Next door the old fella’s coughing. He’s bent over the veranda rail. One hand holds the wooden post the other touches the red poppy blooming on the lapel of his navy blazer. On the radio Vera Lynn’s singing We’ll meet again.
When I was a child a dark passage ran like an artery between my parents’ bedroom and mine. When Dad coughed he leaned against the doorframe for support. He coughed and coughed, his bony chest heaving against his cotton singlet. Mum nursed Dad, who carried a piece of the war in his lungs. Often at night he’d wake, gasping for air. I’d creep along the passage; breathe outside the door for him.
Sometimes I still wake in the night and hear my father coughing. I listen when that cough recites its whakapapa. I sprang from the desert sands in Egypt it says; in Maadi camp I wound my tendrils into his lungs; when his battalion moved out I went with him to Monte Cassino; I was full-grown when he came home on the hospital ship with nightmares and a shattered hip.
Next door the old fella spits and straightens up. His son arrives and helps him into the car.
Who holds the world up so you can crawl out and breathe in the light-filled air?
On the radio Vera’s still singing We’ll meet again to the boys.