She fiddles with the corner of the paper napkin. Long fingers and nails delicately tugging at the fine white paper. The girl dances and skips in front of her calling “Nanna, Nanna, watch me.” The boy struggles up the driveway with an oversized orange cat scrunched awkwardly, tummy hanging low and helpless, front and back paws caught between the boys white skinned arms. Her door opens and the cat is thrust forth, the boy puffing, the cat shedding, tufts of featherlight fur dancing in the afternoon light as each strand floats steadily downward, drawn like magnets to dark fabric.
“Look Nanna, say hello to Tigger – Tiggy…Tiggy…say hello to Nanna….Isn’t he beautiful, he’s such a big boy!”
“Look Nanna, watch me – see how I can do this!” calls the girl. Sparkling eyes framed by a blonde fringe and two plaits. Her feet are bare as they land with a soft thump on the cold concrete. Late Winter evening, days growing steadily longer. Not so cold, but fresh with a hint of Spring in the Jasmine scented air.
The man peers in, “Hello luv, have you had a good day?” She looks up from the napkin and the skipping girl, the ginger tabby and the red faced boy, and sees him. “Oh… yes…”
“I’ll go and get Mishy Nanna.” The boy runs off into the dimming distance and the girl runs skipping to and fro in front of the car. Her eyes return to the napkin… she is stillness amongst the excitement.
Here is the boy, this time with a startled pair of round blue eyes set against a chocolate face and surrounded by a ball of cream fur which stands at right angles from the body. An electrified powder puff, quivering with uncertainty. The cat turns against the boys strong arms as he fights to control the cat who turns again and edges downward. Clouds of light coloured fur spread forth into the atmosphere as the cat performs a final adrenalin charged twist, forcing the boy to drop him. He looks in at his Nanna, wiping his hot face, pasting more flyaway fur to his face. Pinching his nose and blowing air out in an effort to free himself from the itchy new host which has spread itself in great numbers across his T shirt and shorts.
“Geoff…..Geoff………..I want to talk to you about….that down there”. She indicates to the area at the end of the driveway. To the leaning gum tree choked by the strangling arms of Wisteria and the towering Jacaranda tree he carried home on his lap forty years ago. The old tin shed leans backwards with the door gaping open, covered in a ramshackle tangle of Jasmine. Lantana, creeping and smothering what once was orderly.
“Dad…..DAD!…..Mum wants to talk to you about something…”
The request is lost in the bustle of excited children and shrieks from the pink galah calling from his cage on the verandah. Sharp, urgent, chip, chip….chip,chip…his head stretched upward, cocked slightly to one side. Brown eyes alert and breathing paused. One scaly grey claw lifted and frozen mid air as he listens…..listens for his owner. His primitive bird recall, the instinct which led him to find food, shelter and the kindness of long fingers gently ruffling his feathers. Her laughter is his, his ‘hello’ is hers…he hears her, he knows. She is home.
She stops fiddling with the napkin and looks up. Chip, chip….chip,chip….the bird is calling her. I look at her face. In a split second I witness a connection. An unseen vortex, reaching out, sucking her back through a tangle of memories, to a time when a bird landed on her shoulder.
I call out..“Wheel Cocky out so Nanna can see him.”
The boy rolls the large cage out closer to the car but the light is failing as fast as her recollections.
“There’s Cocky Mum…..do you remember him?”
“Yes…of course I do” and she returns to her napkin.
The girl skips back and forth, in the darkness now, voices sound from different directions….car doors shutting, engine starting.
“Bye Nanna!” calls the boy.
“Bye Nanny…I love you!” echoes the girl as she continues to skip faster and faster, realising her audience is leaving.
“Goodnight sweetheart…have a good sleep tonight” he leans in and kisses her, checking her seatbelt is secure before shutting the door.
The car is in reverse as we move backwards through time, away from the tangle of vines and memories…away from the bird and the cats, the boy and the girl . Away from her husband and what she wanted to tell him. Thoughts lost in the cool jasmine scented, pink feathered air of yesterday.
A woman’s voice is singing on the radio……”I have died everyday waiting for you….darling don’t be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years, I’ll love you for a thousand more…
I glance at her sideways, searching her face for any emotion a memory may have triggered. The long driveway…the white letterbox marked 85. I sense a mild confusion as we pull away. I hold her hand and drive one handed and the voice on the radio continues…..
“Time stands still, beauty in all she is….I will be brave, I will not let anything take away what’s standing in front of me….every breath….every hour has come to this…..”
I don’t want to let go of her beautiful hand, her long bare fingers….the hand that stroked my forehead when I was sick, the hands that lifted me up and held me close when I most needed it. The fingers which gently brushed over my eyelids when we lay face to face in the afternoons of my childhood. Her call wrenching me away from play…”Leanne….Leanne…time for a sleep!”. How I protested loudly, dawdling reluctantly up to the house. Resentment soon replaced by the comfort of Mums bed, soft sheets pulled up to my ears and Mums smile. Her voice gently telling me she would race me to sleep and I shut my eyes tight and began the race to beat her…. to that sleepy place….. in the afternoon….. on my mothers bed……. the sounds of the afternoon slowly……. drifting into the distance.
We drive through the dark, listening to music. Our hands joined like the umbilical cord which once tied us together, long ago, and I never want to sever the tie between my mother and the child within – the child I will always be with my mother beside me.
I lead her home and after dinner I sit alongside her, not wanting to leave.Talking small talk, mostly one way conversation, mum listening and smiling. A resident wanders past wearing a wet patch spreading wide across his backside. Mum looks sideways at me – her expression takes me back to times we spent supressing laughter at physical culture competitions. Leaning into each other, Mums mouth twisted sideways in an effort to direct her funny comments to me alone, but looking more conspicuous for her effort. Her eyes hold that same naughty twinkle and she giggles, face reddening as tears fill her eyes and I can’t help but laugh for the memory of our shared silliness and the sheer pleasure of having this moment again.We have fewer words to communicate but sometimes it feels as though nothing has been lost. In that moment, our smiles connect us to that time when all was well and the difficult track we have trudged down has been obliterated, the connection between then and now, fresh and untainted by sadness and loss.
I could sit with her for hours but I have children of my own. I have to imprint beautiful memories on their minds, not memories of a sad, grieving mother. One day, if they are anything like me, they may understand the pain I feel. I leave her sitting in the armchair cross legged, elegant as always, blowing me a kiss as I call…”I love you..” and tonight she replies…“And I love you…” before I turn and walk away barely holding back the tears for fear the staff will see my blotchy face and bloodshot eyes.
I turn off the radio to be alone with my thoughts and I think about the song……
“Heart beats fast, colours and promises….how to be brave…how can I love when I’m afraid to fall…..but watching you stand alone……Darling don’t be afraid….I have loved you for a thousand years…I’ll love you for a thousand more”…..and suddenly I have the feeling I know the meaning of it all…in that moment I understand who it is who loves me, now and always…..for a thousand years to come….it’s a bigger picture….a bigger creator….the father and mother of us all. God is loving me, through my mothers eyes.
Gods love is shining through everyone…..always. Even if I no longer have my mothers hand to hold and her eyes to smile at me…Gods love will remain eternal…mothering me forever, stroking my forehead and lifting me up when I need comforting.
14th October 2012