The boy in the next bed was dying
of a disease with a fine French name.
No fruit, no flowers, no cards
wishing at his side. He had freckles,
curly hair the colour of coal tar soap
and Dr Barnardo’s for a home.
We strayed, whenever nurses looked away,
used Fagin skills to pry Fry’s Chocolate Cream
from the vending machine in Admissions.
The boy leaning on the push
handles of my wheelchair, dragging
numbed feet, sometimes losing a slipper.
At night the pain came stealing.
The boy, a brittle whisper
crept into my bed and I held him
close, close as skin,
nose to nose, forbidden
mint breath clinging.
The first spilled secrets in filthy school loos.
The second gave ginger cut to the chase.
The third made love, death and crime on Ward 5.
The fourth shared The Sound of Silence.
The fifth fell into a snow drift.
The sixth surrendered beautiful on the banks of the Tyne.
The seventh gave a wedding ring and split lip.
The eighth made excellent chicken soup.
The ninth gave gin massage on hot lawns.
The tenth offered midnight lifts to therapy and falling stars.
The eleventh staged punctures in motorway service stations.
The twelfth gave tarot card readings.
The thirteenth banned the Bomb and taught self-defense with a spanner, sickle and hammer.
He slept with his socks on.
The fifteenth performed impressions of Richard Gere.
The sixteenth gave empty, like Dire Straits.
The seventeenth cracked my zoom lens.
The nineteen rowed my boat to the island of woolly mammoths.
The twenty second shared Victoria Sandwich and arson.
The twenty eighth gave life drawing. He jumped off the High Level Bridge.
The thirty sixth sent crocodiles under my floor.
The one after him played a mean pianissimo and made the top forty.
The last one believed in the theory of reincarnation.