“He used to have this bloody Kestrel; like the birdman of Alcatraz”; she shook her head, smiling wistfully as she said it.
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 the dam broke. Playing pontoon and rummy in front of the fire. A cockatiel on his shoulder. Watching him pottering in the greenhouse that was squashed, against logic, between the garage and the kitchen extension; seeing to his tomatoes. His garden, his pride and joy; water features and planters made from concrete, cast out of upside-down traffic cones. Flip-flops, all year. The post-it notes piled high, tumbled and spread about my desk.
There were things I wasn’t sure of; greeting him at the door when he’d got back from work, in his big NCB coat. Was that from a photo, or is it a memory? Seeing him halfway under the car wearing the orange overalls. Were they even orange? Was it just my mind trying to fill in the gaps? I write them down anyway.
A rescued pigeon with an injured wing, getting warmed on the hearth. God, he was the birdman, wasn’t he? Shooting rats in the garden from the upstairs window with the air rifle. Mam told me that one but I think I remember. Sundays; he reads the Scottish newspaper and dozes. Driving lessons; the both of us got so angry with each other that we stopped after two or three. Visits to the garden centre. Helping him pull up weeds in the garden. The weird assortment of odds-and-ends in his pockets, scattered on his bedside table. Note after note after note.
His smile; mostly in his eyes. The way that he suddenly seemed to lose loads of weight; his denim shirts hanging off him. Trips back and forward to the hospital; Sunderland, then Newcastle. Getting him home for the weekend and 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; quieter and quieter. Seeing the smile gone from his eyes. Harder to write now; the 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.
I awoke one day, and to my surprise, the pile of Post-it notes had taken shape. They 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 came stutteringly, as I scratched at the corners of my mind. I wrote down fragments. Half-formed memories, anything I could think of to fill 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 all in. I feel like I know him, but at the same time, he seems wrong – this yellow, paper man. I worry that I have made him from my own image, that those memories from others have tainted him. What if my mind had made stuff up to fill in the gaps?
I realise I’d been holding my breath, I breathe out, my arms becoming limp, my head bowed. I looked up slowly at this stranger, this half-man, realising I’d expected too much. I closed the door, and left 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 expanded as the seasons had changed. He stood there, as before. Some of the sticky notes had fallen away, and sunlight blinked through the gaps. My mind exploded with the weight of what perhaps was 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 away as he busied himself in our tiny kitchen.
I realised then that the gaps in him were not imperfections, they did not make him incomplete. He would never be whole, again. But that’s OK. It’s to be expected. In the end, it’s the best I can hope for.
I visit him often now. I sometimes talk to him. I sometimes add more notes, as they come – but the obsession to make him whole is 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.
Cover image by Me