A Voice in the Garden

Selima Hill

‘Your uncle’s here!’ my mother called,
‘Are you ready?’ The taxi was waiting
to take us to our weekly swimming lessons.
I drove through Marylebone like a VIP,
my immaculate uncle close beside me,
smelling of soap and peppermint ...
He crouched on the edge of the pool
and shouted ‘One, two!One, two!’as I struggled
with the water like a kitten. I kept my eyes
on the gold buttons of his blazer.
They were as smooth and glossy
as the boiled sweets he liked to suck,
and offer to his young friends.
I sunk and kicked and spat out water.
The bright buttons rose and fell ...

And then one day he came in beside me,
his grey sixty-year-old body quaking
like a mollusc without its shell.
The wet wool of his swimming trunks
reminded me of blankets I had peed on.
His hands in the moving water seemed
to float between my legs. He smiled.
I swam for all I was worth
to the edge of the pool and the steps out.
The heated water trickled down my legs.
I wrapped my towel round me like a shawl,
and felt my breasts inside, in the warm ...

That was our last swimming lesson,
but when he came to tea on Sundays
he sat down in the seat next to mine;
and as he listened to my mother –
picking his biscuits off his plate
with pink eager fingers, lifting
his tea-cup to his lips, and nodding –
he pressed a silver florin in my hand.
I kept them, like a dirty secret, tucked
in my bedroom drawer. At last I poured them
into a plastic bag and took them on the bus
to the Little Sisters of the Poor
in Albert Street. Next Sunday I hid
in the garden, but he came pushing his way
through the roses, looking for me.
I heard the twigs breaking up and his voice
in the bushes calling and calling –
‘You-hoo, your uncle’s here, yoo-hoo ...’