‘Don’t start with those 'crocodile tears!’ my mother would say.
She thought I did it on purpose, to side-step justice, the Angel of Death smearing red on the doors of the condemned. Really, I was just being a boy – and a timid one at that.
I wanted to be Peter Pan, but I didn’t have the wings. I felt more like the clock ticking away in the croc’s dyspeptic tum.
She sent me to my room to wait the rest of the day till my father came home. It was left to him and his strap because her hand no longer had the clout to exact respect.
Five minutes of dread, replicated by imagination, is worth ten lashes, or walking the plank. By the time my father came home, I had rehearsed my lines of sorry.
Mostly he was too tired from work to be bothered with discipline. Or perhaps he remembered what being a boy meant. Even more likely, he’d never completely left it behind. His eyes and tone always betrayed his words.
Sometimes, he had to use the strap to keep the peace with her. But he had a way of making it sound far worse than it stung. And I would cry well above the volume of circumstance.
I loved him for that – in warm, crocodile tears.
There must have been many baths
but this is the only one I remember
my clothes in a pile on the scuffed lino,
how you had to boost me over the lip
of the old cast-iron tub to the suds
the water that stung until I settled
back between your legs. This
was father and son, one of few
signposts that memory flashes
before the static forces you to switch
channels. And what we did
in the water as it slicked with grease.
Those cuts and bruises on your legs –
they were male courage, so when
could I expect mine? You laughed.
‘If I work long enough, you’ll miss ‘em
and earn a doctor’s smooth hands!
I tried to laugh your deep laugh.
‘But I want your hands. I want to work
just like you!’ You hushed me.
‘Your mother won’t have it,’ you said,
‘and she’s probably right.’ But you let me
soap your back and rub away some death
from your broken skin in those frames
when I was sure you would live forever
before the water suddenly cooled.