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Sunday, 29 September 2013

The boy with the hole in his heart...

The scar was a zipped up fly of blistered skin. It ran for about six inches down the middle of his chest. It was as if someone had taken an iron to some worms and a passion flower and then a translucent skin had been allowed to form over the resulting mess. Most of our scars were visible back then, his was just the most apparent and the most extreme. There was a spina bifida boy with crutches and a calliper in the year below and another sturdy girl with a stiffening fixture on one leg, but their manmade buttressing somehow seemed to make them less, not more fragile. We were all always getting cuts and grazes, but they mostly came from falling over. The knees of Ian Davis and Brian Nederhoff in particular seemed to be perpetually scabbed or bleeding, bleeding or scabbed. Tall and gangly Big Birds, they both seemed especially prone to going down. A strange mustard coloured ointment would be daubed on to the blackcurrant jam of their wounds and somehow, soon, everything would be alright, their tears become smiles once more. But nothing as extreme had befallen us as had the boy with the hole in his heart. You didn't get a scar like that just from falling over.

We didn't call him the boy with the hole in his heart back then, of course, but Pharoah Kid was Pharoah Kid even then, only rarely to his face. It was just the way our minds worked, I suppose. His unruly shanks of growing out ruffian crop hair were abstracted into a crude, linear, side-on Egyptian caricature. In much the same way, the boy with the hole in his heart was The Milky Bar Kid owing to a passing similarity to the kid from the TV advert which, now I think about it, didn't extend too far beyond them wearing similar round framed, high magnification spectacles and both being kids. But it seems right to call him this new name now, to turn that lifelong reminder of a childhood hole in the heart operation into the stuff of metaphor. Because now we too know a little of what he went through. Our hearts have all been yanked out, pummelled, probed and prodded, put back in and the wounds, however poorly, however ineptly they disguise the trauma undergone, have been stitched up. There were no surgical gloves, there was no anaesthetic for us though.

And then there was Harry. That strange meeting at Kefalinnia Airport. The odd rightness of that Greek setting; him returning from the Island of Odysseus which we'd observed for the previous two weeks from our lazy poolside, unaware that he had been secluded there somewhere on one of Ithaca's rugged boobs. Harry, still the quiet centre of it all, his fame and renown even greater than when I could claim to know him. Those Ustinov locks hoary now but deserving of the laurel leaves they always seemed to be requiring then. But so sad now, and lost looking, with Sheila gone. And me, my Mother living on through me, perhaps, inhabiting me, something anyway making me become the compassionate, concerned 'good with people' son - perhaps the man she'd hoped one day I would become. The past healed, then, in a moment, with that firm and more meant than was ever said hand clasp and his straight in the eye, sincere entreaty to 'take care of yourself'.

The past is healed. It can be written now, with love. Because I tried before to write it but there was still anger in my heart. But now there is no room for that. Not with so many gone. First Bill, my Mum, then Dad and now Sheila. Only Harry and Jo-Jo remaining now of all our parents. How can there be room for anger? What is it Larkin says? 'All that survives of us  - remains of us? - is love'. And whichever it is, that's true. 

All that is left is love. Love, love, love.

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