Saturday 17th December 2011
BUSY in town, as expected. I make only routine purchases: bread, baked beans, biscuits; tobacco and tissues; large sausage roll for luncheon. The phone rings while I’m in the kitchen, unpacking the rucksack. My oldest sister:
“I’ve got some bad news.”
The first of our generation to go. Cancer; sixty-six; clickety-click.
You couldn’t not like him: the kindly smile, the soft eyes. Some say he might have been a troubled soul. Maybe he was just never quite certain about the world. Who knows. Gone now. Requiescat in pace.
I can recall no specific childhood memories about Mike. We’d play, as cousins do, on family visits, but five years is a lot older when you’re little. He was clever: that much I did know. Guess I looked up to him, from a respectful distance.
Later, they moved south and we east, seeing each other infrequently. Uncle Frank was proud when his son landed a well-paid job after university, with Shell or ICI, or somewhere like that.
Then, suddenly, he left; travelled and worked abroad for a while; ended up in Devon; what people thought of as ‘dropping out’; bit of a drifter perhaps. These are only small pieces of memory. I don’t have a clear picture. He sold ice-cream too, at some point.
His sister and her husband were with him when he died, as was Mike’s partner of many years, though I gather they’d separated a while ago. He fathered no children.
I shall go to the funeral, partly to colour in gaps in the picture of his life, for he was a gentle man, intricate and inquisitive. His mother, Auntie Joan, is ninety-two, a little frail but still hearty. Her Christmas card arrived a few days ago. I’ll telephone her this week some time.
My sister has sent Mike’s sister an email; copied to me; exact and tender in expression. She mentions our father and how he, the rational thinker:
“…used to say we are all individual chemical experiments just passing through time.”
All relative: atom to atom, father to son, now to then.
Goodbye, good cousin Michael.