A childhood fantasy

We take the yellow bus to Camberwell. It smells of shoe polish. It smells of leather. I sit beside my mother near the front. Today there are only the two of us, my mother and me and we are taking the bus to Camberwell to shop.

I am angry with my mother. I want to complain about her plans to buy my sister pantyhose. I am older than my sister and I am still in socks. Why should she have stockings before me? But I do not want stockings. They are too adult.

My mother is humming. She must be nervous. The bus turns the corners too fast and I slide across the seat right up against my mother. Her body is hard and soft all at the same time.

An ambulance screeches past. Its siren splits the air. My mother hums on as though she has not heard it. I watch the driver’s neck. It has uneven black stubbly bits that run down and hide under his collar. The bus driver has fat stubby fingers that work the gears whenever we slow down to stop. My mother is looking ahead, still humming. Her nose juts out hooked. She is proud of it. Aquiline she says, like an eagle. A sign of aristocracy.

My mother is proud but she sits hunched over in her old green coat with her handbag on her lap. She does not wear pantyhose. She wears stockings held up with her girdle. The girdle is pink, skin coloured. She wears it to hold in her stomach muscles.

My mother is fat and frumpy and I am pleased about this. I would not want a mother who looked young and was pretty. Mothers should look like mothers. She fiddles in her handbag for her compact. It opens with a puff of powder; sweet and tacky to smell, like Lux Soap. My mother dabs the powder on her nose. She does not like her nose to shine. She squints into the compact’s tiny mirror and smears on a line of lipstick. Glossy red.

My mother was beautiful once. We have a photograph. In it she looks like a movie star. She gazes out from the photo with movie star eyes and a wistful look. Performing for the camera.

The top of the bus brushes against the branches of street trees as we turn corners. At Stanhope Street it stops for an old man who fumbles in his pocket for change and nearly falls over when the bus starts up again.
‘Pull the cord,’ my mother says. ‘We mustn’t miss our stop.’
I am taller than my mother. The cord like a skipping rope is taut till I pull on it. A loud buzz and the driver slows down. We walk towards the shops along an alleyway that leads to the railway station.

My father will kill us all. The thought pops into my mind and I want to push it away but it will not go away. He will kill us all one by one. He will start with my mother move onto my sister and then it will be my turn. He will work through the girls and then start on the boys. I have not yet worked out how he will do it, but he will. A train rattles through the cutting nearby.

‘The Second Worst Thing’

Normally I would not put up another post so close on the heels of the first, but a comment from my real and blogger friend Gretta has inspired me to put up two of Gretta’s poems from an anthology that Helen Annand published in 1998. The anthology is called
The second Worst Thing: Poems on Surviving the Death of a Child.

Gretta describes the poem she has already posted on Dustchange as her one poem on grieving. Perhaps she has forgotten these. I have not and never will.

I’m afraid I cannot format the text as it is laid out on the page in the original, but the words are as intended.

Birthday Song

Bobbing, bobbing
in my bed of tears.

I saw how they would be.
Smooth skin, knobbly wrists
jutting from cuffs
on long skinny arms.

He’s dead.
He’s grey ash in the garden.
No knobbly wrists?
No teenage wrists.
Skinny arms?
Never were…
Never will.


smother me in white clay
the cracked mud of mourning

stop up my ears
no clamouring silence
cover my eyes
no grey bundle of flesh
plug my nose
no sour yellow seepings
plaster my lips
no kisses lost on vacant skin

For Christopher who died at 8 months and Joel, at 4 months.