auntie ollie’s sheepdog painting

Ollie was dad’s sister
and you’d definitely know
even if you didn’t
because they looked exactly the same
not just the no-legs
square face, big hands
a breathless laugh
like they were suddenly crying
but mostly something else
something deep and unexpected
a watchful kind of warmth
snagged in the corner of the eye

I’ve no doubt
where it came from
cooked in the long, cramped
years they shared
before the war
a father who drank
to forget the trenches
always going over the top
with his sons
their mother Martha
doing her best
given the circumstances

Ollie liked to dance
one day she partnered up with John
a ducker and diver
mechanic and driver
who unexpectedly
got killed in action
in Italy, probably
(so they said)
then turned up
barefoot
on VE day

once a year
Ollie & John
would drive down to see us
in a Ford Zephyr Zodiac
with white walled tyres
and a sheepdog
called Rusty
Ollie would stand there
in a fur coat
bigger than the dog’s
whilst John chewed his lip
and chucked sweets
from a carrier bag
like a mad farmer
scattering seeds onto
an unprepossessing field

forty years later
was the last time
we saw her
John had long gone
(so they said)
her dancing partner
now a zimmer frame
‘look at this’ she said
pulling a painting
from behind the chair
a laughing sheepdog
wha’d’ya think?
I loved it
it was funny, lush, extravagant
and although the perspective
was definitely skewed
and the teeth looked weird
there was something else
something deep and unexpected
a watchful kind of warmth
snagged in the corner of the eye

martha and olive

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