Archive of ‘Writing’ category

The frailty of friendship

When she sent me the email, I thought I could die. Her words so simple on the page were full of poison.

‘You were mistaken,’ she wrote, ‘to think I had not received your email. You were mistaken. I have simply chosen to ignore it.’

I sat at the keyboard frozen. I had tried to reach out across the gulf of oceans, across the gulf of skies, to make contact yet again, after two years of silence and all she wanted to say to me was ‘Go away’.

You’re not wanted in my life. You’re not welcome.

I had found the eggshell by the side of the road on the small strip of grass called the nature strip. Someone must have mowed it recently but they had not done a good enough job. Bits of grass sprouted at the edge by the gutter, like a badly cut hairdo. Long weeds stuck out from under the sprawling ti-tree in the middle. The ti-tree had grown in that straggly ungainly way of trees when they are close to the sea.

I found the shell on the grass between the ti-tree and the gutter. It was pale blue and speckled in green. Its edge was crusted with the egg yolk yellow of the embryo that once must have been tucked inside.

I do not know what made me pick it up. Some sense of its fragility, its beauty, its connection to the earth. Instinctively I took it to my nose. It smelt the way a stone smells when you breathe on it. It carried the smell of wind and rain, the grassy smell of a hot day after a heavy soak.

I stroked its smoothness. A tiny bit crumbled from the edge and fell to the ground. I would keep the shell, I decided then, as a souvenir of her.

A souvenir of the day I last saw her, the last time she held my hand.

‘You can’t just leave like that,’ I had said. ‘You can’t just go.’

‘I must,’ she said. ‘My mother is dying. But I’ll be back.’

That’s what she said then. She said it, I heard her words loud and clear. I heard her make the promise.

‘I’ll be back. Soon,’ she said. ‘I swear. Besides I have to be back for the next exhibition. I have too much at stake.’

At first she wrote me long loving letters, on purple notepaper in her fine spidery scrawl.

My mother is up and down, she wrote. She’s frail. Not long now.

I was understanding then.

What daughter could leave her mother to die alone? I was understanding then that I must be patient. I had cradled my eggshell in a piece of tissue paper in an old soapbox in the bottom of my study drawer.

From time to time I looked at it, as I look at it now. It was fading fast. The hard shell around the thin milky inner skin had come away. My half shell had become a quarter. Soon it would be fragments.

A year ago she sent a note and inside enclosed a card containing all the details of her mother’s life and death.

Her letters came fewer and further between, their content thinned to a list of her activities, those she had seen, what she had done.

No longer did she share with me the inner workings of her mind.

I thought of her often. Every time a new exhibition opened at the gallery, I wondered why she had not comeback to exhibit her work, why she had decided that Germany could offer so much more to her than here with me.

I looked up her name on the Internet, nestled in among the names of other print makers. I found her alongside the famous, Monique Gilbre, Antonia Boudin, and knew then I had lost her.

There was an email address at the foot of the page alongside her name and a copy of the details of her latest exhibition.

It would be easy to reach her.

Letters are slow, I thought.

Letters lose their passion, letters cannot convey the urgency of my need for her, but an email. A message now shot from the heart. A call that could cross the ether, that would bring her back to me, would bring a message back to me.

I waited a month, a month maybe two. But I did not hear.

What could this mean? It must be a wrong address, a changed address. The university where she worked had a website and again I found her name with a new address. I sent her another email, a last arrow into the darkness, my last call.

And then her reply.

I was mistaken to think she still cared.

Here now, I peel the eggshell from its tissue.

I crush it inside the hollow of my hand. I rub the powdered grit into the small of my hand, one hand on the other, rubbing and rubbing until all trace of the shell has gone, pulverised, like the image of my friend, then I press the delete button.

Bricked out

The only time I had my mother to myself – apart from the day I was born – she was dead.

She had died two hours earlier and I was the first of my family to arrive for a viewing of her body without her in it.

‘Wake up,’ I said, for a moment forgetting she had gone, and I touched her face with my hand. Cold to the touch as you’d expect. The coldness of death and still.

As a small child I dreaded this day. I could not then have imagined a life without my mother. But so many years had passed and I had grown accustomed to a different relationship, one in which my mother became almost a stranger to me, and certainly I had estranged myself from her.

Throughout my adulthood, I visited often enough, sometimes for birthdays, rarely at Christmas and at other times simply to say hello. But beyond the hello I said little. I talked about inanities, the things that might help to pass the time.

I told her about my children’s achievements, their milestones, and listened as she told me about the achievements of my siblings and their children.

Accustomed, as I was to hear about those others and theirs, I did not mind so much. There was some liveliness there and I liked to keep the conversations
superficial, otherwise my mother might bring up God and religion and then I’d feel thoroughly bricked out.

Still there were many times when I hoped she might ask after me. But she had decided that I was a busy person, hence my long absences. She became convinced I did not have time for her.

The room in the Bethlehem hospice was arranged to give the appearance of a normal bedroom, a tapestry quilt on the bed, a sprig of peonies on her pillow. The bed was white and wooden, a single child’s bed from another era and it looked strange to see my mother in such a small bed, not that she’d have needed a larger one.

Her body had shrunk after nearly ninety-five years and she had lost height.

My older sister was next to arrive after me and she and I sat opposite one another one on either side of my mother.

My sister held my mother’s hand, then a brother arrived, my mother’s youngest, one who had not seen much of our mother these past several years but as luck would have it he was staying in Melbourne at the time of her death and could not keep away.

The sister one above him arrived next and some time later another brother from the country. Those who lived interstate did not make it to our mother’s bedside, only one refused to come to her funeral.

That would have disappointed her.

My mother had told me often enough. ‘You’ll get together again but only for my funeral.’ She said this with a hint of sadness, as if it meant a great deal for her to know her children could come together once more as a group before she died.

All nine of us came together only once before her death without our mother, and my older sister told our mother about the reunion soon after, fearful that our mother might have felt excluded.

We did not include her as we considered her presence might have made it more difficult to speak openly to one another. And my sister was relieved to tell me that rather than feeling excluded our mother had said she was pleased.

Not so on her ninety fourth birthday, when my sister and I took her out to the Parkmore hotel for lunch. And we were joined by several members of my sister’s tribe who lived relatively close to the hotel, along with my mother’s last surviving brother in Australia.

He sat with her and the rest gathered together and chatted.

My mother was upset later after we brought her back to her room in the retirement village, as they’d all made a fuss of the baby, my mother’s newest great granddaughter, and neglected her on her birthday.

My mother spoke like a sulky five year old, true to form – a form I have felt at times, but hidden – that wish to be noticed.

My mother had sacrificed everything for her children, but by the end of her life her selflessness got the better of her and the desperate need of her small child-self, to be seen and heard, erupted in bitterness, as if she were competing with a baby.

Perhaps she was.

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