“He used to have this bloody Kestrel – like the birdman of Alcatraz,” she said, shaking her head and smiling wistfully.
“Ha, that’s a good one.” I smiled to myself as I wrote it down on a post-it note.
The next one came out of nowhere. Orange overalls smeared with oil, hanging up in the garage. Or were they bundled up on a shelf? I wasn’t sure, but I wrote it down anyway.
From there, a trickle. Double-denim. Plaid shirts, buttoned down halfway. Seeing him, sitting on the arm of the chair in front of the patio doors, looking out at the birds. The duck noise he made sometimes to make me laugh. Listening to Jive Bunny tapes in the old Ford Orion, trying to pick out the different instruments.
Then it was like a dam broke. Playing pontoon and rummy in front of the fire. A cockatiel on his shoulder. Watching him as he saw to his tomatoes in the greenhouse – squashed, against logic, between the garage and the kitchen extension. His garden, his pride and joy. Water features and the concrete planters he cast from upside-down traffic cones. Flip-flops, all year round.
The post-it notes, piled high, began to tumble and spread across my desk.
There were things I wasn’t sure of. Greeting him at the door when he’d got back from work, wearing his big NCB coat. Was that from a photo, or was it a memory? Seeing him halfway under the car wearing the orange overalls. Were they orange? Was my mind just trying to fill in the gaps? I wrote them all down anyway.
A rescued pigeon with an injured wing, healing in the warmth of the hearth. God, he was the birdman, wasn’t he? Shooting rats in the garden from the upstairs window with his air rifle. Mam told me that one, but I think I remember. Sundays. He reads the Scottish newspaper and dozes. Driving lessons. Both of us so angry with each other that we stopped after two… maybe three. Visits to the garden centre. Helping him pull up weeds in the garden. The weird assortment of odds and ends in his pockets, left scattered on his bedside table. Note after note after note.
His smile – mostly in his eyes. The way he lost weight, too much and all of a sudden. His denim shirts hanging off him. Trips back and forth to the hospital. First Sunderland, then Newcastle. Having him home for the weekend. Me staying out all weekend, like a heartless fool. Moving house so Mam was closer to work. Seeing him sitting on the couch, skeletal. Smuggling cans of Guinness into the hospital for him, near the end. The way he grew distant. Smaller and smaller. Quieter and quieter. Seeing the smile gone from his eyes. Harder to write now… ink blotted here, and there.
The shadow of him, alone in that room, skin drawn and waxen. Gone. Now nothing more than words on a sticky note.
Over time, the torrent subsided. Memories still drifted by but, more often than not, I let them drift.
Then one day, to my surprise, I woke up to find the pile of post-it notes had taken shape. They… it, stood, swaying unsteadily. I could make out the shape of a torso, a head, half-formed legs. The Post-It Note Man.
Hands shaking, I picked up my pen.
The notes stumbled from me, as I scratched at the corners of my mind. I wrote down fragments, half-formed memories. Anything I could think of to fill in the gaps. To make him whole.
Piece by piece, note by note, he took shape. He grew taller and seemed fuller… solid, almost real. I paced around him, inspecting him, looking for gaps, anxious to fill them. I stood back, taking him in. In that moment, I feel like I know him, but at the same time he seems wrong, this yellow, paper man. I worry I’ve made him in my own image. I worry I’ve tainted him with other people’s memories. I worry my mind has filled in the gaps with whatever it had to hand.
I realise I’ve been holding my breath, I breathe out, my arms limp, my head bowed. I look up slowly at this stranger, this half-man, realising I expected too much. I close the door, leaving him there.
Months passed. Life continued. A thin layer of dust gathered on top of the half-used book of post-it notes. Something I saw online, pictures of the Gateshead Garden Festival, stirred something in my mind, and I decided to pay him a visit, realising it had been too long.
The door scraped as I pushed it open, the wood had expanded with the changing of the season. He stood there, as before. Some of the sticky notes had fallen away, allowing sunlight to pass through the gaps. My mind exploded with the weight of what I might have lost. I circled him apprehensively, inspecting his shell. Birds, cars, gardens. His beard, his glasses on a string, his hi-fi in the corner, the radio playing as he busied himself in our tiny kitchen.
Then I saw it. I understood. Those gaps weren’t imperfections. They didn’t make him incomplete. He’d never be whole again. But that was OK. It’s to be expected. In the end, it’s the best I can hope for.
I visit him often now. Sometimes I talk to him. I add more notes, as and when they come, but the obsession to make him whole has gone. He shrinks and he grows with the passing of time. But he’s mine. One post-it note or one hundred. He’s mine.
My Post-it Note Man.
We lost my dad to long-term illness when I was around 18 years old. He was an amazing man, and I miss him every day.
Over the years I’ve held onto trinkets and totems to remind me of him; I wear his Saint Christopher pendant on a chain around my neck; I’ve worn his old watches until they stop ticking, and I find myself tracing his hobbies and interests; trying to take pictures with his old camera, re-reading his old science fiction novels and listening to his records. I realise now that these things are my subconscious trying to stay attached; attempting to remain coupled with my Dad. To the memory of him.
I’d been ruminating for some time about the effect of the passing of time on memory, and I was becoming worried and frustrated that I was forgetting my Dad. At the beginning of 2022, one Sunday morning – I started trying to write down some memories. It was a sad and difficult process, one which grew – admittedly, into a sort of obsession. By the end, I realised that what I was going through was a very natural part of grief.
I realised that, rightly or wrongly, I’d been trying to rebuild my dad from these fragmented memories.
Time passed and the bones of a story formed in my mind. I spent another sad Sunday morning writing – where the (very) short story literally fell out of my head and onto the paper. I’m not a writer by any means, but I found the process to be very cathartic.
After sharing it with a few friends and relatives, and hearing their feedback – I decided to print some copies up to try and raise some money for the NHS. I asked my friend and talented wordsmith Barnaby Harsent to help me to tweak it, and he made my stumbling prose into something that made far more sense.
The result was fifty small yellow booklets, and £280 donated to NHS charities.