As soon as I woke I knew I had to get to the hospital. I walked quickly through steady rain and was there in ten minutes. She was sitting on a bedside chair, head lolling, eyes closed. I sat with her. She looked young and pretty again. Her breathing was soft and shallow. She seemed at peace. I watched the rain trickling sinuously down the window-panes and rolling in ripples across the slate roofs of Moira Terrace. Time slipped by. After a while, she opened her eyes, looked at me and seemed to recognise me. She smiled and searched for my hand. I gripped tight. The rain fell. Eventually her hand went limp and she drifted back into sleep. I kissed her on the forehead and quietly left the room.
I smoked at the West Wing’s entrance in Newport Road Lane. The rain was getting heavier, driving in on sou’westerlies. I inhaled deep. This is her town, I thought, this is her ground. She went to school at Our Lady’s Convent just over the road in The Walk. She would have known this Lane when it ran alongside the big houses of Glossop Crescent, she would have known every drain cover and paving crack, she would surely have come this way…
Cardiff was at its Cardiffest, bruised blue-grey under a drenching Atlantic blanket. Wheeling seagulls wailed plaintive paeans above the pulsing rumble of Saturday morning traffic. I stepped out into the downpour and lifted my face into the sweet salt rain.
He lived in a hut in a wood by the river. There was no home for this hero. The kids called him Scrumpo, nobody knew his name. Squire Williams of Llanrumney Hall was a good man; he let Scrumpo be. On summer evenings she would skip through the meadows and glades down to his den, bringing him bread and cheese for his supper. He was always so grateful and gracious. Then one day he was gone, his home smashed, his few possessions destroyed. Later, he was found in a ditch near Ty’n-y-gwern. It was then that she knew: there would be no happy ending.
Another smoker appeared; I stubbed out and went inside.
When I got back to her room she was dead.
I hadn’t been there…I hadn’t been with her…I hadn’t kept my promise…she died alone. The rain fell.
“When I was just a little girl I asked my mother what will I be…” she sang to me in my pram under the cherry blossom in Waterloo Gardens. A squirrel scampered across the grass. A man approached. Then there were new sounds for me to learn: a scream, a gasp, a sob. “Squirrel’s taken mummy’s purse Dicky, we must go home now.”
I was her boy. She loved me unconditionally, no matter what worry and grief I gave her. My scruffiness, my motorbike crashes, my football injuries, my chaotic personal life, my libertine sexuality, my clashes with authority, my downward mobility, my lack of ambition, my ferocious Welsh radicalism, my nomadic roving, my perpetual poverty…through it all she was on my side, even though I could never be the son she thought she wanted. And every time I came home from my wanderings, there she’d be, waiting anxiously at the gate for me, her face luminous with joy and excitement as I ran towards her. I was her boy.
And now I must cope in a cold, indifferent world without her. Now I must trudge on alone, with only the fading glow of her love to light my path – down the next road, and around the next corner, and over the next hill, and on, on to that far horizon, forever out of reach.