"One More Needle In The Haystack"
W. R. Hilary
You keep your eyes on the tarmac. You must always be silent. You must never cry. You must be brave when they catch you and pull both of your legs so that the sharp branch cuts through the black fabric of your uniform and reddens the flesh of your thighs. You mustn't shriek then and you should never blush. Keep your head down. Write neat sentences in your school book and pay attention. For God’s sake don’t talk. Don’t fight. Don’t get in trouble. Don’t get sent outside. Don't get noticed. Why are you always getting sent outside? Why are you always getting noticed? Why are you always in the hallway, standing in that blue plaid coat with your face pressed against the dirty glass of the door so that they can all see you while the teacher speaks? Throw that damn coat away and wear the one she gave you. I don’t care that it smells like her. Wear it for your own sake.
The other coat is ridiculous. Hers is the only one you got. Yesterday they saw that other old rag and they had you in the hedge and they had you move that stick between your legs with your hand stroking the stick so that everybody could see what it looked like and everybody could laugh. Learn to be practical. Learn how you fit. Learn where you fit. You fit at home.
You must come straight home. You are like me, best when left alone. There isn't much of her in you. For better or for worse—you won't charm folks the way she does. But never let the house get quiet. Turn on the television. I know it’s a waste of electricity, but things are different now, things must be safe and still. Learn how to make a snack, how to use the kitchen. Learn about the white polished surfaces. If you can, have something ready for me when I come back from the office. No, that’s too much. It's okay for you, right now, to just watch television and try not to dwell on things. When the phone rings answer it calmly. Never expect to hear her voice on the other end. Now you must become a man. It is important that you memorize how I look when I come home, the way that my suit sits; the way that it smells; the feel of it when I make you hug me and you push your cheeks into the hard fabric. You must learn the language of my face; see how the lines are and how they stretch and run behind the dark stubble. That is our grammar.
But don’t listen at my door in the night. Don’t catch me smoking in the garden when I think you are asleep, and I am sitting near the fence where the air raid shelter used to be, but has long since crumbled to dust.
Please try to understand this; things are different now and you must try and understand them. You must always be learning. You must know how the pipes move in the morning and how the kettle whistles – how the first cars are out on the road at four a.m., and the way the bills in their envelopes hit the carpet. These are the rhythms—the irascible beats of the working class, that rise inside you when the first pale light is over the terraced houses. This is the way the days are born. The days are moving, steady, coming one by one, silent invisible and never stopping. Above all, you must forgive me for this. Forgive your mother and I for our failures, because in all honesty we are just children too, too young, and you know how cruel children can be. I still remember the way that you looked on that first day when they had not yet started on you and when she stood by the rose bush with her camera, pale faced with the wind lifting her skirt, and your wild, unbelievably orange hair as you waited for the picture and even smiled because you didn’t know—none of us knew—what you were in for.
Twenty-nine Years ago, W.R. Hilary was born in Ireland. He was raised in London and New York. He has a B.A. in English from Vassar College, and an M.A. in Systematic Theology from Union Theological Seminary in NYC. Hilary is currently occupied as a peer worker for the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community. He has had poems and/or fiction published by 40z Bachelors, Junk, ThemWilderness Review, “Vox Poetica”, “BlazeVOX”, and “Midway Journal”. He was also shortlisted for a Glimmertrain short fiction prize.