Poem for October

The mum man

A long time ago and far, far away
a boy sat with his mum in a café and there were two men
flicking sugar at each other –
grown men. One looked at him then his mum
and said ‘cute kid’ which made her smile,
then he asked the boy if he wanted a custard doughnut and said they’d had three.
No thank you, his mum said,
but he got one anyway.

His mum looked at her watch and at the buses
and the man asked if she’d bought anything nice.

At first he – the boy – didn’t like them barging in –
having a bun was his treat for a good mark in Maths,
but he liked the doughnut (it was the first custard doughnut he’d ever had and he decided                                                                            he’d always have custard doughnuts from then on)
and he liked seeing his mum smile,
even if it was a different smile
to normal.

An ability to recall detail is one of the few things that boy has kept
so along with that smile
I remember the man’s denim jacket, his red face and liquorice breath –
the fag smell like Aunty Barbara
and the tattoo on his wrist saying MUM in faded green like the grass in summer.

I remember how the waitress told them off, but they didn’t worry one little bit, that pair,
they just carried on laughing and messing around
then the one with the MUM plonked himself down on our table,
right next to my mum
and said he liked her hair.

how a second doughnut came,
at about the point I figured out when I’d seen that smile: it had been the day the car broke                                                                            down in the dark and it was just the two of us,
at about the point he asked my mum: Why don’t you come out with me one night then,                                                                                  blondie?

I took no notice. They were how I wanted to be when I grew up:
flicking sugar and buying kids I didn’t know doughnuts and saying things that made my mum                                                                      smile,

telling her her name was a nice name –
fearless, like Luke Skywalker landed in Paisley.

It would be years before he – that boy – discovered what it was to be paralytic at                                                                                         3.50pm on a Tuesday afternoon;
years before he mainlined custard doughnuts in cafes between pubs, having not eaten                                                                               for two days;
years before he became familiar with that laugh – bouncing unwanted off bricks in                                                                                       shopping centres and bus terminals and bars,
years before he saw the smile that had been on his mother’s face and realised with a                                                                                 sobering spear
what it was.

by Tim Relf

The mum man won second prize in the recent McLellan Poetry Competition. Tim Relf’s poems have appeared in The Rialto and Ink Sweat & Tears, and are forthcoming in The Friday Poem, One Hand Clapping and Snakeskin. He was long-listed in the Plough Poetry Prize 2021 and the AUB International Poetry Prize 2021. His most recent novel was published by Penguin.