general anaesthetic

I wrote the notes for this maybe three years ago. It was only on a friend’s operation recently that I thought back to that fear, quite simply, of not coming back…

And the things you notice when you’re wearing two back to front nighties…

this road is straight and something’s wrong,
my empty head, no-one along,
magic’s gone from the radio song.
i am alive

this image shows a failing map,
dead ends, loose slates, fast cars; a trap,
the perfect shot but the sky’s gone black
i am alive

I pay to park and walk away,
hearts and engines shall cool today
by grassy mounds where ravens play
i am alive

the walls inside are shrouded cream
a painting offers up a dream,
an empty boat, a windless scene.
i am alive

time, it speeds, nurse says I’m ready.
my hands are cold, nothing’s steady,
each short footstep takes me nearer.
i am alive

anaesthetist has nice grey eyes,
the shallow dusk of summer skies.
this might hurt a bit. he lies.
i am alive

i wonder at the arms he’s gripped
planned or urgent, if reason’s slipped,
as planned I count,

one, two, three, four …

my eyes are lenses with no zoom
sound’s all reverb; fills the room
fever soars to fight the gloom

i am alive

i am alive

sweetness follows, life’s not bitter
(the older men are getting fitter)
dust that falls in sun makes glitter

i am alive

Life Goes On

Here’s a quick thing I wrote for Hour of Writes, the weekly timed writing competition.  Worked out a sight darker than I’d imagined.

“Life goes on”

My heart still beats. Nothing musical mind, but the panic stricken thrum of machinery pushed past all tolerance. It’s the pulse of childhood’s nightmares, the unacceptable vertigo of failed dreaming; the need to know a security and home that now is lost.

They’ve given me her handbag. The cream, canvas handbag into which we used to pack shopping, that seemed to be bottomless in days before retail had no meaning other than not trade. Emergency shampoo came in sachets, coffee wasn’t decaff and corner shops took bottles back; it was her single life that I shared and filled with my troubles.

I’ve been through the bag now.

This handbag used to hold cakes that we ate in the car alone, a flask of soup after swimming and the smell of good tobacco. She’d returned to using it of late, inspired no doubt by the carrier bag charge and memories of its sheer tolerance. She was measure of that bag herself; comfort and tolerance; a tendency to gaining weight and friends.

The nurse brings tea. A chipped cup, missing a saucer; too small and saccharine sweet. My aunt would have approved of the size, the shape; far better than my canteen tea habits and bitter-strong brews. My mother found her difficult, whimsical, flighty. Our house felt brittle in her presence.

Her semi, two miles from my childhood street, was my escape. There we played records and dominoes in my teens, plotted holidays in my twenties as the dozen years between us narrowed. She knew my stories first; my first crush, my first kiss, my first proper job. She wiped my tears and told me with conviction that life goes on. I was lucky to have someone in whose eyes I made sense.

She brought flowers on my wedding day, vodka at my divorce and taught me how to cover a tattoo.

when i was raped

when i was raped

When I was raped she told no one. Listened till there was nothing left to come. Listened again. Whatever meaning I had possessed was eaten by that violence. I lost my own story from the start of the summer until the trees were bare. She was always there.

She bought me a train ticket to Rome and some second-hand boots; told me that both the boots and I needed a new start.

On my return to Crewe station on Halloween she’s there with a taxi, in fancy dress and she looks thin. Spirit like. I’m scared.

She tells me the lie of all’s well. All Saints Day and my tears and tantrums wash the truth from her. She’s ill. Chemo. The worst.

In the days that follow we plan a fictional future. The husband I will find. The lover she will take. A place in Spain. I am uncertain why we have not pursued these things before. She laughs and tells me, heavily, that life goes on.

I get a job again. At the station, selling news, touting oblivion between the hours of 6am and noon. It pays the bills. I date the man from the 8.32 to Bank Quay. He’s one of the good guys. She likes him but cries when he leaves after dinner.

she will not tell me why

no matter how I ask

It’s like a shadow and after a few days she tells me not to keep asking. That’s when my nightmares started. That missing part is something that cannot be fixed.

And I cannot fix the cancer. I know I am failing at this game of life.

My t-shirt is wet where I’ve been wiping my eyes. In the bottom of bag is a newspaper clipping in a yellowed envelope.

“Local man missing after wife’s rape claim.”

Life goes on.

The Silent Man

Thursday night and I’m in Retros’ in Northwich. I remember, not for the first time, why Radio Free Europe is such a great song. There’s a line running round my head as I listen and it’s this, from Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor Press; “Music is magic, they’re twins.” This story is for those who were there and those who might have been.

The Silent Man

Every waking hour he told stories; gossip maybe or the latest football scandal. He talked. Everyone spoke well of him, of his good sense. His medium height cast little shadow and he had no particular figure. He was heavy of tread and thickened by time and gravity; wealthy enough by the measure of others. He knew the town and the town knew him. Whatever he touched was moderately successful and as others struggled something about him, if you believe in such things, drew good luck.

His wife was a small woman; tiny in size; unambitious. She was happy to follow him; treat him as the child that their late marriage had no time for. Their house on the not so new estate was tidy.   She decorated in beige or sage and saved for things that kept the fashion. None of it was useful or beautiful, less still of it necessary. They were at one with the neighbours. Other men were jealous of his fortune; a good wife with an even temper and no overly awful habits. She worked for three fat, happy brothers at the bakery; just two days.

He never remembered his dreams. Sleep was empty. At home they kept odd hours, what with his job being what it was. Alarms woke them, television lulled them.

These days his work kept the dawn at the radio station, whispered the early risers into the day and talked the night shift to bed. A business in manipulating sound, the morning show to entertain. He brought pop music (the chart, the hit parade, the X factor finalists; call it as you will) into the everyday grind. Sugar sweet and easy high; worked it into the flesh of those that surrounded him. They were grateful for it.

On Monday morning, somewhere between the best of the ‘80s and the phone in requests he stopped. Just inside his head was a song, it caught his mood yet he couldn’t remember the first verse, just the opening chord. The resonances were bright mountains. After that there was nothing. It was the silence of loneliness and an empty room; it left him breathless and quiet. Lost for words. The airwaves fell to a faint white hiss.

After three more days of the same he had begun to plan for these silences. His neighbours called him the silent man and he looked away.

In his mind the world fell away in that quiet. No memory coloured it and he could not hear his heart beat. After two weeks he had a doctor’s note but no diagnosis. At home he kept house and annoyed his wife. He cooked with a passion she’d never had. They couldn’t fill the breakfast show vacancy and the town needed its sugar hit; the bakery became busier and she put in longer hours.

Each day in the house buried a little more of him, to escape he carefully carried down DJ equipment he’d buried long ago in the attic. It rested, reverentially, in the dining room. Each song brought a place, a face, that pint on the pier or a meal shared. Days passed and he would not allow her in there. Winter passed to summer and the curtains remained open; all day and all night. They began to slide from their rails.

Where there was quiet he lost his balance, where it continued he was physically sick; the yellow of fear. Words came to him rarely. The doctors did more tests. Scans, bloods, x-rays. There was an unidentified growth in his heart.

On his way home from the hospital the car stereo failed. He stopped. The rush of the river and the rattle of a distant lorry were not enough. Not for the first time he tried to think of a tune, he could feel the silence coming and would have done anything to escape from it. For the first time he succeeded. Inside his chest he could hear; the chord from the first time it happened, but then another chord, a repeat and a timing shift. It was enough. A journey. To go back through his past to work out where the silence began.

One song, that one that forced an end to the silence in the car. That guitarist. With YouTube running in the background he hunted it down. It was almost lost, like his childhood. Eight hours later and he had found the guitarist, still gigging, in the town the silent man grew up in. A mere hundred miles away.

That had to change. The silent man had to hear him where he lived now. It would only make sense in his home town, where he has come to be.

So he worked, like never before. And for a while he began to talk again. The concert, the civic hall, a bar, everyone welcome. Yes, even you. Local radio, posters, press; all of it. Leaflets with the three fat brothers in the bakery. The hope of one high to follow another, booked for one night only. Neighbours should bring the old folk, boys are to convince their older brothers. The people from the new houses will come out. There will be no danger in the dark that night.

On the edge of town he stood in his local as one last remaining cynic poured cold on the plan. Told of a high street not safe to be on. The youth weren’t what we were in our day. The landlady reminded him, without blushes, of the night they had sex behind the dairy, just short of his eighteenth. Of the fights on a Friday when folk had cash. He bought two tickets.

The silent man had filled a hall that’d not been full in years.

Each person sat, or stood, according to their whim. Music and words. Those minutes when everyone knew that the world turned and that they went with it. That they were part of the flow and it was beautiful.

Everyone felt the magic. Except the wife. She sat still in the front row.

Once the hall was cleared and the rubbish swept he told his wife that he was going to die. Left the hall after and went into work, despite the sick note, and through his programme he sat silently. First they fetched the doctors and next they fetched the police.   He walked out. Along corridors heated by dust, out through doors that never closed, down along the river and past the derelict works and over the hill and they never saw him again. The sun rose.

Outside the civic hall around lunch time the brothers from the bakery started bringing blankets and the rain held off. School kids rubbed red uniforms in the green grass. The news went round. A second concert; it’s going to happen again. Picnics spread. It was difficult for people with tickets to get in but a path became clear and the hall filled.

When the guitarist starts to play at eight he does so with the doors open so the people sitting outside can hear as clearly as those inside.

The silent man sits on the hill above the town. Above the chimneys and the pylons there are no clouds. The wind brings the music. Two chords, then repeated and a timing shift. It’s enough. And it’s a journey.


(I honestly and truly didn’t write this when I should have been working.)


Up before light in a quiet house;
I’ve cold feet and a sore head,
radio noise is in my blood.

The metal spoon cuts my hand
stirring soft cake mix to life,
music wakes my day.

I remember school cookery,
the useless instruction to share
a wooden spoon between three.

We made pizza from scone dough,
but now I shop to eat;
pizza comes in boxes.

Education told us nothing of tomorrow;
we did silent working, routine, rules
while acid rain etched windows.

They taught underskirts made with lace;
I’d have preferred woodwork,
and now wear jeans all week.

I didn’t know how to cook then;
this savage desire to protect my tribe.
I bake for love.

But a dose of Paranoid Android today,
sits me back on the school floor,
listening to Beethoven.

Legs crossed in a dusty hall,
fingers tracing patterns on the wood;
knowing nothing but the moment.

Music, love and escape;
we always knew the constants
could not be learned.

This Valley

This morning, before I work, all I can offer is escapism.  Seems the best thing on offer in light of the news.  And okay, so it’s my utopia; but you’re welcome in it.

This Valley

This valley, in the sunshine. A horse chestnut with a splitting trunk and pink blossom; like candles.

The houses by the sea have quiet spaces; somewhere to live, read or write.

There’s a hearth for the winter in the pub, a poet or two, music.

Here there are lots of people, some stay, some are passing through; all of them share. There are friends and family, love and affection.

Aunt, a poem

I worked out, a month or two ago, that I’m the same age now as my aunt when she died. So this is hers.


I watched the sea, smelled the waves, sea
heard light catch rising foam;
moon pulls water home.

My shoes were strung, feet were bare,
ankles deep in northern sea.
The empty beach ran free.

Me, my house keys and my phone,
nothing left inside to think.
The rolling tide sinks.

In the end I remembered her.
A small house now quite bare;
my cousin finally lost.

Her death; a successful second try.
Her lamps all metered,
made love a lie.

Her energy for walking, baking cakes,
filling other people’s days.
Never moving far away.

Two marriages, knew no romance,
knew there was nothing new,
to be written about stars.



The Duchess, a short story.

So, a short story and the longest thing I’ve written for quite a while. Yes, it began in a local venue and no, I’m not saying which one. None of the characters are me (If you read this and you know me that is, so no projecting either of them on what I believe x).

Make yourself a coffee and have a sit; have fun with it, it’s not all that serious.  All feedback welcome.  (Thanks John Holt for being my first reader on this one!)

“The Duchess”


Becky Sowray


Lavender air-freshener lay over the scent of last weekend’s vomit. “Ladies” might as well have been an instruction, though I suspected it could do with some details and expansion and maybe, on reflection, a picture book edition.
Andy had at least closed the door behind her and made it to the toilet bowl. That left me standing in a room that was last decorated when melamine wasn’t vintage and I didn’t want to think what the floor was sticky with. I forced myself to think that the glue like finish was probably only accumulated dirt. Lifting my foot, and making sure that shoe leather and not skin made contact I rattled the cubicle door. Seven diet cokes and four hours listening to whatever grunge she called music this week reminded me why I didn’t do this all that often. On hearing her retching I fought to embrace the positive; retching equalled breathing.
The unbalanced outer door cracked against the plaster, returned too fast for the reactions of the blond, fifty something who cursed at the crack it delivered to her elbow. Gathering her balance again she listened to Andy’s low moaning and looked me over. Leaving her purse on the cigarette scarred sink, she dug into it, selected a lipstick and made a pout.
“Your friend’s had a good one?”
“My sister,” I offered. “It’s not like she needs the practise.”
The old girl looked pickled both ways; her face thick with wrinkles and hands with tattoos that had never been well judged. I knew then that when I reached that age I wanted to be thinking about Elegant Resorts and a well-trained husband. Not the bloody Duchess with my girlfriends hoping we get there before they run out of special offer WKD.
Andy folded herself out of the tiny space whilst the cistern flushing seemed to dim the lights. She looked pink, slightly, but not at all unwell. She had proven, once again, that there is no god.
“Right. You ready for some more?” She pushed her braids back into line and tugged her top down.
“You go for it girl. Can’t put a good woman down,” said the blond, closing her bag and laughing at my goldfish face before braving the door a second time.
“You are joking?” I returned; hating myself for asking the question. Andy grinned. It was our Dad’s smile she always used at these times. It got her into anywhere, whatever she was wearing and no matter how drunk she was. It doesn’t work on me.
“Only just. I’ve a job on in the morning. We could otherwise.”
Silence is for the moments when life leaves you with nothing good to say. We made to leave the crammed venue, through a stinking, heaving mess of bodies. There were always two tribes in here; the regulars who’ve been there since doors, and some of them since the place opened in the eighties. Then there’s the clubbers and pub crawlers, drawn by the late licence, beaten and dwarved by the sheer volume of bands and DJ and voices. Andy sailed across; through much hugging and kissing in the knots of people, conversations about local nonsense, an incestuous crowd that fed on its own ego. Not many of them knew or remembered me. Her boots caught my toes as she stopped suddenly, her path blocked by a tall, wide man.
“You never got back to me with a price!” His big voice was loud even here before it broke to sudden laughter.
“Hell. It was that green wallpaper, yes? I wasn’t even sure you were serious?” Looking up Andy fished in her jacket and pulled out a soft eared business card. “You got a pen?” I knew before she turned who she meant. Standing still meant jamming my handbag into my chest. She scrawled a figure on the card before passing it over.
“Call me?” said Andy. I slid my arm in hers then; I’d really had enough. She stood her ground, looking back to the retreating figure. “Next week? I’ve a gap?” I felt the usual, reliable anger with her.
“Christ you sound desperate for work. You do know that?”
“Right now I’m broke,” she said, “and drunk.”
“Well it’s your own fault.”


“S’no good rushing me.”
I stood with my back to her, getting washed up, working very hard on not spelling out that I didn’t ask her for a ride to Dad’s. It wasn’t like we needed to be early, an invite for dinner didn’t mean he’d be ready for us. There would have been something reduced down the market that one of us likes; maybe green beans and garlic for me, strawberries for Sal. In his head there would have been a meal planned, but the practicalities would pretty much be absent. Last month we spent a Sunday night touring the corner shops looking for chilli oil. Buying from Tesco’s nearly broke the old hippy’s heart.
Her text, this morning, forced me to finish early, so I’d still not finished the gloss. Since leaving school Sal’s days had been very much “I-start-at-six-after-jogging-five-miles-and-only-drink-coffee-after-twelve.” She should get a bloody life.
Her fingers trailed along the frame of the cane chair, the back bleached by sunlight from the high windows.
“Have you changed any furniture since you left home?” she asked. Bloody hell. Style advice from Miss Ikea 2015.
“Bed’s new.”
“I remember the chair from your old bedroom.”
“Pass me that vase.” She reached it across to me, screwing her face up at the supposedly foul water. “I’d like to get some more daffodils for Dad, on the way over.”
“I’ve bought some wine.”
The thought rattles round my head; I’d have bought wine, if I’d been paid. I was so angry I’d have punched her if we’d still been children. I’d no real money till Monday. Best case. I wrestled the vase under the tap. Reached for washing up liquid.
“How’s your job?” I virtually spat the words instead, hoping to avoid the fight.
“We’ve a new boss. He’s from the New Zealand office. He’s got the softest, most …”
“I don’t need the odds on you copping off.”
“Accent,” she said but for all that she still laughed. “How’s the art therapy?”
“It’s an artists’ bloody cooperative. And we’ve an exhibition starting next week.” When I looked up from the sink she was smiling, having gotten the better of me. Something shrilly-pop rang out from her phone. “Answer the call.”
“I don’t take numbers I don’t know on a Friday night when I’m having tea with my Dad.”
“Why’ve they fetched him in? What’s up with whatsisname?”
“Early retirement,” she rolled her shoulders, “what do you care?”
“They didn’t advertise it? You could have done it?”
“Like you’ve ever had a job that paid tax.”


He’d been rummaging under parcels, in the back of the van, for what seemed hours before he found the red plastic canister of diesel.
“There we are. Didn’t think I’d be going as far as town today.”
I really wanted to look at my watch but I knew he’d start to panic if I panicked.
“It’s alright Sal. We’ll get there in time. The deliveries’ll wait till later.” He unscrewed the can top, fumbled with the built in funnel.
“Oh,” I smiled; grimaced, “it’s okay …”
“Do you really need to go after this job, now?”
“I’ve not got a job otherwise. Yes. We don’t need to go over this again. Dad, hurry up?”
“I know.” The final gurgle of the fuel stops him. “There we go. No. You just don’t seem very sure of it, that’s all.”
“You’re not going to park right outside are you? Not in this?”
He rubbed his hands clean on his jeans, moved to put his arm over my shoulder. I felt myself set.
“I need to make that last payment on Egypt. It’s not my fault the bloody car’s gone back.”
“Get in the van,” he said “wait till I tell folk I delivered my daughter.”
“You’ve got a paunch, you’re not pregnant.”
He was right, he’d shifted my mood but there’s no style in travelling by white van. And people abuse it, Andy amongst them, getting him to shift her “art installations” around the place. He drove as ever, right hand on the wheel, his left hand hovering between radio and gear stick, ill at ease with both speed and programming. Finally he settled on to the bypass and some local FM that I’d forgotten. There’s a tune from years back; something folk.


I’d lifted a chair down from the stack but there’s no real way of getting comfortable on a function room chair, even if it is spray painted in gold. The butterflies in my stomach were wearing DMs and pogoing to something from the 70s. Being in any venue out of hours is weird and the Duchess more so, it meant so much to me, I’d been coming here since before they’d let me in.
The room’d been cleared, cleaned and in the centre stood the pallets we sprayed last weekend. I had thought about sitting on them but didn’t dare, in case they were still wet at all. The upstairs room, like the downstairs bar and venue, was made of black; that was all you needed to accept really.
Two of my vertebrae rubbed against each other; reminded me of fragility, urgency, pain. I stretched, they protested and I gave in, laid out on the floor. A ventilation shaft, the cover painted black let in the sounds of the street but when I closed my eyes I swear I could hear music. At home I had a list of every gig I’ve shared, every exhibition I’ve seen, every book I’d ever read. A fair number on that list name The Duchess.
“You look like a bloody corpse laid out child!”
Through my Dad’s laughter, for just a second, I saw him as others do. Not just my Dad but scrawny and stubborn; an untidy greying exception. With him, the cooperative; Al; an ex-banker and Toni who built websites for online sex chat rooms. And the crates that contained the rest of the installation. It went together, it clicked and I was content. The staff had left four pints of something cold on the bar.


Fluorescent lights always did give me a headache. The careful white of the shopping arcade made everyone look their best colour, sold dresses and holidays alike. They told me that yesterday in training. I had my station to attend to from ten till two and then from half past two till eight. If the supervisor made it as far as me then I should get a comfort break in that second stretch. The fat little cow hated me on sight though so I’d left my water bottle at home.
The training had prepared me to meet and greet tourists and shoppers alike and ensure that “Sally” helped them to an “authentic city centre experience.” All I needed really was one of those huge foam hands they use at sports events that said “lavvys; that way,” with a pointing finger. Maybe just the finger.
On the plus side the short skirt and heels combo they’d decked me out in, combined with the low chair meant my legs were so tightly crossed I’d not need the gym this side of forty.
“Excuse me, my dear.”
My eyes were open and I was upright. But I had dialled out.
“Excuse me?” The client was ‘elderly’ for which I’d learned to substitute ‘awkward’.
“Hello! How can I help you today?” Programmed.
“My friends and I,” I read ‘posh old bag’; she waved to take in a group of a dozen. “We need some directions please.” I mentally prepared the finger.
“Yes of course, let me just find our convenient pocket sized guide.”
“Thank you dear.”
I fumbled, found the lurid shoppers map and spread it on the desk. At least this lot wouldn’t peer down my blouse.
“We need to find King Street.” So off the bloody map then. Useless bloody woman, stupid fucking job.
“I’m sorry, that’s not on the map. But I can give you directions?”
“Thank you yes. We’re looking for an art installation,” she waved a clipping from some broadsheet.
“It’s at The Duchess?” she smiled; struggling to read my facial response. “By a cooperative called ‘Winners’.”

Untitled – a short story

untitiledIf there wasn’t any time, then it wasn’t for want of waiting. Waiting first for his alarm clock, the bell that never sounded because the power was cut. They hadn’t thought of that in their disaster planning had they? That a first alert in that early light would bring the panic of over sleep, the confusion of a Monday morning. The careful planning; money, loo roll, clean underwear; all this would be as nothing against Sunday-football-hangover-meets-Monday; the numbness and the dry eyes and the instructions not to use the lifts in the still unfamiliar apartment block.

The sea was calm; no white tops signalled through the windows. There was the routine beginning of yet another Californian sunrise that he’d have photographed and messaged her, despite the sirens and other people’s panic, had his phone not been 5% flat and dying. More pictures and text to add to the stream reaching back to England, the familiar and the strange nesting together, making the bed of a conversation they would have in the early hours of the evening as their days overlapped for an hour; as his day ended and hers began.

Each of the apartment units had a recommended path into the hills. An Emergency Plan; here the locals that told of danger, guarded against anything external or strange; goths and geeks; scorpions and mountain cats; made no distinction between the danger’s extremes; sunburn and mass extinction. Fearing the worst thing with no examination of experience.

He pulled bottled water from his bag, the under-the-bed-bag, in case of earthquake and he remembered then that he was a marshal; had volunteered to headcount at the assembly point. Waited for a second neighbour who went back to check who remained. Nothing; nothing came. The radio told of tremors downtown, here, twenty miles out, nothing. Even the breeze failed to stir the trees, grass cracked under the strain of the early and now unwatered heat.

A half mile walk to the official bus for the evacuation, walking at a stranger’s pace; neither his own usual rush or saunter. He tried to remember the score from the football, struggled to remember who the opposition had been. Who had been out last night? What other desperate, homesick ex-pats? He remembered the text he’d sent her at half time, and a photo of a humming bird at one of the tacky, sugar-solution fuelled, silk flowers in the pots outside; defiantly beautiful all the same. Her response. Their conversation, typed, not spoken, as she avoided work on the other side of the world.

The bus was late, had smelled of stale bodies and rancid food, the last vehicle from the depot. Waited for the driver as he checked them on board, as he struggled with his name, his otherness, his accent. All for nothing; a hangover accelerating nightmare through a July morning.

The school, the emergency shelter in the hills was straight from a story book, a movie image of the American west. They took a roll call of the essentially skilled and discharged him and the others to more sitting, further listening to the radio, holding out for bad news or an all clear. He wrote code in his head and forgot the structures, observed the evacuees as they wished to be away from here and finally, propped against the wall, he dozed.

He woke and acknowledged the specific pain of headache, against the general ache of the day. Wondered whether he’d had the foresight to pack pain relief in the bad-under-the-bed-now-pillow. His searching found, at the bottom of the bag, compressed by days and sleep, his blue sweatshirt that she’d worn last, in Heathrow; the logo softened with washing, the finish far from new.

The all clear wasn’t so long coming in the end.

Miniature – a small story

cakeThe door is open and the sun comes in. Even though it’s raining and you’re running with water and your coat has that wet dog smell; the sun comes in with you because you’re smiling. I’ve no idea what has made you happy for it’s been a long day. The dog, from his corner basket, looks up to source his own scent, lent to you. He’s spent most of the day curled up there, other than a brief walk to buy milk and the papers. Age slows him a little but he’s still determined, half slides, half staggers from his basket, stretches his full length and leaps; hits your chest with his paws; now you’re laughing.

We fill the kitchen, the three of us and the sense of being part of a whole begins to pull me away from my editing. My jumper finds a rough edge to the table and catches on my sleeves as I write. I want to finish this batch; need to get paid. But it’s hopeless; as ever, you are my primary distraction, procrastination and excuse. And yes I’m smiling too.

Clearing my office onto its shelf will only take a moment, papers to file, pens away, laptop stowed. If it were a better day we could sit outside on the step and eat the cake I made yesterday. Here will do though; it’s less far to carry the tea that you begin to make while I make like I’m still working. You don’t speak and I want to hear your news, but you make a play of making me wait. These days and these rituals are the treasure we build together. I make a show of stopping work, roll my shoulders and stretch out my hands.

Your voice is light and warm and dry with humour. You tell me of the railway embankment repaired now after the flooding and the hours you worked in the café; who came in and what their stories were. I tell you of my shift at the centre and the writing that keeps my days rooted.

Before we eat you unwrap a tiny picture; a gift to our house. It’s no more than ten centimetres square, enamel on metal, a little worn. The door in that house stands open, and the sun shines out from where they live too. I am content that there are others as lucky as me.