Lines Written On My Mother's 90th Birthday
I begin the day with ordinary things -
shower, feed the cat, have breakfast.
I go online and check the forums, add
a few words of encouragement where I can.
An email finally from the agent where I sent
my last submission:
Your story is moving and well told but I'm afraid
we don't think we'd be able to interest a mainstream
publisher in taking it on. We're very sorry to disappoint
and wish you luck with all your future writing.
No need for the apology. No disappointment felt.
It's all as I expected, really.
I make a mug of tea and sit quietly musing,
watching Daisy look out of the window at
the passing traffic. The people.
The doorbell rings - a rare enough thing
these days. But this, too, is expected.
My new jeans - my present to myself this day.
I put them one. Then my coat and walking boots.
Now I'm set for the thing that matters.
The thing the day is really all about.
Rain threatens, and I consider the car,
but decide to risk it. I walk to the
High Street and head along, past charity shops,
take-aways, faces set to their own business.
I branch off at the crossing, slip down
side roads and alleyways to the seafront.
From there, along the beach to the downs -
a scrabbly spread of grass and gorse - and
up to the place I need to be. I see it there,
ahead of me, along the path the dog-walkers
take - the path she took so many times herself,
with dogs and without.
At the stone seat on the top,
where she would sit,
I stop to take the view.
The sea - calm, green as peppermint tea. The
turbines turning slow cartwheels out there.
A container ship passing in a swatch of sun.
The town to my left, the cliffs to my right,
and me here, at this high point, and
the whole wide world out there, beneath
a sky suddenly filled with light as the clouds
burn away. The trees and bushes around me.
People walking along the prom - like insects,
so far down and away.
The place we scattered her ashes, a year ago.
"Hello, mum" I say. "Happy birthday.
Ninety you would have been today.
And you would have loved it
as it is. Cold. Bright. Still."
I stand silent and listen.
The waves on the shingle.
People calling for dogs.
The wind, strumming through branches -
skeletal fingers, searching out the right key.
And then I hear it...
I look hard and see it, in a nearby bush.
A robin, come to greet me.
A tiny smudge of satin flame in the day.
It hops from branch to branch, getting closer.
Finally, I can almost reach out my hand to
touch it - its eye fixed intently on me and
nothing else. Like it sees something in me.
Like it's sent to me - a messenger, to tell me
what I need to hear, and to know: that
I'm not alone. Not today. Not ever.
For a long half-minute, I'm pinned by its
eye. I cannot move. And nor does the
world. Everything stops. And I feel her
there. Her presence. I hear her voice and
laughter. I know she's there. The weight
of my entire life lifts from me, as a feather
on a whisper.
Then the robin flits away, and the spell is
"Goodbye, mum," I say. "I know you're there.
I love you. I'll see you again, some day."
I set off down the path to the beach. And
suddenly, the robin is there again, following
me down, jumping between bushes,
chup-chup-chupping at me all the way.
I walk back along the prom, listening
to the sea, and the birds, and the other
sounds of the day. The sun is bright
now. The air is clean and cold.
I look back up to the seat, just briefly,
then continue along, letting my thoughts
wander where they will.
It feels too small for me now.
I know it too well.
There are people here I would
rather not see again. People who
have turned against me for one
reason or another. People who
might wish me harm, or not care
if I were no longer here.
But something else holds me.
I cannot bother with people like this -
I can only think of being near.
Of being close to here.
Of the strength and reassurance