ON THE DAY THAT MY COUSIN ADRIAN
On the day that my cousin Adrian died
he was 31 years and 9 months old.
The trains didn’t stop.
No one even knew.
I and Carline and Lolla were at my mother’s for New Year.
My dad had opened a special wine.
We thought it was a great evening.
My cousin Adrian’s body
was found only two days later
in his own flat
on his own sofa –
some kind of overdose.
There was no letter.
Nothing had been stolen.
The police didn’t suspect foul play.
It had probably been an accident.
His sweet-natured sausage dog, Neelsie, was with him.
Neelsie was always with him.
My cousin was a doctor.
At the hospital in Bredasdorp people complained
that he did his rounds with Neelsie at his heel.
A nurse at the hospital wrote about
how much they’d laughed at him for that.
My cousin liked to tell dirty jokes.
He could mimic people very well.
Patients wrote to say
that he was a professional, friendly doctor.
I had never quite believed
that Adrian was an adult
or a doctor.
To me he was still the small boy,
the youngest cousin,
the guy who loved olives
when we were all still disgusted by them.
On the day of the funeral
my thoughts were trees in the wind.
My nephew was bipolar.
I had seen him four years before
desperately depressed in London.
He told me about a skiing holiday.
He said that the Alps looked like cardboard –
as if someone had painted them white for a school musical,
but the Reformed Church pastor droned on …
On my thirtieth birthday that year
Adrian gave me Richard Ashcroft’s
‘Alone With Everybody’
as a gift.
I never really listened to it,
always thought Ashcroft was a poser,
but the pastor droned on…
It felt as if I was standing on the beach
ankle-deep in water
and the sea beginning to pull back.
The current was strong,
the sand around my feet vanished,
but the sea and the pastor didn’t stop,
because ‘life’ is a word
that pulls back death.
On the day of my cousin Adrian’s funeral
our family history changed forever –
was suddenly visible in old photos
of children’s parties
threw its cold shadow over our childhood
turned our treehouse and sandcastles
broke the ribs of
our best memories.
But the organ played on,
a hymn was sung
the pastor stretched out his hands
and the new meaning
of the word ‘Adrian’
Outside, the sun burned.