I can picture the exact moment
That we began to grow apart.
The usual Thursday wallow-around
(Kick-about being too lofty a term),
The mistimed challenge, the boot
Jack-knifed down upon my own,
The mumbled apology,
And the game continuing around us.
Later, back in the dressing room,
I looked for signs of damage
And although you looked no different,
I knew that you were.
That night in bed, to prove me right,
Your transformation, as subtle
As a reading lamp, began.
It was an unremarkable beginning.
A blanched greyness spread
Across the nail, like a bland surprise,
As if the blundering ghost of that tackle
Had come back to haunt you.
In the days that followed
Your true colours began to shine through,
Angry reds and bruised purples
Competed with each other
Before settling down in an uneasy truce.
I would rush home every evening,
Shoes and socks strewn across the hallway,
And inspect you, not merely to wonder
At what new hue you had turned into
(No-one do the new hue like you do)
But also to run my fingers over
The contours of your newly-formed ridges,
As brittle as life itself.
They were bittersweet times
As a gallows humour crept into our lives
(Hey, toe, what’s your favourite kind of solvent?
It must be No Need For Nails!)
And all the while, the nascent nail
Growing and pushing, pushing and growing,
And toe’s company, three’s a crowd.
Our parting when it came, though,
Came suddenly. The sun shining down,
A foot raised up from the sea,
And there the usurper but not the usurped,
Presumably washed away in the surf.
I still dream about you sometimes:
A beach-combing boy, looking for treasure
Amongst the pebbles and shells,
His eye caught by an unexpected gleam
In the sand, and something both
Splendid and mysterious is gathered up
For his collection: an Ionian jewel.