Fraser Harrison p.2

Wedding Photograph

Four Chinese Poets

Apple

Wedding Photograph

Dated 1913 and signed by the photographer in a fancy pencil flourish,
it shows my mother’s parents in their wedding finery. Neither smiles.
Back row: the bride’s three handsome brothers and the best man; moustaches, butterfly
collars, buttonholes.
Front row: bride and groom flanked by her parents and his mother (smarter, more
expensively dressed).
Her four sisters, in their bridesmaid’s dresses, clutch their bouquets, not one a
beauty.
The mood is solemn, ceremonious. Marriage was no laughing matter among these
Cheshire farming folk.

I used to show the photograph to visitors, pointing to the youngest bridesmaid,
a little girl of nine or ten, stout-looking in her home-made dress, a basket of flowers in
her plump hand, quaintly smiling.
This was my great-aunt Getrude, whom I remember from my childhood as an old maid,
bed-bound, her smile sometimes falling out.
Then I’d show them the oak settle I’d inherited from her,
a fine piece with its maker’s name, Starkey and Neal of Altringham, stenciled on
its back,
above which, indulging in a spot of home curating, I’d hung the wedding picture in a
period oak frame.

But my mother, eighty-one this year, marbles intact, corrected me: the girl is not
Gertrude.
She is Connie, my mother’s aunt on the other side of the family,
the one who put her head in a gas oven,
the one nobody spoke about afterwards.

Copyright © 2008 Fraser Harrison
Four Chinese Poets

Several Sundays ago, listening to the news while I shaved (my soap scented with essence of grapefruit),
I heard the headline ‘Four Chinese poets under arrest’, and delayed to learn their crime.
which was to set up a magazine in some faraway, unheard-of-province where it would ‘liberalize literature’
They’d been jailed without charge, their office ransacked, the magazine aborted before it’s first issue.
Their address book had been confiscated, meaning, presumably, their friends could now expect the midnight knock.
Eager to know more – their names for a start, ages, genders – I resolved to hear the bulletin after Desert Island Discs,
whose castaway amused Sue by requesting nail clippers as his luxury, but lunch was called
(roast chicken, my children’s favourite) and I forgot. Throughout the afternoon these nameless, probably unpronounceable poets
kept popping into my mind, but never at times coinciding with the news, and next morning as I shaved,
the radio made no mention of the four and their heinous mag, nor did our paper on the doorstep.
I listened out all week, checked the foreign pages, even thought of ringing Amnesty, but heard nothing further.

End of story

Copyright © 2008 Fraser Harrison
Apple

Yesterday at dinner – a convivial affair,
just the four of us and a friend –
I wiped the smile off my sonʼs face,
wiped it as surely as if Iʼd slapped him.
The issue, you can imagine, was momentous,
a matter of etiquette, no less,
well worth the demolition of family mirth.
I objected to the way he ate his apple,
cutting it in the air, not on his plate,
spearing the slice on the point of his knife
and poking it into his mouth
with a careless flourish of his wrist.
‛Donʼt do that,ʼ I said softly,
almost hoping heʼd obey without hearing,
the way they used to as kids.
‛What?ʼ he said, blade still poised,
mouth between chewing and
guffawing at some joke against his sister,
smile gone – wiped out.
Seventeen. Cool dresser. Waggish. Good eye for a ball.
Sticking to my guns amidst the carnage, I said,
‛What you were doing was loutish.ʼ
(The very word my father bawled at me.)
Then, trying to mollify, I added,
‛Thereʼs no right or wrong – itʼs a question of manners.ʼ
‛I donʼt care a fuck,ʼ he shouted,
and quit the table.

Later I apologised, and he had the grace to accept,
even saying sorry himself. We left it there.
But alone with my remorse I knew why
old men wipe the smiles of young menʼs faces.
Age detests their swagger and cockiness,
their carelessness.
Most hateful, though,
is their lack of respect
for the attrition,
year on year,
that grinds the strut out of old menʼs bones.

Copyright © 2009 Fraser Harrison
Apple read by Fraser Harrison

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