8th January

Thank, but No thanks

for Michael Marra

As I was out walking the other day, I met a man who looked familiar. We passed, nodding and glancing as we did, and then, when we’d gone a few paces beyond one another, we both turned.

‘Is that you, Michael?’

He seemed to weigh this up for a few seconds.

‘Aye,’ he said. ‘That’s what I thought, too.’

It was his voice all right. The unmistakable gravel of his songs, of his phone calls: Are you going to be in later? Can I come round? Have you got time? I always had. And round he’d come.

‘What are you doing here?’

‘Well,’ he began – and then wasn’t there.

I stood looking at his echo, the empty space six feet away. I thought, If I go home and sit in at one side of the kitchen table, maybe he’ll be there at the other side. He always took an age to drink his coffee. No need to rush.

I wished I could remember everything he ever told me across that table. If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing, he’d said, more than once.

‘Did they send you back?’ I said. ‘Like Frida Kahlo?’ But that was unfair;
it was what he’d imagined, in one of his songs. I had no right.

I told him a story once, something that had happened after a death, and he listened but he was being polite, or kind rather, because that’s what he was, kind. ‘That’s okay,’ he said when I’d finished. ‘But I don’t want metaphors.’

I could see how you wouldn’t, in his shoes.

I carried on along the road, but I couldn’t stop myself imagining him telling me something, and it went like this: he’d arrived at the gate, and it was open, with no one on duty, so he’d just put his head in to have a wee look, in case he wanted to slip away without bothering anybody. All was fresh and neat in there, very meticulous decor, but he didn’t like how they’d applied the paint. They’d been mean with it. There wasn’t enough boldness of colour. And I bet, he thought, there isn’t a piano.

So he didn’t go in.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harp: Esther Swift
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