I am on a train, but in my mind I have set sail again. Storms are immanent. I am on my way to see my mother. At fifty years old you would think I would be able to deal with this another way, but I have picked at it until the fabric of my thought has become worn, even threadbare. I have listened to those who tell me to let it go, those who have no understanding of the need to go out on this particular sea; and I have read so many books with the word ‘mother’ and ‘love’ in them that you would think that by now my synapses would have learnt to associate the two, but they refuse.
For all of my trying the problem with my mother remains. I am like a strange fisherman who has taken to the sea year after year, not accepting that I am dredging barren grounds. ‘Trawling for love’ Michael once called it, but of course he does not understand. No man can ever understand the need to go out on this particular sea to find the ultimate catch, your mother’s compassion. Ask any woman why they sail these unpredictable oceans and they will tell you that they have no choice, it is what they are destined to do.
Michael warned me again about going down to see her. I heard him, but I ignored his advice. He is the shipping news telling me where I should or should not go, but I don’t care to listen. I have temporarily switched him off, but I know he is broadcasting to his friends in the pub. ‘She’s off again trying to repair her relationship with her mother, trying to get her to change, but there are storms heading for the Wight, force ten, immanent.’ Michael and I once loved one another but in recent years I realise we have grown apart. We continue to move away from each other but there is nothing I can do about it. Like an iceberg that has calved the recession is slow but certain. Babies refused to grow, and my womb turned against me and shed the chances we had to be more than two. The spring planting turned into a summer of disappointment, and now…well now autumn is on the way. This failure of ours has sapped the energy from our once steady relationship. I cannot dwell on this, it makes me sad, so I look out of the window and take in the view.
It was my mother who called me to say it was time I visited, and after considerable suspicion I agreed, partly because my father’s voice remains in my head ‘I cannot mend any bridges with your mother, but you should try to find a way to be at peace with her.’ I think he was attempting to say appropriate things before he died. Or perhaps he was just passing the buck to me. I’ve tried, now you have a go. He died recently from a heart attack. He left her years ago, but of course she did not leave him. She haunted him like a specter, and, to my sorrow I believe I may have haunted him too. I was a reminder of her, and he could not conceal the fact. Nowadays I wonder whether he felt true compassion for her or whether he was just being polite, and if so, was the same true of his relationship with me? It is a question that will always hang in the air.
I take phone and dial her number. It connects, but no one answers. This is the third time today, and possibly the tenth in the last week. That is not unusual of course, she doesn’t like answering phones, which is ironic for she will berate me for not calling her. I will explain that I have tried to get in touch, she will say ‘Well I was here all the time, you must have dialed the wrong number.’
The middle aged man across the aisle from me gives me a contemptuous look and points to a small sticker on the train window to inform me that this carriage is a quiet zone. I smile politely and think ‘sod you!’ He is on the receiving end of a mother thought. He resumes reading the Telegraph with a self righteous look. I would never tell my mother to ‘sod off’ despite a regular inclination so to do. She is old school and believes that swearing is common, and uncouth. It also betrays a lack of control, something of which she is a master. I have never known her lose her temper, she doesn’t need to, she just goes cold, as if a ghost has entered the room. The temperature drops, silence falls and she stiffens to frost. Impenetrably icy she turns her back and sighs. Oh that sigh! Defence contractors would pay dearly for that sigh. It cuts the feet from under you, drops a thick curtain of gloom, freezes your ability to think, and sucks dry all hope. It is the killer blow.
My mind needs to find something else to think about and glancing at the paper the man is reading I notice to my intense satisfaction that he is studying one of my court sketches, under the heading ‘Life for Doctor Death.’ In my sketch ‘The Doctor’ has his head in his hands, whilst an inch away Judge Stark grim faced, tells the Doctor he will not be released for at least thirty years. I remember the cheers followed by the Judge’s disapproval and his threat to clear the gallery if they did not compose themselves. It had been a long trial and the families of the victims were rightly exuberant that the man who had surgically removed their loved ones organs whilst they were still alive would never see daylight again. Mine is not the sort of art I had imagined when at college, but it keeps the wolf from the door. It restricts me to what I call ‘my real art’ at the weekends. Of course like everything else in the world my job is temporary, for now they are considering allowing cameras into court and I will become a thing of the past. The newspaper syndicate for which I provide sketches has already intimated such.
‘Your mother would not approve’ flicks into my mind, dulling the moment. Father used to say it as an ironic dig at me on the very rare occasions I did anything ‘sensible.’ She never did want me to be involved in such sordid matters as murder trials.
Doctor Death was not actually a Doctor at all but then newspaper headlines are not designed to be honest, only to sell copy. ‘Death’ as he has become known was a cosmetic surgeon, or at least that was his claim. This was later found to be a fraudulent one too. Under the guise of running a clinic for breast enhancement and body restructuring he managed to remove the organs of an unknown number of patients and then resell them. Going undetected for ten years because his patients were, to use a somewhat ironic phrase, ‘health tourists’, visitors who never returned home. It was a clever plan for he knew that no one advertises when they are going to have their breasts enhanced or their face reconfigured. So he lived well on their body parts like some latter day cannibal.
The man across the corridor sees me looking at his paper, huffs, and speedily turns the page so I can no longer read it. I want to tell him why I was staring, but realize it would be in vain. I can’t help noticing he has a touch of foreign blood, his skin has a slightly olive colouring and his eyes are Mediterranean come Arabic. My hands are ready to sketch him. I tuck them under the table. I look out of the train window. We are traveling along the coast and the sea is at our side. It is a benign sea as opposed to the one upon which my mind is sailing. The sun sparkles on it as though diamonds could float. Small vessels unfurl their coloured sails and navigate red marker buoys bouncing on the blue surface as they race one another. I ask myself how such beauty can continue to exist alongside all the suffering in the world, but it is a pointless question.
My sister will probably turn up, she usually does when I visit mother. She has similar problems to mine and always makes sure she arrives at the same time as me, as if she suspects I am about to run off with family jewels. Not that there are any family jewels. Perhaps she thinks I am going to put mothers arm up her back and force her to sign a new will, cutting her out? Nothing could be further from the truth of course because I want nothing, and expect nothing. All I ask is for one moment when my mother is honest and admits that she has been unkind to me, that she has failed to think of anyone else but herself, that is all I want. On reflection I think that is what my sister is afraid I might get.
My phone rings. The man across the corridor looks daggers at me, daring me to answer it. That is enough for me to take it out of my bag and in a very loud voice say ‘Sorry Michael I can’t talk I am in a silent carriage’ adding in my head ‘and I have an arsehole staring at me.’ Michael tells me that my sister has left a message on the house phone to say she will be over later to visit mother. I give myself a pat on the back for clairvoyance. I smile broadly at the man and replace the phone, making sure he sees I haven’t switched it off. I want him to spend the next hour waiting for it to ring again. I want his officious mind to drip like Chinese water torture, click, click, click as he anticipates a repeat of my Miles Davis ring tone.
I am not always edgy like this, and I don’t enjoy the feeling. In fact I don’t do ‘grown up’ very well, it doesn’t come naturally to me and I think that is why Michael fell for me when we met. He wanted my carefree, ‘what the hell’ nature, as a foil to his rock solid stability. When we got together I had almost lost control of things and could see the inevitable wall coming towards me. It was the end of my really wild phase when I had spent too long with the type of men who promised excitement and made good on that promise but fell short on commitment. Along with my ‘mother phobia’ I share another common trait with a fair number of my female friends, which is regret for the number of unworthy men I have had in my bed. ‘Carnal knowledge’ my mother would call it when I was young. A pair of words that summed up her attitude towards things of a sexual nature, retaining that heavy sinful Old Testament ring to them. When I was seventeen I changed the words in my head to carnival knowledge, i.e having lots of fun in a new place every week. It’s only when I grew older however that I began to realize the sad truth of it all, the fun was mainly one way. Men, as far as I can tell, never think badly of themselves for having had as many partners as they are able, whereas women are made to have a conscience. Looking back I see that what I craved was affection, and I mistook physical attraction and sex for the love I lacked. It was also a dig at my mother of course. She hated my ‘wild child’ attitude and so I upped the volume on the radio, pressed the pedal to the floor, and eventually, just before I met Michael, saw the wall approach.
I was with Dave Penn at the time. Trouble personified. His love of speed was not limited to cars. He took too much, drank too much, and spent a large part of his spare time pursuing the means to buy more. Dave was a dynamo, driven by an unspoken urge to do everything to kill himself before he was thirty. Fuelled by barbiturates he took my arm and like Superman hauled me into the stratosphere, except it wasn’t. In truth it was an endless series of parties, music gigs, sleep overs and on one occasion an honest to God orgy which despite being out of my head at the time still haunts me. The tangle of limbs, moustaches, sweat and lust remain vivid enough to send an icy chill down my back every time it comes to mind. Fortunately, that is not often, for I do not think of Dave and those days much anymore. What I have noticed however is that in my mind certain things are inextricably linked, they are catalogued, so that touching on my youth leads to all of these unwanted recollections like I’ve pressed the images button on Google. Wham! So many things I don’t want to see again.