Scissors Paper Nuke

“Scissors Paper Rock.”

“Scissors Paper Rock.”

“Scissors Paper Rock.”

Three boys playing the game of ancient ages rouse me from my rail induced reverie.

Obviously brothers. The youngest is short, brown hair and eyes that observe more than he sees. The middle is blonde, curly-haired. His blue eyes dance with laughter at any excuse. The oldest straight-haired, blue-eyed seems more reserved. 

A recipe for rivalry perhaps. Not at all. For right now they’re all laughing. 

I return to semi-sleep secretly counting the stations, till journey’s end.

“Scissors, Paper , Rock.”

Three arms rise once, twice and fall together ending again in fits of laughter.

Which should mean that no one cares about winning or losing. 

But as I half-open my sleep-lidded eyes, and look more closely, I realise I’m wrong. For there’s a pattern emerging. 

“Scissors Paper Rock.”

Both youngest boys are winning. The eldest isn’t.  And when he wins,  he loses the next round.

That’s it. I know this.  I’m sitting upright up in my seat trying to remember why. 

The answer reappears like a lost muse. 

The younger boys have worked out how to win.

To win at scissors paper rock, pick the option that would have won last time. Most likely you’ll win next time. Why? Because most likely your opponent will repeat his winning strategy. If paper would have won last time, choose paper this time. A statistics degree has some uses after all. 

“Scissors, Paper, Rock.”

As each round continues, the eldest boy’s voice grows louder and louder. His fist reaches higher only to fall further. 

He knows he’s being beaten. 

What he doesn’t know is worse. I squint and see. 

He can’t see that his opponents are cheating. 

As each round starts, each is watching the other. And just before the third fist-fall, the youngest peeks at his elder. And the result is that both their fists fall as one.

“Scissors, Paper, Rock.”

I look down. Yes his fists are clenching before during and afterwards.

He suspects.

I’m wrong. 

He’s standing frozen in the middle of the train aisle thinking.

He knows. 

The others wait for him to begin.

“Scissors Paper Rock.”

Arms rise and fall as one. 

“Scissors Paper Rock.”

On the third fist-fall the eldest one raises his arm higher. At the top of his swing, he’s made a fist. Maybe the bystander should intervene before…



He brings his arm down, a clenched fist now, only to extend his thumb out. 

“Rock.” The younger two say.
“Nuke.” His voice drowns out their last word.

The two youngest losers stop and stare. The middle boy’s eyes are shining. His mouth starts to twitch. The youngest looks at him and starts giggling. The eldest joins in.

Now three boys are almost rolling on the floor laughing their heads off. 

Until at an unspoken word, the game begins again. 

“Scissors, Paper, Rock.”

“Scissors, Paper, Rock.”

“Scissors, Paper, Nuke.”  

Laughter, more laughter, until our station arrives. 

Breathe For Me

Breathe for me.
Watching you sip each breath, I want to breathe for you. 
I want to inhale oxygen, pass it from my lungs to yours. And from there into that heart I love so much.

You hold my hand. I hold yours. You must hear my words for you. Wait and hope. 

You were to grow to a ripeness greater than mine could ever be. You were to take my place and exceed it. After all, what else are parents for?

Though you must sense it, please don’t catch any of my doubt. Doubt enough that you could quietly slip away with maybe a nod as your leave.

Hold instead if you can my hope and love for you. Love and hope which will always exceed doubt. 

Your illness is your present companion. And ours too. You may be able to fight it. You may need more strength, strength you don’t yet have. In either case, don’t worry.

Even though I don’t know how it will end, I do know that it will end. You can draw comfort from me even if it takes all my strength. That’s a small passing sacrifice. 

If you could open your eyes, you’d probably laugh at me. Turning round and round like your Kitty trying to find a soft spot : a hard cushion on a metal chair. Don’t worry when you see me. Even in this small discomfort, I’d be happy to accept yours. 

If you looked closer, you’d see I’m trying not to look. Trying not to look at the green numbers, the zig-zags and the flashing lights. Trying not to match them to your pulse, blood pressure, heartbeat and brain waves. 

Trying not to look is all I have for you. I hope you understand if that isn’t enough. But you have all I have. 
You should wake soon. You’ll look at me and your eyes will light up. Your hand will squeeze mine. You’ll look at the tubes running into you and out of you and laugh. You’ll wave at them and say, “Just a joke Dad, slept in again, gotta get up and outrun you today.” 

You would send them away right now,wouldn’t you?

The door opens. A whitecoated crowd enter. Your eyes flick open. You’re an observer now. You long to catch my eye, I feel it. I stumble as they shove me outside. 

You mustn’t listen to what I’m thinking. Especially now. You know you don’t have to make me wait anymore. 
Still I’d rather hear from you first. Asleep, awake or unconscious, let me know. Until now you always kept in touch silently with me.

The door opens. They let me return. 

You look so serene now. Any minute now you should be opening your sleepy eyes and shaking your tousled hair, and asking me, “Am I serene Daddy?”

Your eyes shouldn’t flutter like that. 
You’re lighting the first candle aren’t you? So when I arrive I know its you. 

A Son’s Song

My son, I left you far too soon,
Too early to see you walk,
Before the first burble of baby talk,
But even then I somehow knew you.

I almost tottered down the driveway,
Bags heavier than my heart momentarily 
The sunrise a sunset of our last day,
I could not bear to say goodbye.

I left a failed husband,
In the hope I’d still be a father,
But for you and me sadly,
Time’s lost memory left us apart.

Even in those first few months,
We were really father and son,
As I knew when I held you,
When you cried, coped and stopped.

And now it’s fourteen years on,
I still have my imperfect words,
And may find those few more,
That would comfort in the years that matter.

But what was hidden from view
Was that I lost my life saving you,
A marriage sacrificed to be sure,
Perhaps a son’s love will return once more?

At Life’s Door

You came back. I saw you twice now.
You went out the front door. When you came back I was there too.
You had a coffee in your hand. I smelt the cake in your bag.
You looked at me. You looked away.
You stared at my Mum. Because you saw her before. But you were making sure she was watching me.
You didn’t smile at me like the nurse before she closes her eyes too long.
You didn’t talk at me like the doctor with his voice echoing off the wall.
You didn’t tell me the food was good today like the meal lady did. Even though I’m not hungry anymore.
You didn’t look down at the floor all the time like the cleaner.
You don’t know how to look at me.
You must be new here. You don’t know what’s going on with me at all.
I’m not going anywhere. I know why you looked away. It was my bald head. It was the tube taped to my nose.
You looked when you saw it wasn’t attached to anything.
No I’m not going from the door until Mum gets me what I need. Then she’ll put me in my pram. Take me home as I’m not coming back. Like the others in my ward.
And you don’t know it at all. Not like I know. Not like Mum knows but won’t say. Not like Dad knows but can’t say. I end up nodding at him. When he tries to say and still can’t.
Not like the nurse knows. Not like the doctor knows. Not like the priest knows. The one that says that I’m at life’s door? What does that mean?
When Mum gets me what I need, I’m not coming back.


The Wish

“You shouldn’t encourage her,”  her mother pontificated.
“Me? I thought it must have been you.”
“I never said a word. She made it all up. By herself.”
“She has some imagination, I’ll grant her that. But she’s only a child. She’ll get over it. In time,”  her dad said patiently.
“Reality catches up with us all,” sighed her mother.
“It’s just a pet. With so many, shellfiget soon enough,” replied Juanita’s Dad.

The back screen door groaned. Both parents looked at each other. Always they were bound to the unspoken rule. Parents must be seen and not heard. And never in front of the children.

A click of heels announced itself. A pink tutu swayed first side to side then up and down. A moppet curl appeared as if from nowhere.

In swept Juanita. She skipped lightly, her face beaming, her voice joyous.

“I said my prayers,” she said. “Just like I was told to.”
“Juanita…”, her Dad began. Her eyes smiled at him.
“Who told you that?” Her mother snapped.
“My friend. The one you can’t see.” Juanita’s voice was springwater.
“Sometimes, things don’t…,” counselled her mother. Juanita tossed her curls. And laughed.

“We know Misty is sick,” her father interjected.
“And sometimes sick people don’t get better.”
“They do. She said so. I said so. And Misty will too”, Juanita replied. “So there,” she concluded.

Her tousled hair flew. She nodded.”I know.” She pointed to herself. Then she pointed upwards. “And He does too.”

She danced away. The back door thudded shut. Mother and father exchanged forlorn looks.

“I don’t know where she gets it from,” her mother said, “she’s only going to be disappointed.”
“Well, I didn’t tell her. She certainly didn’t get those pious thoughts in her pretty little head from me,” her father chuckled. “I have a whole canon of atheism to defend. She’ll get over it.”

“I know. Losing a pet is a horrible experience for a child to go through. And she’s making it far worse by denying it,” her mother replied.
“I’m going to have to bury it, you know,” her father said grimly.
“If she’ll let you. She still goes back to it hoping it will wake up.”

Both parents looked outside. Juanita bent over a prone black body.  Her parents turned away for a second. They both felt a warmth steal in from outside. They looked at each other. And shivered.

Steel wool scratched as if against a fry pan.  A dull sproing. The rusty metallic groan as the screen door opened again. Both parents stared at each other, mouths agape.

For as usual then there was a thump. Soft rubber paddling on wood. Then the soft pitter patter up the stairs. Four paws padded in. Black eyes glittered from a smooth furry head. All suffixed by a hungry meow.

“What?” both parents spoke at once.

A click of heels. A pink tutu. A shake of curls. A flutter of angel wings. Then Juanita appeared. Skipping, dancing, smiling. “See!”

Lost Underfoot

I looLiftarn_Adult_and_child.svgked up. All I could see were legs. Masses of moving legs. I looked down. I saw shoes and thongs and skirts and legs and trousers. But were they attached to anything? I didn’t know. I felt even smaller. It was like a centipede that’s been shopping was walking over me!!

I couldn’t see faces or arms. I couldn’t see that high. I just held on and let myself be dragged through them. I held tight to my show bag too.

Then the hand holding me let go. I didn’t know which leg to grab. They all looked alike. But none of them were mine. Mine was gone. And the crowd moved me on.