By Jane Hyphen
‘Enver, Enver, your lunch!’
The dappled shade from the pine tree is perfect for sitting and writing but he never gets further than the first two lines, ‘I remember you in sunset skies, the molten hazel of your eyes…’
Enver throws down the notepad onto the scorched grass creating a small puff of dusty soil. The house seems so dark, cold and black, sparsely furnished, there are no comforts here. He holds up a picture of his wife but as hard as he tries the next line of the poem never comes, his attempts always sound weak and dishonorable.
How Sura bangs those saucepans, the sound is intolerable. Enver hisses, sensing his annoyance she stops but then there is silence and that is unbearable too. He grabs the plate, ‘Thank you my sister.’ At least outside there are tweeting birds, a few passing vehicles on the road, another world outside the screaming emptiness of the house.
He taps the end of the pencil to his lips. If only he could empty his mind, let inspiration guide him enough to perfect a complete stanza then somehow the lines of communication to the spirit of his late wife would surely open up. Perhaps they could somehow communicate and unlock mysteries. The image of her face forms clearly in his mind’s eye and it occurs to him that his late wife’s eyes were perhaps not even hazel at all. They were bright brown, illuminated like the sunset yes but not hazel. So the first two lines are not even right, he curses, this poem is not loyal to how she actually was and however hard he tries he cannot make it so.
It was easy to remember her when they were a young family, happy, light hearted, full of love but how she became was something he tried to avoid thinking about for it triggered a physical response, shards of pain through his body. That’s how he knew for sure the cause of her death, a broken heart, he felt something similar, damage tearing through his body but perhaps he was stronger. Her pain caused her to sink down, deeper and deeper into a hole and the hole squeezed her until she couldn’t eat, couldn’t breath then it squeezed her heart until it stopped.
The poppies are wonderful this year, scattered along the edge of the wall in shades of dark burgundy, some are double, thick with tightly packed petals, others are single, these are better for the bees. The garden slopes away from the house down into no man’s land and the valley beyond. Enver never ventures down these days, the walk back up to the house hurts his legs and it all looks so overgrown down there, sort of foreboding and of course there could be landmines.
‘I’m going to the shops.’ Sura stands holding her shopping bag, a yellow head scarf covering most of her hair, a few reddish brown strands visible on her forehead.
It occurs to Enver that his sister’s hair is the same colour as the poppies but he knows she dyes it to cover the grey. ‘Get some peaches,’ he says.
She walks towards him staring hard. ‘You left your bread, I will wrap it before it goes hard.’
‘It is already hard, that’s why I didn’t eat it.’
She pokes the bread and it makes a sort of ting sound on the plate. ‘Something will happen today,’ she says placing her hand on his shoulder, ‘There will be news, I know it Enver.’
He covers her hand, squeezes it. ‘How do you know?’
She pulls it away, turns and walks towards the gate. ‘I just know.’
Sura was always a suspicious person, more so recently since she befriended many older women in the village. They gather regularly for coffee and talk, sometimes they weep.
Enver doesn’t feel anything. Perhaps my daughter will call, he thought. Jelka lives in Germany with her boyfriend, she has been back to visit only once for her mother’s funeral, she was stupefied with emotional pain. She calls every once in a while but only wants to talk about her new life and plead for Enver to come visit, meet her boyfriend, see where they live but he cannot leave. Jelka says she barely remembers her older brother, I only remember the dog, she always says quickly attempting to lighten the subject.
A seven year age gap separates them but still, how can it be possible she doesn’t remember him? Enver’s conclusion is always the same, that she doesn’t want to face what happened to the family they once were. He would love to see her but he must hold the fort in case Amir returns.
There is a stillness in the village, enhanced by the hot humid weather, few people have moved back since the end of the war, conversation is stifled, a feigned comity exists, an atmosphere of mistrust. Sura must pass the shell of her old house to reach the shops, she never looks anymore; her eyes sucked all the pain from that building long ago, some of it lives inside her and some was poured away in the form of tears. The house is just a void, it was gutted, burned to four walls. If it wasn’t for her brother she would be a the same, a husk, but his predicament gives her a sense of duty. She knows what happened to her husband but Enver’s son is still missing, she looks after him and they live in hope.
At the edge of the village there is a garage. A truck pulls up, a scruffy man gets out and works the petrol pump. On the passenger seat a large dog pants, something catches his nose, a smell, a memory deeply planted, his lifts his head, the contours of the road, the fresh smells drifting across the valley from the pine trees all awaken his senses. Large triangular ears point upwards and suddenly an old dog is filled with energy, leaping through the open window, joints sore as he hits the concrete. ‘Mirko stop! Where do you think you’re going!’
That name means nothing to the dog, so many names, so many people, his loyalties died when he made the choice to look after himself, to become wild again, to survive the chaos and conflict. He runs stiffly along the familiar cool shadow of a wall, a long wall which he knows will take him somewhere he knows. The man returns the pump in a fluster and attempts to give chase but the dog has turned into an alley and out of sight.
Enver is in the bathroom washing his hands. He hears a strange sound, a click click click, claws across the tiled floor, he turns off the tap and pauses to listen but the sound has stopped, crickets, he thinks. It’s early in the season for crickets but it’s been hot and the grass is high. He dries his hands, looks at his reflection in the mirror, I am old, he thinks.
There is something on the rug, a dark form, unexpected but not entirely alien to Enver’s consciousness, in fact he almost dismisses it but there is movement. The dog dips his head, flattens his ears partly in fear of rejection but his tail swishes from side to side quite automatically. The dog’s body language is complex, full of mixed messages.
Enver freezes on the spot, he stares at the animal and is about to usher it away but there is something about the way it looks, the location in which it lies on the floor and the expressive eyes which seek his approval. The dog is old, battle scarred, black fur has been replaced by grey and its once strong body is now a stubborn barrel shape.
‘It cannot be!’ Enver drops to his knees and takes the dog’s face in his hands. His heart begins to beat loud and strong so that he can hear it and fears something has happened to him, am I seeing ghosts, am I dead? ‘Duka, Duka?’
The dog stands up immediately, jumps up at him, licks his face then it runs upstairs, up to Amir’s bedroom, sniffing all the corners, the room is empty, it goes to the next room which once was Jelka’s now full of Sura’s belongings. Enver stands at the top of the stairs watching as he runs from room to room in search of what was once his family, his pack.
Suddenly and quite automatically Enver’s eyes fill with tears. ‘It’s all gone,’ he says, ‘It’s all gone my boy.’ He collapses on the stairs and sobs until he is pale and shivery.
Sura returns to the house, ‘What’s that smell?’ she says, ‘Enver, you look unwell, is there news, have they found him?’
The dog is dozing now, exhausted from the excitement. ‘The dog,’ says Enver pointing.
‘You can’t take in strays, it might be rabied and there is a man in the village looking for this dog, I must run back and find him.’
‘No Sura! That’s my dog, it’s Duko.’
‘What?’ Sura looks concerned for her brother, his state of mind. Perhaps her feeling was correct, something has happened, Enver has finally lost his composure, the waiting has pushed him over the edge. ‘That is not Duka,’ she laughs, ‘he was a handsome German Shepherd cross…..long dead by now I should imagine.’
‘Sura! That’s my dog, he would be ten, eleven years old. Look here, look at his chest, the white flash, shaped like a bat, he has it. It’s Duka I tell you.’
The dog’s ears pricked up each time his name was mentioned. Sura fetched a bowl of water and some pieces of chicken. ‘Well perhaps,’ she shrugs and shakes her head. ‘It could be, nevertheless we could care for it for while if that’s going to help you feel better.’
Enver’s eyes tear up again, he covers them and shakes his head. ‘He’ll never come back now,’ he says.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well what are the chances? If he was alive Duka would have brought him.’
‘But you said...he could in England, New Zealand, anywhere.’
Enver shook his head. ‘He would have got in touch by now.’ It seemed to Enver that the arrival of the family dog had closed up some loop of uncertainty, the circle was complete, there was no space for Amir, he was nowhere, he was dead. ‘I’ve been kidding myself,’ he said quietly.
‘You don’t know for sure.’
‘I know! I’ve just been in denial...and his mother knew too.’ Enver became angry now, he banged his hand down on the arm of the sofa. ‘I’m his parent, that’s how I know, it’s in here,’ he said thumping his chest. ‘You’re not a parent, not a mother, you would not understand this, any of it!’
Sura grimaced, it was as if he had struck her. She removed a handkerchief from her bag and held it to her face silently. The dog sat up, sensing the tension, he watched her, she held out her hand and stroked his neck.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Enver.
‘He was my nephew too.’
‘I know….I’m going to call Jelka.’
Not being able to have children had been the worst thing for Sura, now that her husband was gone she had nothing. The only thing that made it worse was people’s insensitive comments regarding what she could or couldn’t feel or understand.
Enver returned and hugged his sister. ‘I told Jelka about the dog, she says she may visit us.’
Sura wiped away a tear. The dog followed Enver outside to watch the sunset. He opened his notepad and wrote, ‘I remember you in sunset skies, the molten amber of your eyes...'