(This Life) Part 4: The Neighbour’s Wife
Greg sold us this house, his first build –
Fifty thousand borrowed, rest begged -
Opening the velux, saying, Listen.
And we hearing nothing, To what?
The silence, he laughed. Soundless within,
Without. We stood. Faintly birdsong
Within the Great Ridings’ green wraps,
All else stilled, the Earth’s heart rush hushed.
In that moment the house collapsed,
Reconstructing itself to begin
Orchestrating our life’s music,
And we were moved,
Entering the house on the Ides of March,
Yoshino cherries in full bloom,
A baked cheesecake on the step with
A note bedded in a seasonal bouquet,
Signed Chelsea, Greg’s other….
Greg talked muchily, an aged whiskey
Slowly sipped, seated at The Plough’s bar –
Happy hour sharp at five - each day,
The gypsy roofers, the sparky,
The plasterer, and the plumber,
The jigsawed pieces of his trade
Held captive by his flowing speech,
Rich, deep and illuminating.
But never a mention of Chelsea.
The dogs saw her one morning,
Ghost figure at the back window,
Gazing out towards the misted woods
Fingers pressed against the glass,
As if to pull the outside in.
I tried to look away, beyond,
But was stunned by the liquid flesh,
Which hung dripping from the waist down,
Could not avert my gaze from her,
Until she started, suddenly aware,
Shame flowering drew close the curtains.
That evening Greg called me aside.
A private word, he said. Clear things.
We sat, sharing warm Japanese gin.
Chelsea told me about this dawn.
That was not how she’d wanted
Her first meet with you to be.
Let me explain her condition:
She was not born like that, scarred, torn;
Eighteen months she was, not more;
scrub time and her mum busy cooking,
And a cousin, trying to be helpful,
Forgetting to test it first,
Placed her into scalding water.
He sighed, reflecting on that moment.
Chelsea’s skin did not grow like ours,
It tightened, burst, hung like sheets,
Her legs destroyed by the heat.
She has no toes, amputated,
Burnt and mangled in that immersion.
Whose fault? No one’s? It happened.
She accepts that, but the world?
There are those who see her as a freak,
Cannot see beyond what they see,
And then there are those who do,
Look past and engage as a person.
And she? I love her; she is Chelsea,
The sun which drives my life’s motion
Colours each day, each season bright.
And I? I am her moon, orbit
Fashioned by her gravid heart.
We sit. Silence. Pulse after pulse.
He hands me a note. An invite.
Come for dinner. Eight sharp. Dogs too.
We’ll bring dessert, I say.
He smiles, pours another measure.