A Full Life

“I don’t know why he couldn’t have died
much younger, like the others.” Her fingers trample
the ledger’s pages, impatient for names.
She has had to wait, as on a long bleak platform
where all facilities are Off, and rough strangers
with big bums and elasticated faces have nabbed
even the broken seats, for this particular hearse
to pull her up. She has been here, or hereabouts,
hunting her uncles, since 1837.

The best of them took one bloody look
at the midwife, and surrendered. The pink of their
birth certificates and the shadow-grey records
of death are bunched in her knuckling fist.
Their statistics were easy, did not trouble the wet
stub of her angered pencil. But this one,
this relative from hell, had the bored audacity
to live a full life, linger over his ninetieth
birthday as if nursing a pint of mild, in one corner
of the snug, avoiding the landlady’s eye.

The ledger’s metal edges hit the counter
like steel toecaps on stone. Now she bangs her
thumb on his forename, and scratches his dates
on a scrumple of card, jerked from a pocket
in fiddly fingers. His secret has been stashed.
There have been a number of thefts in the Family
Record Centre, intones the tannoy, recently.
Please take especial care. She hoists her swag,
and takes her relative to the counter.
Gives him no quarter. “That’s the last time
I look for an entry like this,” she lies.

From the book Robinson Crusoe's Bank Holiday Monday