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April 2013, vol 9, no 1

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Claire Everett


Adolescence was already difficult terrain, but grief is another country. Tundra as far as the eye can see and I have neither a map, nor a guide. But I do have a companion. I have to watch her footing. I have to keep her moving. It was my father who died, but my burden is the glacial ice of passing days. I fear a future me will uncover my mother’s mummified remains.

callow moon . . .

the spider still dangling

from its drop line

She wouldn’t let me see him in the Chapel of Rest. Now this recurring dream when I’m clawing through snow and soil with my bare hands. Just before I wake, I’m like a dog, frantically digging. Sometimes I hear my father’s voice telling me she’s not there, and I realise it’s my mother I’ve been looking for. My heart is pounding, knocking at the coffin-lid of my nightmare and I rear up, gasping the cold night air, before reaching for the lamp switch so I can check for dirt beneath my fingernails.

Strange that she was so assertive in the beginning. She is certain of nothing now. When I leave for school, she’s always sitting by the window. When I return, she’s in the same chair and dusk has gathered around her with the dust. She takes her valium with gin and sometimes I stay awake to listen to her breathing. One night I couldn’t bear the spaces in between; in each agony of silence I ceased to exist, so I ran downstairs, put a coat on over my pyjamas and went out into the garden, desperate to hear the crunch of my boots in the snow.

pelting rain . . .

above the river

a song thrush

A teacher gave me a leaflet about bereavement. I know Mum is a widow, but what am I? He is dead is my first thought on waking; when sleep finds me, it is my last. My life has become a private showing on a small screen and the soundtrack has that thought as its refrain.

Mum has started going to the cemetery more often than seems healthy. “I need to be near him”, she says. If he’s anywhere, he’s with me on my walks. The catkins are in bloom along the lane. Dad always called them lambs’ tails. Two shakes, from the frolicking meadow to the fog-clad fold. That’s all his life amounts to now.

your song and mine . . .

on each side of the pond

a robin

She visits the grave as if it were his hospital bed, changing the flowers, cleaning the headstone in the way she might have plumped his pillows had we been afforded the luxury of being prepared for his passing. And all the time she feeds him little morsels of news. But she will not let me play that recording we made of him singing some sad, Irish song. She’s put all the photographs in a box in the attic. “Too soon”, is all she says.

don’t keep me

from remembering . . .

deer rub

Sometimes she curses him. She calls him names I’ve never heard her utter until now. One time, she snatched out the freesias she’d placed there so delicately on her previous visit, and started hacking off the long stems of tiger lilies before stabbing them into the rose bowl, all the while berating him for leaving her. At the end, she was sobbing, several of the lilies were broken and her face and fingers were stained with pollen. 

I hate that place of ghost flowers and old bones. When the elements have done with one of Mum’s perfect pictures of remembrance, it often falls to me to empty the water glass and dispose of the dead. These days all I see is the peeling gloss of summer, the flaking rust of chrysanthemums, the angels on the oldest tombs, hanging their heads in the rain. I thread my way to the compost heap at the back of the church and throw down a few more memories, leached of colour.

a red apple

in the palm of my hand . . .

whinnying mist

I’ve seen the year turn on a hare, on a swift’s wing, on a leaf. Today was my sixth form parents’ evening. My teachers are all pleased with me. They say I’ve done remarkably well, considering . . . There was an empty chair beside Mum, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. I got used to Dad never being ‘available to attend’. Tomorrow, Mum and I are going to plant snowdrop bulbs on the grave. It’ll be winter soon enough.

second spring . . .

 I’d never heard

of wood frogs