Sprinklers: October 2, 2017
Yesterday, Father takes me aside as I’m leaving and asks me, have I noticed Mother’s…? He fails to find the words. We’re on the landing outside. The porch light gives us this comforting embrace — the night kept at bay — only a few glittering excursions of insects, like sparks or flakes in our little snow globe scenario.
I take a long moment to think of Mother saying she feels good-strong. Capable but just nicely lazy…
I ask Father to clarify. He gesticulates, waving forearms/hands in globally encompassing motions; he says, “it doesn’t matter…the words……Apathetic…”
A shorter pause. He says, “We’ll know some things on Wednesday.” Again, I wonder how he’ll survive this.
I touch his shoulder tentatively, a few awkward pats. “One day at a time,” I say. He sighs. Relieved? “One day at a time,“ he repeats, patting my shoulder just as awkwardly.
As I walk away, I turn left for the 162 rather than right for the 103 bus. He looks after me, briefly confused. It’s darker now outside the porch light’s glow. I walk into the sombre world of trees, grass and the sound of a sprinkler. A last glance back, and finally I see Alan, the upstairs neighbour, watering the plants, listening to our conversation. Not a sprinkler after all.
Strawberry Fields: October 16, 1990
Late afternoon, the sun breaks through the clouds. A cattle car stops again. The lid slides open on the canned humans sardining grey. The smells so dense; they too are colourless, indecipherable. Body to body, which one is mine?
But now a breeze from the fields. Heaven, a smell from where? Past remembering, yes! They’re picking strawberries. Eyes water, accustomed now to the dark, no longer expectant, mouths now only knowing sweet potatoes, sweet/rotten because they were frozen/decomposing.
The soldiers and children line up. One boy, attention divided between his strawberries and the railway, struggles underneath the car to the open door. A generosity born of Erasmus’ mills of god’, a business wherein all are reduced to the same fine dust.
In the cattle-car? Perhaps tears, maybe even those that have been lost, with the water of our mouths. The fruit is meted out with the grey Shakespearean democracy of the equally damned.
From the other side, someone calls the boy. His thoughts are still in a cattle car somewhere else, his family with ashen faces among the faceless. He crawls back. A jolt, a jerk, sardines sway, blood on the tracks. Two legs, comic, ownerless, twitch. The car moves on. The strawberries disappear — only the taste-memory lingers on.
Mother’s voice dies into the scrape of chairs, the clatter and clink of dishes. She looks thin, tired. Between morsels of food, another story has been told, another dinner finished without argument and sibling dissent. Voices rise, the house wakes before sleeping. She doesn’t intervene. Only during meals does she deviously spin spells for a fragile peace.
Silence: September 25, 2019
I remember when I first met my mother.
No, not the borrowed memories of charming mishaps and near misses. No, I mean the real person.
I’d been sent to live with my uncle in that strange corner where Belgium, Germany, and Holland tangle. Slowly unpacking over the first weeks, I was handed a letter from home.
Dumb I stood, struck by an extraordinary ‘voice’ — this stranger emerging from the seamless home/mama camouflage. Mother as octopus, briefly visible in her own form, before deploying to another site. After that our rebel conversations rarely followed expected turns.
Incisive, funny, independent, brilliant, beautiful, stealthily unconventional — but there are gaps to fill, questions to ask. It’s like being left with the first draft. Where now the details — a place, an incident …what happened to the boy after the train truncated him, was that still in Germany, how did they escape the Russian camp, who was this person in her life, why was she so sad?
I turn to show her things I’ve made, or with stories to recount – then… the slow deep bruise of silence.
I realize she’s gone. No more words