First Love and the Useful Pot
The school bell rings. "I’ll walk home with you today," Sheila says. I’m pleased. Yesterday she went with Andrew, who lives down our road.
The lollipop lady sees us to Muddy Alley. I’m carrying a bag with a birthday present for Daddy. It’s a Useful Pot like Eeyore’s in Winnie the Pooh. I made it in Arts and Crafts.
Three teenagers from the Big School come towards us. One spits. Another is smoking. The third grabs my bag and dashes it to the ground near some dog poo. The pot breaks.
Back home, Sheila comes for tea. Mummy says she’s just made a cake with candles for Daddy, but that she’ll bake two small ones specially for us while I make another Useful Pot.
"Cheer up," says Sheila. "We’ll do it together. You and me."
That’s when I knew I wanted to get married.
November 26th. The hospice calls. I should come urgently. Usually I get the bus. This time I call an Uber. Grey, damp weather. When we arrive, it’s pouring. I don’t have an umbrella.
Sheila is scarcely breathing, her jaw slack. I hold her hand, whisper her name, then remember I’ve promised to play her out to a song Lizzie has recorded. Thank the God I don’t believe in that I’ve remembered my phone. I place it on her breast and press start. Minutes later Sheila gasps and is gone.
Back in the flat she bought after we divorced, the stench of illness and cigarettes hits me hard. I make the first calls, send emails, begin a desultory rummage as executor.
I tumble upon love letters more than 30 years old. And photos of when we were happy and beautiful. What was that Larkin line about what survives of us?