I was scared of you as a child, and for most of my adult life.
We used to cautiously meet you at the front door to gauge the air and smell your breath when you arrived home from work.
We hid your redundant bottles to pacify. We were craftier than you, even when you tried to hide losing your job because you crashed the work van into a family car – the family inside; giving them a taste of the whiplash we received on a regular basis.
When Mum retired, I released some of the secrets my sister and I had lived. For what felt like the first time, Mum didn’t just listen, she heard me. We cried snot-bubbles together. She wrote me poetry to apologise; said she thought she had protected us. We spent the next two years building our friendship. My big sister built walls.
Mum was both the Queen and the King of rustling up something from nothing; eleventh hour Halloween costumes; home economics projects; dinner when the cupboards were bare; Christmas presents when you drunk them all.
Mum spun plates, even the ones in the Greek restaurant where she washed up after she’d already done a days work at a nursery; after cleaning toilets in the morning. Meanwhile, you served us lasagne that was still frozen, and woke us up to play snooker and darts in the pub you had created at home. Then you begged us to help you between your drunken tears. Poor me; pour me.
In later years, I am startled by how loud the laughter sounds in a friend’s family home. We only ever laughed on your cue.
We held our breath and counted in anticipation of thunder.
When the sun arose the next day, we tried to pick up the debris of scattered snooker balls and broken glass.
Mum; the lighthouse to souls who were lost. Steadfast in the face of danger. She rescued everyone but herself.
My sister and I spent eternal summer holidays digging down the back of the shabby red sofa, scavenging for lost change to buy lunch. Every so often gold was struck and we would navigate the fast crossing to buy Pot Noodles and Strawberry Chews.
We would go to swig from the cola bottles left on your bed side, until we smelt the pungent fumes.
In retirement Mum spun wool; her craft room an Aladdin’s cave, full to bursting with colour-coded buttons in Peter Rabbit tins, felt hearts, and knitting to wrap around the world. You; control as your replacement addiction, broke her down; stitch by stitch by stitch.
When she got sick the first time and was blue lighted to A&E, there were maggots in the cat food bowl under your watch. You could often be heard stamping your feet and asking in demand: “What about MY needs?”
When she is sick, and blue lighted for the final time, I see her gasping for her last breaths until she is sedated. The tubes snake around her bed and the machine sighs for her. I read to her as often as visiting hours allow, and more when visiting hours are exempt. You lean your guilt across her.
“Hello Jac,” you whisper, “Katie’s here.” I am seven again. My back prickles.
She called me her Stargazer, because I was born face up.
“I love you more than all of the stars in the sky,” she would say. Did she know I’d forever be looking up to her?
Now that her light has gone out, I’m left with you; denied access to her creative shrine or her ashes that you have stored in your bedroom. Others offer platitudes for her loss – such an unfair exchange.
“She’s MY wife.” The storm brews on. You shake as your veins pop and your eyeballs bulge. The dark clouds appear. Thunder rolls. The tempest threatening. I silently tell you that she’s my Mum in equal measure; no more, no less. I have a pain in my umbilical chord to remind me. You grab me by the throat and push me out of the house.
“How’s your Dad coping?”
“How is your Dad holding up?”
“Must be so tough for your Dad.”
“Are you taking care of your Dad?”
Father’s Day falls just after. I buy a card. I can’t bring myself to give it to you or to visit you. I don’t want to pick up the broken glass anymore.
About the Contributor
Every so often; compulsion overwhelms the overthinking, and something not too shabby comes to the surface. In the day-time; Kate pretends to stare at spreadsheets whilst looking for an escape route.
A Manual for Heartache - Cathy Rentzenbrink
This is a handbook on embracing grief, and it helped me - somewhat - with the loss of my brilliant Mum.
More from Issue Ten:
- Tracks of Life and Death by Liz Kohn
- A short course of treatment by Tim Love
- Heating disorder by Myriam Frey
- Heirlooms by Rosie Garland
- Mourning by Katherine McMahon
- The Ghost of my Mother is waiting for me in Arrivals by Claire Collison
- Pakistan Zindabad, from Abroad by Hana Riaz
- Adopt a vortex by Han Smith
- Sea Sickness by Eloise Unerman
- British Street Music by Tamim Sadikali
- Pomegranate by Caroline Gonda