer the nails into my rocking coffin and drift away with the sand. With C smiling vacantly in our shack. All one could do was forget her beauty and do what she did – forget the love and the past, forget the poems and the candle-lit night time. My blanket wrapped tightly round us as she lay warm next to me.
My wispy hair withers away with time. C is barren. Her promise to have children with me has been broken. Her man walks on a stick through the desolation and over the rocks and sand. In his coat he holds something hidden. Their game – hidden. He creeps up the porch stairs with his coat wrapped round him. I click back the hammer and his eyes are all alert. I pull the trigger just as easily as anything and he falls back and moans on the floor. I change his face. His arms eventually fall by his side.
In the grass there is nothing but risk. I realised this when C had first taken me to the grass to wander and sit and speak. She had silver chains and silver bracelets. All covered in silver like a fresh new jewel. I made a promise that day to be the loving vulture. The nightly resurrector of the girl with hair like seaweed. The keeper. Keeper of silver.
I walk back to the rocking chair and take out my Caroline. Here you are.