By | 1 June 2022

Four straps over one shoulder: the usual
baggage, plus a blood pressure monitor.
At twenty minute intervals it beeps
and constricts, measuring my blood
as it struggles through tunnels.
a gift from my stressed ancestors.
I remember my Pop scraping every last skerrick
of wine from a foil cask with a metal ruler
and Nan’s salty treats – Lay’s Thins –
stashed on top of the fridge. Our hearts
and brains are prone to blowing up.
I’m trying to stay calm
but I’ve just climbed four flights
to my boyfriend’s apartment to discover
one of the keys I had cut is a dud.
It’s lunchtime and I need to pee.
The machine grips my arm like a Floatie
inflated by an overzealous parent
with Olympian lungs.
Through the smudged vestibule window
I can see across town, where my friend Tamara
is currently dying. It’s a process: an unspooling
list of things she’ll never do again, grieved
in real time.
Seemingly mundane milestones
like birthdays take on weight – she cried
to realise she wouldn’t reach my age:
thirty-eight. Talking about the future
feels like a faux pas, and attempting to relate
is met – quite rightly – with scorn.
The pain disrupts her sleep, denying her
even that escape into ignorance.
When I leave her place
I feel guilty relief. But a livestream
in my mind plays in a browser window
where her sunken eyes connect with mine
and ask to be witnessed.
Standing outside
Steven’s locked front door, I picture all
the boring things I would do in there:
make tea, defrost bread, open my laptop
under the pretext of poetry or work
only to scroll news sites and social media
and get increasingly depressed.
I leave my bags
and go back to the street: a frigid wind tunnel
of weekday efficiency. Pensioners in masks
mill outside the medical centre.
Office workers queue for chicken rolls.
I sit beneath the last remaining red leaves
of a Japanese maple, trying to resist the pub.
A month later I’ll buy a Fitbit
and my blood pressure will go down.
At Tamara’s bedside I’ll check my step count
while neighbours on nearby balconies
take pictures of the setting sun.

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