This Is How It Happens

Or a man in his middle years, a husband and father, will find himself, some damp October evening, reading the banal inscription on the grave of a girl he knew at school. He is not at all sure why he is there; somebody else would cite nostalgia, sentiment, a midlife crisis, but that’s far too simple an explanation. The girl he remembers now never existed; for most of the years she spent being alive, he hardly noticed her, or perhaps it would be truer to say that she hardly noticed him – but once, on a warm summer’s night at the town dance, or in some hazy winter’s afternoon at the end of term, she had smiled at him, and they had gone for a walk together, or stood talking inthe school foyer, and he’d realised how miraculous she was. Two days later, she was dead: a tumour, a rare infection, a hole in the heart. It wasn’t uncommon, in the Innertown, that such a girl might die young, but this girl had stayed alive long enough to make her mark, to take up residence in his imagination. To haunt him. Now, through her, he mourns and celebrates everything that life has denied him, all the beauty, all the magic. This is how it happens: the dead go away into their solitude, but the young dead stay with us, they colour our dreams, they make us wonder about ourselves, that we should be so unlucky, or clumsy, or so downright ordinary as to carry on without them.
John Burnside, Glister

Photograph taken in Morley, West Yorkshire, April 2014.


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