Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Underside of Grasses Frozen

Before the turn of the hearse, the butcher’s shop across the street. Mam (at the counter, her red purse open on the counter) pays for her meat with coins. I see the red death and count the black and white squares on the floor. The stench of iron and now sawdust where she stood. Along this road, the slight turn of death, as the hearse escapes me. My own mother. Because it takes us all, she said.

The amazement of sin, no trace of it in her sunken eyes. No measure of her fears now that she’s a corpse. The meanness of death, the way it averages everything, the clips of rubbish it leaves behind. How do we dispose of it best? Mother, I said, I shall leave you in hands more capable than mine.

The capture of drizzle, the decay a palpable show. I see it across the street, hanging above the waste on the wasteland. Black bags, curls of rotting metal, threadbare roots of carpet growth, the full spread of the terror of the lost. In the reflection of a red ball, disappointingly lifted by the wind, I see new troubles. As high as it goes, it keeps my smallness centred in the evil of its shiny red eye. How am I unique? she once said.

When you hear the sound of the bell, a faint ring from the back of the room, it will be time to enter. It would be appreciated if you could file in, perhaps two at a time. At the sight of the doors opening – those doors, the oak doors – I will press play on this tape player. You have set your tape to the right position? Depending on the number of guests, it will take in the region of five to ten minutes for them all to be seated. You would think that their thoughts would be with you. But their thoughts will not be with you. Their thoughts will be taken by the sound of the music. Your choice, I hope, will be enough to capture their thoughts.

How are you unique? I replied. I held her hand as tight as I could without hurting her. Although she never let on if she was in pain. I could have hit her in the face and she wouldn’t have made a sound. She said the bus didn’t stop near enough to home and that she remembered when it used to stop nearer, years ago. She pointed at the old tram lines, the trolley bus tracks. I would have told her about the new lines, for the new trams, but there would have been no point.

You will need plenty of cake. Tea bags. Sandwiches. Crisps. You will also need some whiskey for the men, some sherry for the women. Lemonade for the children. You will need a clean and cheerful front room and the bathroom has to be spotless. You should, at the least, account for four hours. After four hours you could start asking them to leave. Most will ask you how you are. Tell them you’re fine. They have their own feelings to cope with, they don’t want to be coping with yours. Tell them you’re fine.

At the back of the house a yard and out the back of the yard a toilet, the outside toilet, still with the whitewash flaking, the cobwebs, the dust from the red brick which she somehow kept clean all the years long after I’d left and long after the council had turned it off. She said she missed using that toilet, the fresh air, the snap of the dark, the dash in winter, the thrill of discovering how cold the seat would be. In summer staring up through broken tiles at the blueness of the sky. The ingrained smell of cigarettes, her packet of fags tucked behind the cistern. All those years her thinking that dad never knew. The smile he smiled whenever she nipped out to the toilet, pulling shut the back door, humming through the yard.

She lived her life for love of friends and family
(She was a selfish old cow!)
Neither asking for nor wanting a return
(Remember that time she charged me for dinner?)
Her days became a sunlit homily
(She never turned the fucking light on!)
With others' joy her joy and main concern
(She loved a bit of schadenfreude!)
When we were ill, she also became sick
(She made us clean it up ourselves!)
When we were cut, she, too, began to bleed
(Throwing bricks at kids, I ask you!)
Of our oil lamp she was the wick
(Got on our wick more like!)
Drawing her bright flame from our need
(Sucking all the energy out of us!)
Some say that such behaviour’s out of date
(Old-fashioned, lived in the past!)
That self-fulfilment is the way to grace
(Oh, she sorted herself out alright!)
But Mam, without much choice, then chose her fate
(She should have topped herself years ago!)
Finding greater truth in an embrace
(Two-faced old witch!)
She lives on in the sparkle in our eyes
(Squint to make sure she’s dead!)
Laughing, quiet, gentle, loving, wise.
(Miserable and stupid, always chucking her weight about!)

Parting the upstairs curtains they remember on this street the day they pulled up the wardrobe by rope and pulley through the bedroom window and how it fell, not so far when I look now, and smashed all over the pavement. Monthly payments, a whole house of stuff from the Co-Op, the fella turning up at the door every Thursday and us saying me mam says she’ll see you next week. Tell her she will, he always said, tell her she will. And the day when the squirrel somehow made it to our street, all the way from God knows where, this encroachment of nature as exciting to the whole street as a trip to Twycross Zoo. Mam caught it, wrapped it in her coat as we bundled on the bus all the way to Wollaton Park, letting it loose without first asking.

The mournful twist, surprised that she’s gone. A further turn, some time after the butcher’s shop, the last turn as the road takes her straight ahead. A stab at preservation, her protection from oblivion, by way of the things she cherished. But there was little she cherished. Not even her face on the stone. I struggled to find a picture of her. She didn’t fall asleep, she isn’t just resting. Goodbye and good luck.


Blogger Molly Bloom said...

Sometimes the honesty of feelings can be cathartic. Sometimes it is great to write about the lack of love that can sometimes exist between the characters, which are meant to hold the greatest bond of love - mother and child.
The starkness of this is great, Paul. I particularly love the sarcastic elegy towards the end. That part is very cleverly crafted.

I like the way this makes me think about my own relationship with my parents. I also like the way that you question the fact that all relationships between mothers and children are lovely bonds. Sometimes the bonds are like death itself.

My favourite line is the one, which begins, 'Black bags....terror of the lost.'
And also, the part with the timings of the wake. Excellent.

This reminded me a little of the gravestones with the plastic windmills and the 'different kinds of mothers' from a previous piece you did. There are many variations of mothers, aren't there? Even the word 'mother' can be said in many different ways. It all depends on how you view them.

6:52 PM  
Anonymous Shannon said...

Don't forget the squirrel! I like this startling, joyful image of innocence in the middle of this mournful piece. The interchange of Mam's eulogy is very sharp and funny too.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous From Beyond the Grave said...

I beg your pardon....I never promised you a rose garden!

I think you should have read the poem as you wrote it. That's my boy!

8:29 PM  
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