Flammable materials

Her little arms flop around my sides while I push her up and down with big breaths. I try to  imagine how it must feel; the heartbeat, the airway, the warmth, as womb like as possible since exiting the real thing.

In this moment, I know exactly what I’m doing. No doubts, no distractions, just the purity of looking after a helpless being that needs my care and protection.

Then you come in and I feel tension stab at my bubble. At least you can’t shout at me for not helping, but still it’s there; a flame waiting to spark.

It’s source is tiredness, the deep and withering kind. This is added to by frustration at being denied a life in order to care for another. Additional combustion comes from a sense of guilt about daring to feel that way.

All that’s needed are a few words.

What’s the matter?

Nothing!

And we’re off.

Not in this family 

Gayle held the pot to her abdomen as she stood in the middle of the front garden.

“How about here, Sophie? What do you think?”

Sophie contorted her mouth and looked down at the gravel space that was plugged with tufts of grass. Then she shrugged.

“Okay.”

“I think this is a good spot,” added Gayle. “It’ll get plenty of light.” She bent down slowly, her hands trembling a little under the weight. She set the plant down and then straightened up. Only then did she realise she had broken a sweat across her forehead.

“Mum,” uttered Jane, by her side. “You should’ve just let me…”

Gayle hissed and backhanded the air as if preventing the words from ever arriving. Jane shrunk and Gayle returned her attention to Sophie.

“You must remember to water it everyday, especially when it’s hot. Then, one day it will grow into a bright, yellow sunflower.”

“Say thank you, Grandma,” murmured Jane.

“Thank you,” replied Sophie, twisting on the ball of her foot and breaking into a grin.

Gayle looked at her fresh, sun-blushed face and then to the gap in her lower front teeth, which Sophie tongued habitually as if it was the source of some new and delightful flavour.

Gayle smiled back, feeling satisfied. It seemed the spirit had merely skipped a generation.

“Well, it should brighten things up a bit,” said Jane, looking up at the pebbledash facade of the new house.

Suddenly, Gayle wanted to tell her how it meant so much more. How the flower was a symbol of hope, of a new beginning and soon, how it would be something to remember her by once the things growing inside her took hold.

But she didn’t, of course. It wasn’t the way. Not in this family. She could only give her doe-eyed daughter a hard look as she turned to her, side on.

“Cup of tea?” asked Jane.

“Thought you’d never ask.”

Muriel

The grandfather clock had long since stopped, but now I missed it’s ticking.

On summer visits it had kept a stern watch over us, while we stuffed toasted cheese and biscuits into our mouths. I wondered now if it had simply been counting down towards the inevitable, a faithful minion to the God of time.

I turned my head slowly, letting my eyes fall on the pictures. As sure as her familial stories, the faces stared back; Dad at Bunesson, Muriel as a girl guide and the fallen film-star sister, beauty preserved before her marriage to alcohol.

I waited for a trembling finger to rise and the breathless stories to come. But only silence pervaded.

In her chair, the cushion sagged with an invisible weight.

For my great-aunt who passed away last month, aged 95. 

Q+A

How’s your dad?
He’s telling me how good he feels, before I’ve even got in the door. He’s saying how he’s been out in the garden digging up the Gunnera. He’s saying how he has a few aches and pains, but nothing too serious and then he’s patting my mum on the back when she tells him to stop talking about himself all the time.

How’s your dad?
He’s playing us another track by Iggy Pop as he drives us to the restaurant. He’s turning it up loud and we’re sitting there, giving in.

How’s your dad?
He’s making me laugh. He’s coming out with things that would earn anyone else a slap. He’s saying he can’t help it. My mum is rolling her eyes, but even she’s smiling.

How’s your dad? He’s telling this woman that he should have gone months ago. He’s saying how important it is to count your blessings and how grateful he is to still be able to get around. He’s telling her he’s got tumours everywhere. He’s not stopping.

How’s your dad?
He’s in pain all of a sudden. He’s asking if we can go and we are waving to the waitress for the bill. He’s pacing around now, over to the fire exit and back, trying to take his mind off of it. The waitress isn’t coming.

How’s your dad?
He’s lying down. We had to go to the emergency pharmacist to get him some Diazepam. We’re in the kitchen drinking herbal tea and mum’s trying to hide the red rings around her eyes.

How’s your dad?
He’s complaining that the eggs my mum cooked aren’t right. He’s refusing to eat. He’s in one of those moods.

How’s your dad?
He’s sitting in the old cane chair in the garage. Smoke is wafting around him. He’s making one of his lists that never gets done.

How’s your dad?
He’s going on a shamanic journey with the next door neighbour. He met his spirit guide who came to him in the form of a crow. He’s hoping to meet again for some kind of conversation. He’s moving to the next level.

How’s your dad?
He’s dressed up for a party nextdoor. He’s wearing the orange and blue trousers that he wore to see Iggy. He reckons the chemo is working.

How’s your dad?
He’s talking about the blackbirds again. He thinks it’s the same one that always comes up the garden path to greet him. He reckons the bees are on his wavelength too.

How’s your dad?
He’s spent the day on the sofa. He’s talking quietly with his eyes closed and grunting as he moves the hot water bottle round to a new ache. He’s nodded off.

How’s your dad?
He’s feeling weak. His face has turned yellow. He’s in these pyjamas that show off his stick-thin legs. He’s discussing personal arrangements with the nurse. He’s holding my hand very tight.

How’s your dad?
He’s alright now.

I wrote bits of this while my dad was ill. It’s just over a year ago that he passed away, so I thought I would put it out there.