House – a physical encyclopedia of no-longer hers

We will never fight again, our lovely, quick, template-ready arguments. Our delicate cross-stitch of bickers.

The house becomes a physical encyclopedia of no-longer hers, which shocks and shocks and is the principal difference between our house and a house where illness has worked away. Ill people, in their last day on Earth, do not leave notes stuck to bottles of red wine saying ‘OH NO YOU DON’T COCK-CHEEK’. She was not busy dying, and there is no detritus of care, she was simply busy living, and then she was gone.

She won’t ever use (make-up, turmeric, hairbrush, thesaurus).

She will never finish (Patricia Highsmith novel, peanut butter, lip balm).

And I will never shop for green Virago Classics for her birthday.

I will stop finding her hairs.

I will stop hearing her breathing.


About two years afterwards, far too soon but perfectly timed, I brought home a woman, a Plath scholar I met at a symposium.

She was funny and bright and did her best with a fucked-up situation. We had to be quiet because the boys were asleep upstairs.

She was soft and pretty and her naked body was dissimilar to my wife’s and her breath smelt of melon. But we were on the sofa my wife bought, drinking wine from glasses my wife was given, beneath the painting my wife painted, in the flat where my wife died.

I haven’t had sex with many women, and I only got good at it with my wife, doing things my wife liked. I didn’t want to do those things, or think about whether I should be doing those things or thinking about the thinking, which meant I bashed her teeth, then knelt on her thigh, then apologised too much, then came too quickly, then tried too hard, then not hard enough.

But it was good, and she was lovely, and we sat up smoking her strong cigarettes out of the window and talking about everything we’d ever read that wasn’t by or about Sylvia or Ted.

She left and I felt nervous about feeling cheerful. I walked around the flat as if I’d only just met it, long strides and over-determined checking of surfaces. I looked in on the boys.


When I came down Crow was on the sofa impersonating me pumping and groaning.


Permission to leave, I’m done.

Shall I final walk the loop, the Boys/Dad boundary, hop/look/hop/stop.

Shall I final follow hunches, mourn hunt with pack lunches?

I dreamt her arm was blue when I found her, Red where I touched, reacted, peck-a-little, anything?

Nonsuch matte podginess gave way to bone,

Accident in the home.

She banged her head, dreamed a bit, was sick, slept, got up and fell, Lay down and died. A trickle of blood from an ear.

Hop/look/sniff/taste/better not. Total waste.

Lifeless cheek, lifeless shin, foot and toe. Wedding ring. Smile.

The medics arrive, the kids at school are learning, learning.

As you were, English widower, foliate head, The undercliff of getting-on, groans, humps, huffs and puffs, Wages, exams, ball-drops, lies and ecstatic passages, All dread dead as the wildflower meadow.

Starts again in proper time.

Some dads do this, some dads do that. Some natural evil, some fairly kind.

Pollarded, bollarded, was-it-ever-thus. Elastic snaps, a sniff and a sneeze and we’re gone.

Coppiced, to grow well.

Connoisseurs, they were, of how to miss a mother.

My absolute pleasure.

Just be good and listen to birds.

Long live imagined animals, the need, the capacity.

Just be kind and look out for your brother.

Max Porter, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, 2016.