Father had decided to plant a tree in Mother’s
memory. I thought this somewhat bizarre, from
such an old soak. Nevertheless he wanted me
to accompany him to the garden centre to select
an appropriate sapling. He decided upon a delicate
silver birch. We took the beautiful young tree
home. Father asked if I would dig a deep hole
whilst he prepared the mulch. I put my back into
the work. An irritating drizzle hampered my efforts.
Eventually a respectable hole was dug. Father
positioned the birch carefully and I smacked down
the earth with the back of my spade. It was a
beautiful thing. I brushed the soil from my hands.
Father bowed his head. I longed to dash upstairs
and create a beautifully sad commemorative
poem. This thing had touched my soul.
I was alone in the dark when my phone throbbed
and buzzed. I flicked on my bedside lamp and
stared at the number being displayed. It was
unknown. I was quite certain that it must be
Elizabeth. Nobody else would call at this unholy
hour. I really couldn’t be arsed to pick-up. I’d
had my fill of intense emotions. I was entirely
emotionally spent. Elizabeth was like a
rollercoaster I didn’t want to ride. I waited
until the rings went silent, then turned off my
phone. Mother would have been impressed.
After all she’d disliked Elizabeth. At this moment
I didn’t feel charitable. I rolled the duvet around
my head, switched off the light, and slept.
Father kept to his room. His stubble had grown
into a thick field of bristles. I thought he looked
awful. I knew Father was drinking heavily. You
could smell the reek of cheap whiskey under the
door. No meals were made. I had a little spare
cash. So I went to the corner shop and bought big
bags of crisps. Mother, I knew, would have been
appalled. But I couldn’t muster the urge to cook.
It all seemed too trivial. I didn’t go to school. The
telephone rang incessantly, until Father pulled it
out of the wall. Soon the truancy team would come
knocking at the door. I kept the curtains drawn
tightly. Not a chink of light entered our world.
We’d not answer. It felt like Father and I had
hibernated from society. I wasn’t going to let
anyone bother us in our grief.
I wanted to curl up like a hedgehog. I needed to
be in my room alone. Instead obscure aunties
manhandled me, said how sorry they were. Their
grief didn’t stop them from eating and guzzling.
Father stood like a broken man and conversed
with these relations. The lounge smelt of despair.
Slowly the mourners ebbed away, leaving a mess
of cold sausage rolls and empty bottles. Father
began to clear up. He moved like a malfunctioning
robot. He didn’t even know I was there. Mother
would have swept all the surfaces clean in no time.
I didn’t think the disorder would ever go away.
I slunk upstairs to nurse my sorrow. My attic room
was stone cold. I wondered if Father had paid the
gas bill. Things would change now. Honestly I felt
orphaned. Like somebody had kicked away all the
joy in the world, and trampled my heart. The simple
days were irrecoverable.
Four pallbearers carried Mother’s coffin to the
graveside. They struggled valiantly under the
weight. Father and I stood beside the yawning
hole in the ground, and brushed rainwater out of
our eyes. A portly priest waited, clutching his bible,
wearing an appropriately grave face. There was
a scattering of unknown mourners. I thought it
sad. Mother had known only a handful of people.
The priest commenced a dry, burbling oration.
I’d heard all these words before. When earth was
cast onto Mother’s coffin, I felt sick. I could feel
Father crumbling beside me. She was gone.
Father made preparations for the funeral. The
skies had opened since Mother died. As if the
entire world wept. I didn’t think there’d be many
mourners. Just an assortment of distant uncles
who came only for the food and drink. A big spread
was laid out in our kitchen. I couldn’t understand
these strange rituals. How could anyone wish to
guzzle and chew at such a dreadful time? A terrible
black limousine pulled up outside our house.
Mother, I knew, was coffined inside. Father and I
stepped into a second vehicle. We both wore
starched black suits. The mood was unbearably
sombre. Father clutched my hand until it hurt.
The vehicle edged slowly into the street. Rain
pummelled the roof. I gulped. We were headed
to the graveyard.
Father was clutching Mother’s hand. She was
entirely still. I was horribly afraid she’d passed.
I stood immobile, gawping at the terrible scene.
Father’s shoulders suddenly started to shake.
Like he had uncontrollable hiccups. I didn’t know
what to do. I knew that Father needed comforting.
But I couldn’t help him. Nurses came and stood
beside Mother’s bed. The monitors were switched
off. A doctor placed a stethoscope on Mother’s
chest. After an age he nodded his head. Mother
had gone. I staggered and groped for a chair.
My eyes fogged over. The unspeakable thing
I felt like chucking in school. Not that I didn’t
enjoy myself there. But it all seemed irrelevant
compared to Mother’s illness. Father and I visited
regularly. Mother was slipping away. Each time
her face seemed more hollow. She slurred her
words. I felt certain her pain was constant. The
doctors, Father boomed, were all incompetent.
He wished for a miracle cure. I knew this wasn’t
going to happen. Mother’s brow was always
beaded with sweat. There was a salty tang in
her hospital room. It smelt like fear.
Father was rooted into his chair. His neck had
forgotten what razorblades looked like long ago.
Father drank cheap whiskey from a chipped cup.
It was pitiful. The home-cooked meals had
stopped. We ordered takeaways now. Greasy
fish and chips, fierce Indian curries that looked
like diarrhoea. It didn’t seem as if Mother was
coming home now. Father had definitely lost all
hope. I was allowed to rampage around the house,
although I mostly kept to my attic room. I never
thought of Elizabeth. There was no glitter of joy
in our lives. Grief was a terminal pall that sat over
our house. It seemed like it was going to spit rain
and growl thunder forever.
There were beads of sweat across Mother’s brow.
I kissed her forehead. She tasted salty. It was
unpleasant, creepy. Mother’s neck looked almost
wrinkly. She was propped up on big bolsters, and
she lay stiff. My eyes scanned the room. Father
sat like a broken man in a blue plastic chair. All
the walls were bottle-green. An antiseptic smell
pervaded the air. A clipboard of notes was pinned
to the end of Mother’s bed. I could hear feet
hurrying in the corridor outside. This was a horrible
place. I wondered for how long Mother would be
forced to stay here. If she would ever escape. It
was something like a bedside vigil. Nobody spoke
a word. A pall of black depression settled on my
head. Life without Mother would be unimaginable.
It couldn’t be allowed. I would utter an ardent
prayer, all would be well again