Neil Coppen

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Roll Up For the Magical Mystery Tour

September22

Roll Up For the Magical Mystery Tour

A letter for Jill on her Departure

John Lennon sits on the edge of her bed, his wings folded neatly behind his back…any requests tonight Jilly? …. How about ‘Hey Jude’ she replies. So he plays ‘Hey Jude’ and when he finishes, he leans the guitar against the bed and then runs his fingers through her hair – then whispers ‘Roll up Jilly, Roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour, its coming to take you away’ , she smiles a toothless smile (they’re in the little yellow tub beside her bed) She wished that when John visited that she would at least remember to put her teeth in, but the angel always seemed to visit at such unexpected hours that she could never quite be prepared.

Thandi (the nurse) bursts through the door- swaggering her prodigious behind, toast (peanut butter and Jam) and luke warm Riccoffee in hand. She’s come to serve breakfast and clean the ash tray from Jill’s long night of smoking. Biggles the dog follows close behind- aware that persistence is usually rewarded with breakfast scraps. Jill, confused, glances around the room but John has vanished. All that remains is a single feather from his wing (Others will tell her it’s just from the goose feather pillow on her bed, but she is old enough to not have to justify herself to anyone anymore). Thandi finds an empty ash tray , Jill doesn’t touch her toast , and Biggles goes un fed.

Bodies can be so god damn unreliable– and hers being the big cumbersome piece of machinery it was – had begun to close down, rust shut .The spirit grown impatient, a soul ready to leap free but trapped in its faulty old cage .She has been prepping for her release- Last night Ricky (her Toy Boy) from the U.K phoned to talk to her, In a state of delirium she held the phone to her ear. ‘Hold on Aunty Jill I’m on my way to see you, wait for me okay! But she replies …’oh I’m afraid I wont be here Ricky …..I’m going to China in the morning’

John has offered her tickets on the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ and what Beatle fanatic could ever turn down an opportunity like that. It appears the first stop might be China and well….. Who knows from there?

I helped her pack her bags- She always used to threaten Greg and I, as kids that if we didn’t stop fighting she would pack her bags and go back to Port Shepstone. Of course we continued to beat the shit out of each other – and Jill been the consummate actress she was, would fling her clothes into her old suitcase and pretend to leave the house in a rage…….That’s it …. I’m leaving! This would naturally reduce us both to fits of tears, and beg her to return….which (been the softie she was) she finally did.

This time, I’m twenty four years old and standing on the road trying to convince her to come back inside but I can’t make her stay. I can only sit with her in the bus stop of her bed room, hold her hand, and every now and then through a morphine haze, she opens her eyes and asks me to please stop crying.

Since Childhood our goodnight ritual went as follows – ‘ill see you later alligator’

And Jill would respond ‘In a while crocodile’ a mischievous twinkle in her misty blue eyes.

Last night I said ill see you later alligator Jilly? and she took my hand gently and shook her head. I knew then that Mr Lennon and the boys were heralding the final boarding call and that the Magical Mystery tour was only a few hours away from it’s auspicious departure.

It would be selfish of me to try delay this departure- Staying only means further suffering, I wouldn’t wish that for a second. But I want to make her coffee , just like I used to, stir in all the love and sugar I could heap onto two spoons- sweat and milky –coffee and cigarettes, sitting by her window and waiting for the Natal Robin to visit . Her secret omen. It arrived one day and she wept as I held her body up from the bed so she could see.

The memories prove relentless in times like this

I’m a new born baby, in the photograph, cradled in her mighty arms, tag around my wrist.

I’m a little boy in her bedroom, watching her dress for her shift at the Port Shepstone Hospital – rolling on her thick stockings, Shining her Sister Koll Badge, sliding pins through her thick grey hair. I’m remembering the latex surgical gloves she used to bring home so we could make ‘hand’ balloons from them. The damp smell of her old house down the coast –Parrot seeds, cigarette smoke and sea salt. I’m remembering Sheeba and his garage, (The one I hid in when Gorg’s fearsome Dutch friend ‘Mate’ came round for tea). The wild tangled South Coast garden, compost to the already fertile imagination of a six year old. Fresh water crabs the size of dogs. Tractor carcasses amongst the over ripe Popo trees

Nuzzling into her back for bed time stories. Floating in the swimming pool with her, her legs were buoyant here, painless and we floated through the summer evening stars together. Watching Floyd the boozy chef on TV, whilst earning extra pocket money by cutting her toenails

Her perchant for the mysterious, an insatiable appetite for all things Agatha Christie- Trips to the Library – her love of stories, reading, telling and creating them.

My campaign to ban smoking in our house by putting NO SMOKING signs all around her room and then even resorting to painting vinegar on the tips of her cigarettes in attempt to make her quit. Then as teenagers smuggling ciggies out of her room- Greg Lomas would distract and my nimble fingers would slip a few into the undies. Jill of course saw all, and been a sport, turned a blind eye. As they say if you can’t beat em , join em- and join her I did- eventually, only too happy to indulge with her in a few Styvie Blues and goblets of good old checkers box wine.

The last time I remember her dancing was with me, at my eighteenth birthday party. It was to her favorite song by Billy Holiday- the same song I always sang with her after that –even on the night of her departure, she could still find the strength to mouth the words.

Ill be seeing you, in all the old familiar places

That this heart of mine embraces

All day through

In that small café –the park across the way

The children’s carasole

The chestnut tree

The wishing well

Ill be seeing you

In every lovely summers day

In everything that’s light and gay

Ill always think of you that way

Ill find you in the morning sun

and when the night is noon

Ill be looking at the moon

But ill be seeing you

There were the dreams of Elephants and Dolphins –We were all in the bush together –sitting out on a verandah- the whole family –Jill in her wheel chair. Suddenly an Elephant tore through the foliage, hurtling towards us- we tried to wheel Jill inside but she begged us to leave her, which we did. The Elephant approached her- she sat unflinching until the venerable beast stopped in front of her – bowing its mighty head at her feet- at a distance where she could place her hand on the coarse patch between its eyes. We watched in awe as the animal then rose and Jill leapt from her wheel chair and began to dance, a wild youthful dance.

Then there was the dream where Jill and I were in a small little motor boat- Jill lying at the back, her one hand dipped languidly in the ocean- we were out on the Fish Hoek bay – a perfectly still and beautiful afternoon, the light golden on the waves- I drove the boat far out to where the sun was setting, and in our wake hundreds of Dolphins began to leap from the water, Jill and I filled with both laughter and tears.

Now the Cowies Hill morning rain breaks with patches of sun – The Monkeys Wedding is accompanied by an actual troop of monkeys –the ones that walk the tight rope on the neighbours Tennis court fence – Jill often watched them from her window-they provided her endless hours of amusement. Now they miss their audience member. The window that now frames an empty bed covered with rose petals.

 I can’t help but watching the baby monkeys leaping from branch to branch – discovering the possibilities, the agility and ability of their eager little limbs. I can’t help but thinking that Jill is leaping and dancing, kicking and Can Caning in a place where those very possibilities have now been restored to her.

So the Bus did arrive (I discovered a single feather on her bed this morning)– John had whispered ‘Roll up, Roll up for the magical Mystery Tour, its coming to take you away’ and roll up Jilly did. She once told me that, to die would be a great adventure- and at three thirty this morning –with a final hearty sigh –Jill boarded the bus and began her new adventure. No doubt Mr Lennon was at the wheel, passing around the joints. Natal Robins pecking at the glass on her window, Dolphins piercing the waves to welcome her, entire Elephant herds bowing to the ground and the spring flowers of Namaqualand bursting into a brilliant fragrant carpet of color – signaling the way to a glorious new and painless existence.

Today and forever I celebrate this extraordinary angel of a woman with you. Whose memory and spirit will long outlive the limitations of her tired body.

posted under Short stories, musings

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