Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Sunday, 4 June 2017


The Spark

(for J.)

She didn't see it at first
because the world was full of lights.

Then the lights went out
and the sky was filled with stars.

But when the stars fell down
and all was dark and cold
then she noticed it,
alone and unsure,
in a universe of darkness.

And it was for her.

7 June 1994

Every now and then someone turns up in our life and we can’t quite remember a) when they arrived and b) how they became important to us. That’s how it was with J. I don’t recall meeting her for the first time. I do know there was a time when she wasn’t a part of my life but the window in which she appeared is a wide one, anywhere between 1983 and 1988 at a rough guess. One day she wasn’t there, the next she was. She became a friend of the family but she wasn’t part of our inner circle and I can only remember her being at our house once only I’m not sure she came in the house; I remember her in the back garden (I think she was dropping something off) but that’s it. I was never inside her house and only once knocked on her door to drop off a book but she was out so I gave it to her eldest son. And yet after the disastrous years that led up to 1994 she was the only person from my past—apart from my parents (and by that I mean mainly my dad)—whom I kept in touch with. I wrote to her, she replied and we corresponded and talked occasionally on the phone for a few months. In the years to come I met her in person only twice; the last time was at my mother’s funeral.

When my dad learned about J. he asked if I had a relationship with her and I remember being confused by the question because I honestly hadn’t thought about it. For a man who prides himself on his knowledge of words my misunderstanding is a surprising one. We were friends and I loved her but that was all I could be sure about. To this day I couldn’t tell you if I fell in love with her but we did cling to each other for a while and that can muddy the waters. She was also going through a bad time—she’d come home to find her husband had hung himself leaving her with three boys to raise on her own—and was also very much alone having been abandoned by almost everyone. (Not as a direct consequence of the suicide but I don’t want to elaborate.)

I didn’t have much to give her but somehow a bond developed between us—even before I moved away—and it helped a little. I am the spark in the poem. And she became my spark too. Not bright enough to see anything bar and certainly not hot enough to warm us but enough to know we weren’t completely alone.

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