by Donna Lee
There are two things I remember most of my life in London - my
father and the trains. My father was a gentle man made more gentle by his death. I
remember only pieces of him - wide eyes, his hands around my middle, the big words he
used, how frail his body looked the last time I saw him. He remains with me - merely a
whisper now; the lightest touch on my cheek, a kiss on the wind.
The trains still hurtle through London and though that
was over twenty years ago now, a lifetime really, I can still feel the shell of the train
moving around me, within me. I drive my car through Auckland looking all around me and I
think I spy.
We played games on the train to while away the time.
I spy. I spy with my little eye something
beginning with the letter H.
His eyes would dart out the window or to some corner
in the carriage.
I knew his tricks by now - that he would look in some
direction other than where the answer lay.
That knowing I knew this he may look exactly where the
I looked around in desperation. I knew his tricks but
couldnt fathom them. Give me a clue, Daddy.
You wear it.
You wear a handbag, I said, trying.
He laughed. Its not a handbag. His
eyes floated up and I saw the answer looking like a cat curled up in the luggage rack.
Yaahhhh! I would make a minor display of
myself, grinning to split my face, pumping my upheld arms in victory. I was a bit of an
exhibitionist. The carriage was always full of people, their noses buried into papers,
staring into space, or looking anywhere but into the face of some other person; except in
these moments. They would turn to look at me. I think they put their smiles into their
pockets to pull out on special occasions such as this.
Sit down. Close your eyes, my father would
pull me close. Theres your prize - your angels kiss and I would feel a
light touch on my cheek. I would open my eyes and he would be lying nonchalantly back in
his seat, hands forming a cradle behind his head. He didnt fool me - angels
dont have stubble.
My eyes would sweep the carriage, sifting the contents
for some item worthy of my fathers age and wisdom. I spy with my little eye
something beginning with RP...
Red pen... rolling plains... No, no... I
know. It was at about this point his hand would fly to his forehead and hed
screw his face up in mock concentration. Ram... rambunctious psychoanalysis!,
he would answer. How clever. I didnt know you even knew those words.
Hed grab me with those big bear hands of his, playing my middle like a pianos
ivories and bending me double.
Other times I would stand in the isle, digging in with
my toes, feeling the movement of the train under my feet, surfing the rails. Or I would
put my head up against the side of the carriage and feel the train move through me,
loosening my jowls, rattling my teeth, shaking my best friend Delilah in my lap. Other
times my father would put down his paper and I would sit in his lap and Delilah in mine.
He would wrap his arms around me. We would look out the window or inside ourselves in
quiet contemplation; turning only to see, perhaps a woman walk through the open doors, the
smell of her perfume wafting through the air, then settling gently in the quiet. Perhaps a
businessman balancing briefcase and computer, his burden weighed across his shoulders like
a poor mans in a paddy field.
I wished I was that woman with the ruby lips, that
woman who smelt of roses. I don't know what my father wished, whether he wanted to be that
I would watch the houses pass one by one, the trees,
the power poles. Times like this, it was the world that I watched hurtling past - the
world on wheels or on a poster being unrolled. We would be still and calm inside
ourselves. Sometimes, it was my reflection I saw in the black glass, everything in
reverse. My eyes and mouth would ask why.
When I look now into the rear vision mirror, my eyes
will focus in on themselves. Within a border of fine lines, still those questions - and
My father hid me underground, I dont know why. I
think it was my mother. On the occasions she called from New Zealand, his shoulders would
rise like a beast hunched upon his back. When she was gone the beast would leave his body,
his back bowed to accommodate me in his arms. I sensed myself become a mere lump in his
Even now, I dream of the homeless in sleeping bags and
dirty clothes and their hard lives etched in their faces. We walked through subways and
tunnels that smelled of piss and shit.
I would look down onto the tracks and watch the mice scurrying around, look at the posters
blackened since two weeks before, count the moments, watch the lighted dots on the notice
board change ( 3 mins, 2 mins, 1 min). You could hear the train screeching down the
tunnel, then two bright round eyes would appear. I would lean forward and turn towards
them. I would imagine leaning further out and see images of Patrick Swayze jumping through
trains in the movie, Ghost.
The wind would lift my hair and I would imagine myself
so light, falling onto the tracks like a bridal veil, and feel the urge to reach out my
hand and run it along the side of the train as it drew up against the platform. I wanted
to feel the smooth fast metal of the carriage.
When I used to go to Mandys and play, we would
lean against her top-load washing machine while it was mid-cycle. We would feel our
clothes slide against the smooth slick enamel against our backs and the warmth of the
machine as it spun. Our bodies would shake with it. Once, Mandy emptied out the goldfish
bowl and put it over her head and we were astronauts being launched into space. Another
time we were Bonnie and Clyde, arms and legs splayed, getting shot full of bullets. End of
cycle and we were cross-eyed with our tongues hanging out of our mouths.
But something inside me told me that there was a
pretend, a wanting, where there would be no going back. So on the platform, in the
underground, I stayed well behind the yellow line. Even then, I knew what-ifs were
dangerous and I had to mind the gap.
My father would hold my hand and crouch beside me.
How much do you love me? I would ask.
This much? I would hold my arms out as
wide as I could, the pathetic arm span of a seven year old.
This much. My father would spread his
Is that all?
As long as a carriage on the train.
I would look at him dissatisfied, my bottom lip
As long as the whole train. As wide as
the entire universe!
Sometimes I dream. My father opens his arms wide
enough to accommodate the world. He says he loves me this much. He steps through the front
of the train, walks the entire length, a transparent sliver of a man. He doesnt
realise hes dead until he gets to the other side; and he is standing there looking
at me, and I am standing there looking at the rails. I have thrown my doll over. My voice
comes to me from the distance, from the past. Daddy, Delilahs fallen. Daddy,
save her. And I turn away to hide the smirk on my face. Daddy! Daddy
pleeasse!!. Suddenly, its not a game. I am pulling hard on his trouser leg
because I think she might die. I think I may have killed her.
Delilahs china face shattered across the tracks.
It would occur time and time again - in my dreams, in reality. Later, a little boys
broken face, body split in two. This wasnt my fault. This was on the news. But still
that broken china face, my fathers eyes.
Sometimes I see him tickling me, my body folding, then
growing, beneath his fingers. It feels indecent now that Im a grown woman. His hands
knead deeper and deeper. I stop laughing. He has worked an arm up into my body. A hand
tugs at my heart, making a puppet of my breast. You owe me one, he says so
softly I dont think I hear the words.
Sometimes he just whispers to me. His lips brush my
skin. Why did you do it?, he asks. Why? His breath is the softest,
most gentle caress. I wrap my arms around myself, trying to hold the pieces together.
I am older now. I am stooped as low as my father was
at 33, the skin around my eyes worn thin from kneading knuckle into bone (wringing water
from a stone). I paint my lips ruby red and sweep my tongue around my mouth careful not to
leave marks, bloodstains on my teeth. If I stepped into a train carriage, people might
turn to look at me. My perfume might hang in the air.
I still see it sometimes. It comes to me in fits - my father and the train, my
father in the train, my father under the train. One thing I loved killing the other. I
stopped looking at the tracks, wondering what-if, and moved to Auckland where we
dont use trains; where everyday I make myself a new collection of memories - the
roll of surf on my feet, my mothers laughter. I know now, the world is still and I
am moving. I am moving.