Ruth Shepherd

The light of day begins to fade

The light begins to fade.It’s early evening. He sits at a table for two facing the door. Through half draped windows an overcast sky, the muffled sound of traffic on the main road . Inside the dim light of energy-saving light bulbs. The plants on the windowsill dull green and limp. Sita music is playing in the background on low volume. On each table is neatly placed a yellow ochre menu, a white china pepper and salt pot and a small vase of white carnations with magenta edges. Prints of paintings on silk surround the walls: elephants, courtiers of maharajahs and dancing women. A smell of cumin and coriander. Two waiters hover in the empty space. They leave him alone. He holds his menu open. His eyes shift up and down the blue writing. Then he peers over the top of his glasses.

He sees her before she arrives. He shuffles in his chair. His shoulders lift slightly. He breathes in. The waiter opens the door. She enters. She wears a fitting pink cardigan, jeans and grey trainers with a slight platform. Over her right shoulder is a black satchel. The strap presses slightly into her exposed flesh. Her hand rests on the opening buckle. She sees him. She pushes her fingers through her hair. A recent cut. Short with a hint of burgundy. A slight squinting of her eyes. The frown on her brow intensifies. She hesitates. The waiter speaks a few words to her. She turns her head towards the man at the table. Her ribcage expands. She walks to his table and sits on a chair opposite him. Her legs face out towards the door.

An absence of smiles, their faces motionless. She leans closer to him across the table. They make brief eye contact. She opens her mouth slightly, speaks a few words. She takes an envelope out of her satchel and places it on the white paper cloth. She lightly brushes her fingertips over the seal. She rises and leaves the restaurant. He beckons the waiter and orders chicken bryani with rice. His usual.

The horse chestnut trees are in full bloom. Cascades of white cream lanterns. A lone man beats a rhythm on the metal bars of an exercise frame. Three boys run and jump on the skateboard ramp chased by their young pit bull dog. He sits on a bench nearby. His usual seat. The widest vista in the park, rippling green after a warm spell and torrential rain. His mind drifts to the rolling hills of Clarendon, Jamaica. He would ride a donkey up and down the hill running errands for his mother. He came to England on the Windrush in the early sixties. His wife and two small children follow. Now long retired he walks. He lives alone near the park.

Suddenly two crows squawk loudly, diving for each other. A frantic flapping of wings. They fly away. He is left alert. His heart beats more rapidly. He takes of his cap and put its on again. Moisture gathers on the palms of his hands. He knows this is the time. He puts his hand in the right pocket of his jacket. The envelope. Still unopened . Neatly folded in two. He takes it out and with his thumb nail tears along the top .The letter effortlessly opens in his hand. His eyes scan the page urgently.

Dear Dad .

It is the eighteenth of January,
the gales rage around me at a hundred miles an hour.
I am camouflaged in my small car amongst the larches,
in a nursery of meaning.
I have been here before.
The engine is running,
a hosepipe of monoxide.
I lie on the back seat a cushion under my head
music plays on the radio.
I am not hungry
my stomach is full of pizza.
Poison fills the airways of my lungs
and my cells surrender to toxic
blood.
I am dying by my own hand,
crossing the line.
I am paint sliding from its canvas
no longer fixed to white washed walls.

Much love, H x

He pauses. The bottom of the page. He pants with a shallow breath. His hands go cold. He closes his eyes. He places his hands on his chest. His mind races. Memories of an earthquake, the shudder, large cracks appear in the earth. The electricity pylons fall. The lights go out. From the back of his eyes he sees spiral undulations of pink and yellow. They descend into deepening purple. He opens his eyes and looks up. The early evening sunlight catches the silver rim of his glasses. The park is empty. Time for chicken bryani. At the usual place.

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