Two families who never met

by Robyn Sykes

Winner, Silver Brumby Award, The Man From Snowy River Festival 2019; Second, Sutherland Literary Award, 2018; Second, Betty Olle Award, 2017 (title: Treacherous Veil)

The siren screams curses, my lungs gasp for air:

my wife has been struck by a truck.

Hail Mary, Our Father, which way is she? Where?

Oh Suzie my mind’s come unstuck.

.

Our son lies still, fatigued and yellow, poisoned liver battle-

scarred, but Mike still smiles each day.

His skin is paper, arms are needles, breath a wheezy rattle-

rasp. The rector comes to pray.

.

I smell antiseptic and taste it as fear;

my voice squeaks like shoes on the floor.

A white-lipped young doctor draws awkwardly near.

Our kids arrive, creaming the door.

.

The homestead’s now a clinic ward, its brick walls are a prison

cell. Our friends all rally round

with casseroles and roasted lamb and sponge cakes light and risen

high. His mates bring laughter’s sound.

.

“She’s not going to make it,” I hear through my trance.

My ears close, I don’t want to know.

“Her organs perhaps could give others a chance.”

He’s wrong. No, I won’t let her go.

.

Thank God the season stuck with us, the sheep and cattle flourished

well. A neighbour sowed the wheat.

Mike’s lucerne pastures, wind-break trees and dreams he daily nourished

stand neglected, incomplete.

.

My knuckles turn white. I forget to exhale.

How peaceful she looks, sound asleep.

For time is the lace in a treacherous veil:

what’s missing can make us all weep.

.

By day we talk of transplants, but at night, when faith is shimmer-

thin, I nag my hubby dumb.

We check the phone, recheck it, for the dial tone gives a glimmer-

hope. Mike’s bag is packed. I’m numb.

.

I think of our home on the cliff by the sea;

our wedding day framed on the wall;

her perfumed pink roses, the gulls she sets free;

the chatter when chums come to call.

.

Old Tiger’s kennel’s empty: as I watched his eyes grow older-

sad, I let him in the house.

An armchair by the bedside and a thin hand on his shoulder-

blade: I never have to rouse.

.

My daughter says “Dad, we all know what Mum said:

‘It’s better to give than receive’.

We’ve one final option to see her love spread.

Six people could gain a reprieve.”

.

“Hello. I’m from St Vincent’s. Can you come? We’ve got a donor

ready.” Time’s on ice. I freeze.

My throat’s the Simpson Desert… Mike is saved … the liver’s owner…

How? What pain resolves my pleas?

.

I can’t bear the emptiness yawning like tar.

I can’t bear the Suzie-sized hole.

I can’t bear the shreds of my life and the scar.

Don’t tell me the gifts soothe my soul.

.

Old Tiger woofs and wags his tail, the wind-break’s gold with wattle-

dust. Mike’s baling lucerne hay.

His face is pink, his shoulders strong, his future planned full throttle-

blast. Each day, in thanks, I pray.

.

O Suzie, I’ll never forget how we lay

entwined like wisteria vines;

the smell of your hair, how we’d laugh and we’d play. You shine now in six breathing shrines.