Once upon a long ago, when dads had shiny shoes to dance upon and mums had demiwaves and A-line skirts, a stack of her mother’s 45s made its way into her bedroom. They came with a vanity case sized record player, hand built by her dad. Home made Dansette, cased in rough fabric that she would run her fingers over as the stack of records dropped one by one to circle under the cream plastic stylus arm.
Ten and twenty years earlier than current, the songs were the songs of her mother’s youth. Sparky pop and syrupy crooners, they filled her chest with a longing she couldn’t yet understand, the first swell of love inspired by minor chords and soaring key changes, a rib cracking expansion of her being that travelled through life and flowed through her marrow every time a songwriter moved her.
Her mum passed her driving test. A cassette stereo was put into the car. The sounds from the 45s were captured on magnetic tape. On escapes from the everyday, they would drive into the hills, wearing out the tapes, belting out the songs together. Two uncool girls separated by thirty years, moved by popstars and crooners.
I have put it off for long enough. Longer than the last time. Although the last time wasn’t my choice. It was hers, the one whose earthly remains I have put off collecting for long enough.
Today the drive will be through the drizzle of mid-May. The last time I turned my wheels in this direction it was the drizzle of late February.
Long enough ago, but still I need more distance. I need the sharp cleft chasm to become a valley, incapable of being crossed by sorrow. I need sorrow’s echo to die before it can even think of reaching me, so that I can stop pretending that I don’t still hear it.
Perhaps after we have scattered her to the winds that will carry her over the mountains. Perhaps then I can manufacture the seismic shift I need to break contact with the continent where I began. Perhaps I can find a way to flood the valley with tears I no longer want to shed and bury in that sea the memories of her last days.
It has been long enough and I would like to remember her in happiness, full of the life that gave me life.
Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away.
And I’m telling you this because who gives a fuck.
Yesterday was the first time I felt normal since my mum died. Today I feel shit & guilty for feeling normal. What a fucked up species we are.
Yesterday I felt glad because I thought the mourning was over. Turns out it isn’t, and so today I have whisky remorse.
I’m telling you this because once you told me something about your mum and I felt jealous. Because it strikes me that your mum is a force of nature like my mum was.
Some types of pain can’t be alleviated. Not by alcohol or drugs, by fucking or anything. Some types of pain resist even love. This type of pain rises up in the throat and threatens to suffocate. This is the pain that repeats the mantra I’m okay I’m not okay.
Who gives a fuck? Who really, truly gives a fuck about the pain felt individually by people up and down the country? The pain that any of us feel is the tiniest drop in an ocean where we gather to wallow in isolation.
I’m telling you this because it doesn’t matter.
Tell me you love me.
For the first time in weeks, she has woken up happy. I can tell from the lines her limbs make against the covers. Curved, not angular. Relaxed, like she wants to welcome the world back in.
You’re a brute.
I’m pressing against her hand, against the ball of her thumb. I’m pressing against the place where a tenderness has temporarily taken up residence. I press lightly at first, but gradually increase the pressure. Because I can. Because I must.
Tell me what you’re thinking.
There’s a glint between her lashes, like the thin skein of a river glimpsed in the distance. It’s a hint of something deeper. A smile perhaps, an instance of happiness. Her mouth gives nothing away. I’m pressing on her thumb and watching her face.
Tell me anything.
She turns away from me and stretches. Lying on her back, one arm stretched out, the arch of her body forces the swell of her breasts, the skinniness of her ribs, against the fabric of her nightdress. She pins her own shoulders to the bed, gently erotic.
I’m a brute, and I love her, but the words will not come.
Tell me nothing, then.
I don’t like funerals. They have a disturbing habit of weakening my resolve. It’s the coffins. I look at a coffin and my inner core of steel oxidises in the rain of tears and gasps of oxygen brought together in my sobbing.
Her coffin was small. I looked at it by accident as we filed out, a family of crows. It was too small. Not large enough to hold the force she’d once been. She wasn’t a tall woman. Five foot four. She would try in life to claim an extra half inch, but in death the truth was laid bare, laid out for all to see, anyone who chose to look. I didn’t choose to look, not after the weirdness of seeing Dad-Not-Dad at rest in his coffin. His scrunched up face bore the pain of the heart attack that killed him. So this time around, I didn’t look. I didn’t want to see Mum-Not-Mum bearing in death the confusion of dementia on her once lovely face. Undertakers can only do so much with the canvas of the dead.
A small wooden coffin, its surface covered with flowers, witnessed by me by accident. My undoing, as it turned out.
She sits and hums. It isn’t a recognisable tune. A hymn to her inner workings, perhaps. The movement of her mind sent out into the world through vocal vibrations. She sits and hums and fills the bus with the sound of herself, low level, barely audible, just loud enough to be noticed when she stops.
When she stops, it’s to breathe. Slight inhalation to refresh the humming exhalation. The gasp that opens her mouth lets out the smell of decaying teeth. A particular smell, sweet and musty, not unpleasant until it suddenly is.
The volume of her hum alters with the movement of her head. It deadens when she turns to look through the window, as though the tempered glass has sound absorbing properties. But that breaks the laws of physics, and something else must be muting the sound. Perhaps the fake fur collar of her leopard print coat, so inappropriate on this warm summer day. Or the twist in her neck restricting her vocal chords.
Whatever it is, it stops when she turns back to face forward, and her humming becomes momentarily louder again. The passengers’ ears adjust. The humming seems softer. It is almost soothing, and yet unsettling.
Do you isolate? Do you manufacture your own loneliness? Do you surround yourself with people so selfish, so self absorbed, that you might as well be alone? Or are you yourself the selfish, self absorbed one?
Do you examine all your own bad behaviour, actual and potential, to see what stories you might wring out of it? Do you store up the slights, the dismissals, the hurt and harm you perceive in the words and actions of others? Do you wreak a kind of revenge, in your own head at the very least?
Do you wish you had never met whichever significant other you currently dally with, and at the same time wallow like a hippo in the physical presence they place in the room? Are you secretly pleased that you’re not actually alone?
I would like to meet you. We could be disgustingly depraved together. Our dysfunction could be sublime, each feeding off the other, churning out words. You could put them to music. I could fill a book. Or a small pamphlet at least.
Attack Decay Sustain Release. What else is life about, if not that? How else do we envelope ourselves in meaning?
Answers on a postcard.
He forgets. She doesn’t know how he can.
Sometimes, she wonders if it’s wilful. She sees them around the house, on window sills, on the dining table. He pulls them from his pocket, a look of puzzlement on his face.
While he forgets, she remembers. Things lie heavy on her heart. She takes pills of her own. Nothing prescribed. Nothing as bad as she used to take, although it’s reaching a tipping point. The heaviness in her heart keeps her awake at night. So she takes over the counter medication. A cocodamol here. A Nytol there. She still doesn’t sleep, but at least she’s fuzzy enough not to care. Sometimes she takes over the counter alcohol. She is soft core.
It isn’t hard to remember. It’s the remembering that causes the heaviness. She wishes she could forget. That leaving things behind could be as easy as getting on a bus and moving away from them. But memories follow you around. Disillusionment clings to your ribs. Thoughts leak from your mind and lodge in your throat just behind the suprasternal notch. She presses the place where they stick sometimes, for no clear reason.
No, it isn’t hard to remember at all.
Old Six Brews enters the room, trailing used teabags from her pockets. Some are still damp and they land with a gentle thud. Others are dessicated, falling with a susurration through the air, the dried out leaves whispering within the confines of their round papery pouches.
Old Six Brews is distracted. She’s only managed four brews so far today. So far. That’s the key. There’s still time. Twilight hasn’t yet brought down the shutters. Old Six Brews rests her hands, briefly ceasing the casual distribution of her tea stained cargo. Her tea stained fingers hover at the edges of her pockets, their tips meddling with the turned hems of the openings.
Old Six Brews spots the kettle. There’s a glint in her eye and her distracted air falls away. As the rumbling rattle of water boiling inside metal builds its head of steam, a smoothing takes place. Old Six Brews becomes incrementally more civilised. As water pours from kettle to mug, releasing the acid tang of tannin into the air, Old Six Brews transforms. Gone is the grumbling, tea stained hag who scares children. Tamed is the dishevelment of hair on her head.
Her name is revealed to be Camellia.
Summer will come eventually. Summer always does. Even when it’s mealy mouthed and sulks in corners, it comes.
In the last four days, she has met two people without front teeth. She hopes they lost them in a fight.
In a half shuttered dream, a woman lies masturbating on a bed. Glimpsed through a window, bathed in the yellow light of an incandescent bulb, her hand dips down between the dunes of her thighs. A shutter slides and now the woman lies masturbating in pixels, bathed in a yellow light made from ones and zeros.
Once she saw a painting trapped behind glass in a pedestrian underpass somewhere in Japan. The bleached skull of a sheep on velvet, it bore a passing resemblance to a skull she’d seen on the moors. Picked clean and weathered. Wind blasted. Two different sheep, and neither one authentic.
When I am dead, she said, I want you to scatter my burnt and ground up bones to the wind. A burial at sea, cast out beyond reach. Not a place where you will come and mourn, droning on about how you miss me. I loved you in life, but I won’t need you in death.