Category Archives: Literature

This moment.


This Moment

By David Milligan-Croft.

When I watched my mother dying,

Over a period of months, then weeks, then days,

Her eyes closed, never to reopen.

Her breath laboured,

Her skeletal frame sinking further into the mattress,

The morphine drip, drip, dripping into her veins,

I wondered whether she might be better off dead.

Not out of malice, of course, but out of love.

I wanted to see an end to her suffering.

This was not life – it was living death.

Before she entered this comatose state,

She spoke of sitting in her garden

Amidst the spring narcissus,

Surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

What was the point of thoughts of the future,

When there is only this moment?

This precise moment, where you are a prisoner

In your own decrepit body and locked-in mind.

But the nurse told me that you could hear us.

And I thought that, despite your pain –

Your second-by-second suffering –

It must be of some respite to hear the voices

Of your children close by. Sometimes talking to you,

Sometimes to each other – reminiscing.

Perhaps making an inappropriate joke,

Despite your circumstances.

The dab of a coffee-soaked sponge

To bring succour to your parched lips.

(Or Tia Maria, when the nurse pretended not to look.)

Then your grandchildren,

Pottering about your granny flat,

Wondering why this contraption of a bed was in the living room.

Bringing you gifts from the kitchen – a saucepan, a spatula,

Touching your paper-thin skin, telling you to ‘wake up, grandma!’

But you were awake.

That must have made you smile in your mind.

There is only ever this moment.

No future, no past.

Just a collection of moments to be cherished.

Or not.

So, my mind began to change.

I did not think you’d be better off dead.

I thought you were exactly where you should be –

Surrounded by your family,

Loving you,

In this moment.

For my mother,

Christine Milligan,

14th August 1943 – 2nd March 2021.

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Japan tsunami – in memoriam


It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11th 2011 claiming the lives of 18,500 people.

Here are some incredible before and after shots capturing the devastation and the rebuilding that’s gone on in the past decade.

At the time, all I could do was write a poem as I, like billions around the globe, bore witness to the calamitous event unfolding before us.

I felt impotent. I tried to sell prints of my poem for $1 online to raise funds, to no avail.

I wished I was something useful like a doctor or a nurse, or a rescue worker that could do something practical to help.

Then I thought of all the creative people I had encountered during my long career as an art director in the advertising industry and I asked them for help. The response was phenomenal. I got donations of works of art from all over the world to be put into an auction to raise money for the Red Cross who were working on the ground over there.

Less than a month later, we held the Japan Art Auction at Jonathan Oakes photography studio in Manchester, hosted by The Smiths drummer Mike Joyce. It was an incredible success and, thanks to a great many people, we raised quite a few grand.

A lot has changed in 10 years. As you can see by the photos in The Guardian link above.

Things have changed for me too. I am now a Nursing Assistant at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.

And, whilst my poem did not raise a single dollar, it did inspire Austrian composer Albors Pascal Askari to write this hauntingly beautiful piece of music. All the proceeds from which also went to the Japan relief effort.

And, unbeknownst to me, my poem was on the English curriculum at several schools in London for a couple of years.

Who says poetry can’t make a difference?

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The Violence of Silence


This is a new poem I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks. It’s not about Black Lives Matter, but it was inspired by it. Or rather, the silence of the white majority to the unfair and unjust treatment of black people and people of colour. The implicit violence that silence can bring.

That is the only connection – silence. And how crushing it can be.

Please be advised that the following poem contains harrowing themes.

The Violence of Silence.

By David Milligan-Croft.

The smirk,

The eyeroll,

The sigh.

The undoing,

The redoing,

The restacking the dishwasher,

The recapping the toothpaste.

The elbow grease on the bath,

The busying of the dishcloth.

The fingertrail in the dust,

The torment,

The subterfuge,

The game.

The song unplayed on the turntable,

The needle stuck in the groove.

The portrait on the wall,

Staring into an unseeable space.

The spent match.

The sheet music on the stand.

The dried paintbrush.

The gagged canvas.

The unwritten manuscript,

Of characters without a story,

Or Motive.

The spoon in the can.

The creeping mould.

The hungry bottle,

The greedy glass.

The torn betting stub.

The baby shoes in their box.

The unworn party dress.

The deflated balloon.

The candle wax on the cake.

The forlorn swing.

The jury’s gaze.

The unwound watch,

Ticking in your head.

The heaving chest,

The eyes cast down,

Searching the floor for an escape route.

The unanswered call.

The empty wardrobe.

The rosary beads on the dresser.

The bulging suitcase.

The silent doorbell.

The ‘closed’ sign on the shop.

Fallen petals on a florist’s floor.

The midnight car lot.

The despondent moon.

The fallen tree in the forest.

The charred embers.

The ripple without a stone.

The starling without a murmuration.

The stalking wolf.

The disused canal.

The stagnant water.

The ghost of a railway line.

The forbidden tunnel.

Fragments of a life unlived;

Or lived.

Who knows?

Or cares.

The drop of the body,

From the bridge.

Falling

Into the darkness.

Silence.

The stoic rocks.

Then violence.

The relevance of the cello piece? I adore the cello and I thought the subject matter of the poem suited the haunting and melancholy sound. If you are familiar with the lyrics of Chandelier by Sia, you’ll see why I chose it as an accompaniment.

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Now, I am not.


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What with the Coronavirus and all this isolation, it’s given us all a lot of time to think about things. Some positive, some not so much.

I’m not a religious person per se, in that, I don’t subscribe to any particular theism. I guess the closest I would come is Pantheism. Even then, I have my own theories about it. In fact, I wrote my own Creation myth to go with it! (I’ll post that at some point in the future.) Or will I? Because the future doesn’t exist. Or, does it? Is everything predetermined… whoa! You’ve got me off track.

Phew, that was close.

We could’ve been here for hours discussing that particular conundrum.

What I do think about a lot is death. Don’t go! I don’t mean that in a depressing way. More of a philosophical one. What happens when we die? Is there an afterlife? Does such a thing as reincarnation exist?

What’s that got to do with Covid-19?

Well, a lot of people have died from it. And nature seems to be thriving since we’ve isolated ourselves from huge swathes of it. So, what is the point of us? Is there one? Are human beings as insignificant as a dandelion? (Or, significant, if you’re a dandelion.)

I dunno. I don’t have the answers.

What I do know is that human beings are made of energy. We can’t live without it. That’s not my opinion, it’s a scientific fact. Another scientific fact is that energy can never be created nor destroyed. The atoms that created you and I came from the Big Bang. And they will not go anywhere, but back into the universe. That means, the atoms that make up you and I have been pottering about the universe for the past 13.8 billion years! God knows what mine have been up to. It can’t have been good.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the energy that keeps you and me alive maintains its sentience once it leaves our bodies. But it did make me think of a poem.

It’s one I wrote a while ago and came to mind because of what’s going on in the world. How quickly and easily life can be arbitarily snuffed out whilst other life thrives. Perhaps the question is not, does human life have purpose? But, doesn’t all life have purpose?

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Now, I am not.

By David Milligan-Croft

 

I am an electron.

I am an atom.

Now, I am not an atom.

I am a star.

I am a white dwarf.

I am primordial gloop.
Now, I am not.

Now, I am molten lava,
Coursing through the juvenile earth.

Now, I am not.

I am a rock.
Marble, to be specific.

From the cliffs of Massa and Carrara.

Now, I am not a rock.

I am an amoeba.
Now, I am two amoeba.

I am sky.

I am cerulean-blue sky.
I am cloud – I am rain – I am river.
I am
w
a
t
e
r
f
a
l
l,

I am ocean.

I am vapour.

I am a droplet of dew on a monkey puzzle tree.
Now, I am not a droplet of dew on a monkey puzzle tree.

I am a puzzled snow monkey in a hot thermal spring.

I am a tiger.

I – am – a – tiger.

Waiting.

Watching.

Padding.

Creeping, slowly through the long grass.

I see you with your spear.

I. Am. Tiger.

Now, I am not.

I am a slave.
Skin flaking from my red-raw back
Like cherry blossom petals.

Now, I am free.

I think I am a Greek.
Therefore, I am not a Greek.

I am a hoplite.
My dory has shivered,
My hoplon is buckling.
Now, I am not.

I am a foetus.
I hear my mother’s muffled weeping
From somewhere close by.
Now, I am not a foetus.

I am the darkness
That envelops you.

I am a judas.
All that have gone before
And all that will come.

Now, I am a magician.
Now, I am not a magician.
Ta-daaaah!

Now, I’m a daddy!
I cradle your delicate life in my trembling palms.

One day, I will be your father no more,

But, for now,

I am.

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A Walk Among the Gods.


I’m going through a bit of a Greek mythology phase at the moment. I’m fascinated by the myriad of ‘minor’ deities they have to represent nature – they literally have thousands.

While going for a walk in the woods down by the river, I got to thinking about ancient Greece and – if I were alive back then – how many deities I would be walking amongst.

So I wrote a poem about it.

Hope you like it. Stay safe and well during these turbulent times under lockdown.

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A WALK AMONG THE GODS

By David Milligan-Croft.

On my morning walk, the goddess of the forest

Spread her roots before me to form a stairway,

So that I may walk down the steep slope of the valley

To where the river naiads skittered above rocks,

Meandering over Gaea’s flesh toward the open arms of Thalassa.

The sun goddess winked and flickered through the branches,

Scintillating off the peaks of the river’s crown.

The sky goddess held up her sister

Enveloping her in a lustrous, cerulean blue cloak.

The goddess of the wind chastised the reeds on the riverbank,

Tousled the leaves in the trees and held aloft the birds,

Who sang their song to the nymphs and protogenoi,

As automobiles droned in the distance, oblivious to the rapture

Of the forest.

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The Devil makes play for idle hands.


That’d make me the Devil then.

Oh well, I’ve been called worse.

Here’s a fun (yes, fun) writing game for kids and growed ups alike.

First off, draw around your hand.

No, the other one. The one you don’t write with.

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Next, you’re going to write a word in each finger.

  1. Think of an object, (such as a lamp, table, doll, trombone, necklace etc), and write it in your pinky finger. Don’t think too hard about it, whatever pops into your mind.
  2. Think of a colour. Write that in your ring finger.
  3. Name a place. Could be a town, a country or somewhere specific, like a treehouse. Write that in your middle finger. (And, don’t show the middle finger to your parents.)
  4. Think of a shape. (Circle, triangle, hexagon, sphere, etc.) Write that in your index finger.
  5. Finally, think of an emotion. (Happy, content, isolated, frustrated, sad, etc.) Write that in your thumb.

Now for the writing exercise.

Write a paragraph that incorporates all of the words you have written in your digits.

They don’t have to be in the order that you have written them down.

And don’t overthink it. Just let it flow. The sillier and more surreal the better.

Once you’ve finished, read out your five things then read your paragraph.

As you can see in the example above, there are three completely different paragraphs using the same five words.

You might be wondering why there are two hands in the picture above. Well, because you can play it with a family member, (if they are in quarantine with you), or you can just overlap your own hand over your previous drawing and colour in the shapes that overlapping them makes.

So, there you go. That should take up about 15 minutes of their day!

Well, they could use the paragraph as a springboard to a longer piece of prose. Or, like the example, they could do several variants using the same words.

It’s good for creativity, prose, composition, spelling, punctuation, grammar and comprehension. (But don’t tell the kids this, or they won’t want to do it!)

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Unleash your inner Tempest


Addendum.

Unfortunately, the Shakespeare exhibition and all workshops have been cancelled until further notice due to the coronavirus.

Apologies for the inconvenience.

 

Fancy contributing to an exhibition based around Shakespeare’s The Tempest?

I’m facilitating an exhibition for Arc in collaboration with Stockport Libraries as part of Shakespeare Week.

The theme for the exhibition is to bring the great bard’s classic play to life visually.

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Here’s one we prepared earlier…

Who can get involved?

Well, there are two groups of people that can take part – locals, and non-locals.

If you’re local to Stockport, you can come along to one of our group sessions at The Heatons and Brinnington libraries. They are on Tuesday 17th March and Friday 20th March respectively.

There are two sessions at each library. 10.30 am – 12.30 pm and 1.30 pm – 3.30 pm.

You can pop along for one, or both sessions. (There’ll be different activities in the morning and afternoon.) Stay for 10 minutes or two hours.

For non-locals who fancy having a go, simply email me a pdf of your piece (or post it if you have time) and I’ll print it out. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Vermont or Verona, just pick up your pencils and paintbrushes and wear your heart on your sleeve.

It’s quite simple really. I’m asking people to draw or paint on top of The Tempest text, as in the example above. Artwork can be A5, A4 or A3 portrait or landscape and can be in any medium.

Sometimes called Humuments or Black-out poetry. You can use the text as part of a background, or highlight certain parts of the text to make a completely different piece of prose or poetry, which doesn’t have to relate to The Tempest at all.

See examples above and below.

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The exhibition opens on Saturday 28th March at the Arc Centre Gallery Cafe, Hat Works in Stockport at 11 am – 4 pm.

That doesn’t given you long if you’re not local and would like to submit a piece. We’ll be putting the exhibition together w/c 23rd March, so ideally, we would like email/postal submissions by Saturday 21st March please. I’ll be waiting with baited breath.

Email me at thereisnocavalry@icloud.com for more details or my postal address.

Good luck, the world is your oyster.

 

 

 

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Adieu 2019.


Well, it’s been an eventful year, to say the least.

I’ve been doing a lot more visual arts this year, so I thought I’d do a month-by-month, blow-by-blow, pictorial representation of my year. (Lucky you.)

Actually, the reason behind it is to see if/how the images/moods have changed over the course of the year. And how that might correlate to my mental health.

As some of you know, I volunteer for an arts charity called Arc, (Arts for Recovery in the Community), which works with people with mental health issues. I am an ardent advocate of the arts as a medium to treat mental health, and wellbeing in general.

Many years ago, I visted the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and you could see the gradual decline in his mental health through his work.

Whilst I’m no Van Gogh, I am trying to see if there are any similar patterns to my own work.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

And before I forget; Have a Happy New Year and an absolutely spectacular 2020.

JANUARY

Oh dear… that’s not a good start.

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FEBRUARY

That’s a bit more positive. Birthday trip to Haworth, West Yorkshire, (home of the Brontes’), with my daughters.

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MARCH

Pros: Part of an Arc exhibition. Cons: Became homeless.

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APRIL

Ee, it’s grim up north. Charcoal sketch of an L.S. Lowry.

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MAY

“Are you sure you’re all right?”

Rehomed.

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JUNE

Think I can see a pattern emerging.

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JULY

Rehab.

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AUGUST

I guess a lot of things are obvious in hindsight.

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ME4

SEPTEMBER

The road to recovery.

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OCTOBER

Signs of improvement.

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NOVEMBER

Apart from my volunteer work at Arc, I started facilitating a Creative Writing Workshop at The Wellspring homeless charity in Stockport.

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burst

There are always reminders.

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DECEMBER

A change of outlook.

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As you can see, it’s been a tumultuous year.

I feel very fortunate to be able to experience the last day of it. That would not have been possible were it not for the actions of my dear friend, Siobhan Costigan, over in Australia. Her, and my friends, family, NHS, Stepping Hill Hospital, Pathfinder, AA, The Wellspring and Arc have all played their part in saving my life and helping me to recover. And I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

As of 31/12/2019, I am 140 days abstinent. I feel completely blessed that I have been able to experience 140 days on Earth with my daughters, family and friends that I might not have been able to. I am truly a lucky man.

I wish you all a magnificent 2020; may the forthcoming decade bring you everything that you hope and dream for.

 

Addendum.

If you, or a loved one, are going through a difficult time, there are organisations out there who can help. Reaching out isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength that you have managed to hold on this far. And remember, if things get so bad, go to your nearest A&E dept., they will take care of you just like any other patient.

The Samaritans call 116 123

NHS call 111 or 999

Alcoholics Anonymous call 0800 917 7650

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It’s me, I’m Cathy…


Regular readers of my blog will know my daughters and I make at least one pilgrimage a year to Haworth, home of the Brontes’. (Still haven’t figured out how to type an umlaut on a PC.)

This year, we visited Ponden Hall, Purportedly, Emily’s inspiration for Thrushcross Grange, home of the Linton family in Wuthering Heights.

It’s a rather exclusive B&B now. I can imagine Bronte pilgrims from farther afield (ligature!) would love to put it on their itinerary either for a stay or just a nosey around. And that’s where we come in. The rather delightful owner, Julie, must be fed up of people ringing her doorbell on her day off, not to book a room, but to see the room where Cathy torments Heathcliff by scrathcing on his window.

What?! I hear aficionados grumble. That didn’t happen at Thrushcross Grange, that happened at Wuthering Heights, the home of the Earnshaws’ and Heathcliff!

And you’d be right.

Top Withens

What is widely believed is that Emily transposed the interior of Ponden Hall and plonked it into the wilds of Wuthering Heights.

We know that Emily and her siblings were regular visitors to Ponden Hall to peruse their considerable library, (which reputedly, was the best in West Yorkshire at the time), and stayed there on numerous occasions.

Perhaps Emily even stayed in the room where Heathcliff endures his nightmares. Whether that is true or not is hard to say, but what is easier to suppose, is that Emily was actually in the room that I am about to show you, as it is virtually identical to Heathcliff’s in Wuthering Heights.

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What is unusual is the bed chamber in the corner of the ‘suite’. As you can see, the bed is boxed off with oak panelling, (for privacy, one presumes). It’s not a room per se as the bed is flush to the panels. So you would have to climb into it and slide the door shut. And yes, you can actually stay in this room.

On closer inspection, (photo taken courtesy of my daughter), we see the tiny window which Cathy appears at to persecute her paramour.

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Spoiler alert:

“I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand!” – Excerpt from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

Here’s a slightly wider shot for context.

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I don’t know about you, but I always get goose bumps when I imagine treading the same floorboards (or ramparts) as a figure from history. Whether that be Emily Bronte at Ponden, a Roman centurion on Harian’s Wall, or a Druid perambulating a stone circle. It gives me a greater sense of connection to the earth and the universe.

Anyway, it was a grand day out, topped off with a giant Yorkshire pudding filled with sausages and onion gravy at Emma’s cafe on Haworth Main Street. And, if that doesn’t anchor you to the universe, I don’t know what will.

Addendum.

My friend, Denis Goodbody, over in sunny Dublin, suggested that the panelling was probably more to do with keeping warmth in rather than privacy, which is a very good point. One which, having gas central heating, I hadn’t considered.

I can’t finish a post about Haworth or Wuthering Heights without adding links to the following:

My favourite film adaptation of Wuthering Heights by Andrea Arnold.

And yes, Kate’s classic…

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Ten Orbits of the Sun – update.


Well, I didn’t progress further than the shortlist for the Mind Short Story Competition. Still, I’m very proud to have made it this far.

Anyhoo, a few folks said they would like to read my short story, so here it is. The theme for the competition was ‘Journeys’, either literal or metaphorical.

P.S. I’ll always be grateful to Mike O’Toole for his stunning front cover photography.

P.P.S. Here’s a quote from a Mind judge/organiser:

“Believe me, I was definitely rooting for 10 Orbits of the Sun to go through to the judges. Both myself and one of the shortlisters cried reading your story. It was so beautifully written and emotive.”

Ten Orbits of the Sun.

By David Milligan-Croft.

Something changes inside of you when you have a child. Obviously, things change inside of a woman, quite literally. But I’m talking about changing from a man’s point of view – philosophically.

Up until my late thirties, I never wanted kids. Why would I? They’d be a burden. I had a fabulous career, a few great friends, a fantastic salary and a nice little crash pad overlooking a languid river.

Then, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I got all broody. And I just wanted a baby. Specifically, a baby girl. I don’t know why I wanted a girl. Perhaps I found the thought of a rambunctious boy quite off-putting. Or maybe it was because I didn’t want a boy to turn out like his father.

It stands to reason that I had to find a suitable mother first, which took a little longer than I had anticipated. I met Suki on an online dating website and, as we were both pushing forty, we decided it would be prudent to start a family sooner rather than later. We had a lot in common, we both loved the arts and books, she even shared my passion for antiques. She worked at the local hospital as an ER nurse, while I worked in a large design agency working on global brand campaigns. When we got married I decided to quit the industry and open up an antique shop in a trendy part of town. Something I’d dreamed of doing since my twenties.

Anyhow, I got my wish. And I was the proud father of little Tallulah. When I said that something changes inside of you, I meant that something changes chemically as well as philosophically. Nothing else, nor anyone else, matters quite so much in the world. Every cell in your body is geared toward protecting this little being. It starts from the moment of conception. I used to sing lullabies to Suki’s tummy and recite poetry to her. I’d talk to her and tell her how much I loved her and how much I was looking forward to seeing her. It’s a love that’s hard to describe. You would do anything for your charge. Yes, even kill for them. Die for them. It’s quite primeval on one level. Yet deeply spiritual on another. I can understand why some parents conceal their children from the law if they have committed a crime.

Sure, not all parents feel this way. And I’m not trying to say that I’m unique in feeling like this. Plenty of parents are doting and plenty are neglectful.

It was three years before I had a full night’s sleep or a hot meal. I’d be bouncing Tallulah on my left knee to keep her entertained whilst trying to eat a bowl of lukewarm pasta with my right hand. Or driving her around the suburbs to get her off to sleep. Every day brought a new parenting challenge or experience. Like the time I pursed my lips and asked her to give me a ‘smacker’, so she slapped me across the face! Or the time she pulled at my cheek and asked: “Daddy, why is your skin like a raw chicken drumstick?” Charming.

Because I’d had a child later in life, other parents in the park would ask if I was her grandad. It didn’t help that I’d gone grey early in life. She found it funny at first, but as time went on I think it began to annoy her. That I wasn’t like the other dads who were all much younger than me. It used to worry me that I might not be around for her later in life – when she was at university, or if she got married, if she had children. I wondered if I had been selfish having a child so late on.

I watched my little girl flourish and blossom over the years. She was a happy kid. Loved to read. Loved to write her own stories. She’d make little 8-page books and fill them with fairy tales and drawings. She loved to ride her bike and occasionally we’d go to McEvoy’s farm and she’d ride Ruby, the chestnut brown mare. She didn’t care much for video games or TV either and would much prefer to concoct experiments out of things she’d find in the garden and around the house.

I remember one time, when we were going for a drive in the desert in my old jalopy, she’d said: “Daddy, how far is it around the sun?”

“What? The Earth’s orbit?” I’d said.

“Yes.”

“About 585 million miles, give or take a couple of hundred thousand. Depends on the time of year, I think.” I turned the volume down on the car stereo so I could hear my inquisitive daughter better.

“Why does it depend on the time of year?” she said, turning the volume back up again so she could hear the trashy pop song that was playing.

“Not a hundred percent sure. Something to do with the ellipse of the Earth’s orbit,” I tried to draw an ellipse in the dust on the dashboard. “And the tilt of the Earth’s axis.” Astronomy isn’t my strong point and I got the distinct impression that Tallulah guessed I was busking a little.

Tallulah looked out of the open passenger window from behind her sunglasses at the scorched desert dotted with parched brush and spindly shrubs.

I stole a glance at the side of her pensive face, her golden hair was tantalising her cheeks. “Why d’you ask?”

“By my next birthday, I will have travelled 5.8 billion miles around the sun. Pretty amazing, huh?”

I pursed my lips. “When you look at it like that, kiddo, it is pretty amazing.”

“And that’s not including all the miles we’ve done down here on Earth,” she said wistfully.

I didn’t know how many miles we’d clocked up on Earth, and, in the great scheme of things, it probably wouldn’t affect Tallulah’s ‘orbital total’ very much. But it was still a significant amount for mere Earth dwellers.

I don’t know why this memory of my daughter springs to the forefront of my mind. Perhaps it is because it’s to do with heavenly bodies. The very fact that she came up with this concept amazed me. She could often be very abstract in her thinking. While other kids were busy playing with Barbie dolls, Tallulah was calculating how far she’d travelled in the universe. I always imagined her growing up to be a great children’s writer one day. Or maybe even a scientist.

Tallulah didn’t make it into double figures before she was taken from me. It was that God-damned bike I’d bought for her ninth birthday. She was cycling home from school when a truck cut her up at some traffic lights. The driver said he didn’t see her coming up on the inside.

I’d always been uncomfortable with her riding to and from school. Not because she was a careless rider but because of careless drivers. However, her friends all did it, so she wanted to do it too. I guess I should have been a stronger father and forbidden it. Up until then I’d always dropped her off and picked her from school in the car. But peer pressure had reluctantly forced me to concede.

I was at the shop when it happened. I don’t know, but around the time of the accident, I recall being overwhelmed by a sense of grief. Like, somehow I’d had this telepathic connection with her, or something. Sounds ludicrous, I know. Though, I didn’t put it down to anything bad having befallen my little girl at the time. I just thought it was due to my mood swings.

I got a phone call from my distraught wife about an hour later. She had been working in the ER department when Tallulah was brought in. It was hard to make out what Suki was actually trying to tell me through her hysterical sobs. When the penny finally dropped, I felt the world disappear from beneath my feet and I was suddenly floating in a black void. I was dizzy. I felt my insides twitch and heave and I vomited over a glass cabinet containing antique duelling pistols. I think the customers must have thought I was hungover as they stared at me disdainfully and left the shop.

I closed the store and rushed to the hospital. But it was too late. The truck had already crushed the precious life out of her. Had the driver been there when I found out I imagine I would have killed him. Not that I would do that now, having had time to reflect on the incident. I know it was an accident. He didn’t mean to kill her. But he should’ve taken more care. Particularly at that time of day, being near a school and all.

I have never known grief like it.

I don’t believe in heaven and hell.

But this was hell.

The depths of Christian hell could not provide me with such torment. I went over all of the things that I might possibly have done for Tallulah not to have been at that particular spot at that particular moment in time. Not buying her the bike was top of the list. Me picking her up was a second. Taking gymnastics class on a Tuesday instead of violin on a Wednesday was another. Or letting her go to her friend Maisie’s house after school so she would have taken a different route. There were an infinite amount of possibilities. Of variables that would have put her at a different point in the universe at that moment in time. And I didn’t take any of them. It was my fault, not the truck driver’s.

As you can imagine, my wife was inconsolable too. But I had to put on a more stoic face for everyone else: the police, doctors, funeral directors, family, friends. I know people mean well by wanting to offer their condolences, but the last thing we wanted to do at that time was talk to anybody. Shout – yes. Scream – definitely. Why? Why Tallulah? What had she ever done to anybody? To me, it was further proof that there is no god. How could an all-powerful, loving deity let a beautifully perfect little girl be killed in such a horrific way? What the hell was the point of existence?

That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in some form of afterlife. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. Perhaps we’re reincarnated. Or, maybe we rise to a higher dimension. I once had the notion that the afterlife was an emotion rather than a place. Sort of like ecstasy or bliss. That one’s spirit melded back into the universe in a kind of eternal rapture. Most likely, there will be nothing. I don’t know. But it’s a chance I’m not prepared to take.

Of course, I haven’t discussed this with Suki. What would she say? She’d say I was being irrational. And I guess I am. No rational person decides to take their own life. She’d say I needed to see a doctor. That I was depressed. Not thinking straight. Get some pills or bereavement counselling. On the other hand, I could also see why my thinking is completely rational. It wasn’t fair on Suki, I know that. To lose a child and a husband. But what choice do I have?

You know what I miss the most about Tallulah? It’s a sound. Specifically, a word. It’s a word I’ll never hear ever again: “Daddy.” There isn’t a more perfect sound in the entire universe. Perhaps her mother would disagree.

Like I said at the beginning – having a child changes you. You’d do anything to protect them. And I have failed in that respect. Why should my parental duties end in this life? Lots of religious people believe in heaven and hell. But they don’t think twice about giving up on their dead loved ones. If their faith was so resolute why wouldn’t they follow them to paradise?

Perhaps Tallulah and I will both spend eternity in black nothingness. In which case, it won’t matter a jot to either of us. But if there is something else, I’m certainly not going to let my beloved daughter wander the afterlife all by herself.

What kind of father would I be?

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