The Brazilian nurse adjusted the Great Poet’s line and pillows with genuine tenderness but little effect.
“Titanic deckchairs?” he mused. “Infinitesimal parameters?” Words, old friends, pain relief, they all failed him now: like the snow falling softly outside, the only way was down.
Since arriving, he had only written occasional haikus on a Post-It Note pad: but day by day even that had become impossibly long-form. His writing fingers drummed arthritically on the coverlet, empty-tanked sports cars ever impatient for races they would never finish.
On a whim, he stared past her out of the window at the snowman standing in the tiny courtyard. It lacked yesterday’s newly-made sharp definition, true, but a pinprick of its shaped vitality was still discernible, if you knew where to look. “You and me both, pal”, he wheezed ineffectively.
“Are you alright, Meester Alston?”
“Never better”, he tried to lie: but as with his pen, the words seemed too wide, the channel too narrow.
She paused, watching his struggle for breath. “I will leave the light on”, she said as she left. “You seem to have a lot on your mind tonight.”
As the ground-floor’s other temporary residents turned in and switched off, the snowman gradually found itself illuminated just by the poet’s room light, leaving it a white lighthouse in a wine-dark sea of night. And far off in the hospice, a muffled radio played the organ intro to Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”
And he was back in the ballroom, Bayswater, 1967, winter solstice. Dress code was pagan, Bohemian black for everyone except his bride, white-faced, ivory-clad Lindsay, his Mama Cass, his muse, with her sane reasoning and insane appetites.
Oddly, his resentful, drug-abusing sons were there too, their burning arrows of creativity forever condemned to sail listlessly beneath his own Laureate arc: and his daughter Caterina as well, beautiful before she was born and serene after she died.
“We skipped the light fandango…” Indeed: so what shall we dance this time, my dear? His mistresses, Tarni and Ute and Iris, eased gently out of the shadows as bridesmaids – though hardly vestal virgins – lifting him to the stage, to Lindsay, to a reconciliation they had both wanted but had never quite reached.
And everywhere he looked in the darkness around her, he saw more eyes, more faces, more everything, and with a vivid clarity that had long eluded him. And he was writing, writing now, writing his life and his love and his pain and his death, trapped and freed within a seventeen syllable prison cell of heaven and hell…
It was Nurse Celestina who found the body beside the snowman: how the Great Poet got there was a mystery. The Post-It Note in his hand was blank, though: there never was enough time to write that final haiku.
Our winter ballroom
Fills with friends anew.
My first and last dance, with you.