He bought a bottle of ‘Boiling Well’ beer from the Brewery Tap because it was his Dad’s favourite. He’d raised one to his draining health with his brothers the afternoon he died. Indeed, they were so busy drinking to his imminent memory and planning out their shared grief like some lubricated mental spread sheet that they’d missed the actual moment of his passing. It still stuck in his craw.
He sat at the bench and picked at the label of the bottled beer, every rip a pang of guilt or grief. The label told him how the ruddy brew was made from and named after the water which ran through the Boiling Well Meadow adjacent to the Brewery Tap. He wiped his eyes, grabbed his beer and stepped out into the stinging sunshine.
He climbed the stile from Coronation Avenue into the Boiling Well Meadow, so called because there’s a bridge and a bog where two rivers converge, boiling up a bubbling swirl - part Corve, part Teme. He mounted the bridge and though the view of the Mediaeval castle and fringe of Whitcliffe rocks leading to the forest where Mortimer slaughtered the gay king’s stags looked beautiful on this perfect August day, it was lost on him. For he looked down from the rung of black iron, not up or across.
At happier times he might bring a rucksack of picnic to this spot and reminisce with old pals from school halfway round a pub crawl. Reminisce about how they’d feign interest in cross country running during a Fifth Year P.E. lesson in order to smoke, tapping cancerous ash into the boiling well at an age where Death wasn’t on your radar.
But not today. Today the memories are so recent they’re still warm. Warm as an MRI scanner. He looked from the swigged bottle of Boiling Well beer in his grip into its watery namesake and thought about his Dad. He thought about how his veins ran dry when his red and white blood cells met and duelled to the death. How his Cancer struck quick - more of a flume than a flax dam. And as he stared into the boiling bubbling swell the images came thick and fast.
Life and Death. The Convergence of the Twain. They’d been swamped in death and dying for long enough so when, in one of his last gasp moments of clarity, their Dad had asked for a bottle of Boiling Well beer from the Brewery, all three of them had jumped at the chance to grab at a bit of life outside that house. Away from misaimed piss bottles and duvets soaked in Myelodysplastic blood. Away from bulging eyes and swollen liver-spotted arms that were just not him. Away from End of Life Care.
They made a detour to the Brewery on the way back from Boots - medicine bag as big as the rucksack he’d rather be shouldering on a Mortimer Forest hike. And the Brewery became their oasis for a while. An oasis from the choppy waters of Cancer brewing up a storm.
They raised a glass to him over brimming ruby red bitter and reminisced their own personal highlights of a father-son relationship split three ways. A trio of tributary tributes.
His elder brother went first with a memory of helping his Dad in the garden as a toddler - watering the plants with a deep blue watering can. Kidding himself he was doing it on his own when it was Dad who took the weight. And watered the hornworts properly when his infant son had gone back indoors for a “biccie with a cow on”.
Despite himself being next in age, his younger brother jumped in before he could smack his lips at his Boiling Well beer. His was a recollection of running into the kitchen for a used washing up bottle to join in the water fight on the hammer-head cul-de-sac; Dad scolding him for getting mud on the freshly washed floor, but squeezing the rest of the Fairy into a cup to provide for his son a weapon, all the same. Waste not want not.
He’d downed his beer and was impatient to get back to the bar, but he took his turn in the memory game nonetheless. His was a bit of a cheat for going last - two interconnected memories linked by the theme of car washing. First there was the trips to the Ford at Clee where Dad would make an adventure out of getting the car cleaned in other people’s water. Disguising a bit of enterprising cheap skatery as a childhood game topped off with Pooh-sticks and boats crafted out of newspaper.
It occurred to them suddenly that all of their memories were of him working. Gardening. Washing up. Cleaning the car. Yet somehow they’d each remembered their respective memories as games and play. Childhood water sports.
As if to underline this, his last memory was of all three of them making the kerbside dam when he rinsed the Escort free of suds on the estate - choking up the drain in the neck of the hammer-head with sticks and mud and stones, trying but failing to stem the flow of bubbling frothing water.
He was back at the Boiling Well Meadow and a storm cloud covered the sun. His memories likewise darkened.
They’d downed one Brewery pint each and he was getting in another round - thinking of lapping his lightweight brothers at the bar - when they’d got the call from their Auntie to Get Back There Now.
They drove like they were being pushed by a water cannon all the way there - abandoning the car in the middle of the street, doors open wide like the oars of a scull. They pelted into the house and threw themselves on him, cheeks as wet as his parchment skin was dry, begging him to be there a bit longer.
But he’d already crossed the streams and paid the Ferryman, with barely any time to piss let alone enjoy a Brewery pint or say his Goodbyes. And three paid-for pints still stood waiting for parched lips back at the Brewery bar. What a waste.
He licked at the dregs from his downed beer. The ones they’d bought for Dad as a ruse for a bit of peace and quiet to slip away still sat in the old man’s garage, next to his nifty home-made garden sprinkler that would never be used again.
He chinked the ruby red bottle against the iron handrail of the footbridge before throwing it, messageless, into the boiling well. Still avoiding the buttressed brows of the consoling castle of his childhood, he watched the empty bottle bob a bit in the rushing current before returning his gaze to the anomaly of nature that is the Boiling Well. He looked into the whirlpool and thought once more about his Dad’s blood. And his blood boiled.