An untimely death

My cousin died ten days ago from leukemia.  She was only three weeks older than me
with twin sons, my youngest daughter’s age, and an older daughter.  
In my book she was too young to die and
her family are in a state of shock.
We were close as children.  My sister and I stayed with my cousin’s family often during the
holidays, holidays that for me were some of the best times of my life – to be away from the troubles in my own family, to be free of fear, and for once, however briefly, to live with a ‘normal’ family, or so
my cousin’s family seemed to me at the time. 
The best of it, in my child’s mind, my cousin’s family lived in a double
storey house with a laundry chute in the upstairs bathroom that ran all the way
downstairs and outside into a washing basket under the back veranda.
I never dared, but I liked to imagine myself crawling into
the chute and sliding down through the house into the ether.  
The chute began as a box on the bathroom floor with a flat lid.  It held a mysterious quality.  From outside in the
laundry I could look up at the exit.  To me it offered a whole other
dimension, rather like a sanitised poo hole.
To add to it, my cousin’s father kept indoor tropical fish.  He installed a rectangular fish tank in an internal wall between two rooms so that,  as if by magic, you could see into
the tank from two directions.  
My sister and I spent what now seems like hours watching these tropical fish in iridescent blues,
turquoise and yellow as they swam in everlasting circles through their fish tank
 I felt a strange thrill whenever one of the fish released a thin black strand from what I imagined to be its bottom.  Fish
shitting.  The longer the strand the better.
My cousin was older than me by only three weeks and yet
she seemed much older.  She was a
first born and assumed an authority I lacked as sixth born.  She bossed us all around, not in an
awful way as I recall but with the clear authority of her first born and
sisterly status.  
I might have
resented it at times but in those days I was too timid to stand up to anyone
outside of my own family.
I can see the fish tank still and my aunt giving
instructions to my cousin to whip the cream for dessert.  My cousin was masterful in her ability to whip cream; to get
it just right, the firm texture with just enough sugar and a splash of vanilla
essence, but now she is gone and all I have are my mottled memories.  

12 thoughts on “An untimely death”

  1. Ah, but your mottled memories were beautifully told here and I so appreciated this sweet glimpse into your childhood with your cousin and family. Your description of her as a capable child were just perfect in helping us see the kind of adult she may have become. No wonder you loved and will miss her. She was special and I am so sorry for your loss.

  2. This is a better piece of writing, i.e. not trying to be clever, i.e. not trying to join two separate matters to create a theme.
    This is good writing; working within your limits.

  3. Apart from my parents I’m not aware of the death of any of my relatives. Logic dictates that some of them will have died and quite possibly some of my cousins although I’ve no idea how many I have. I only recall meeting one once, a girl about the same age as me which would’ve been about twelve and so of an age when she was interesting to me as a sexual being. Only she wasn’t very pretty and I wasn’t attracted to her. Which was frustrating because this was probably the first time I’d had a girl my own age around; all my other encounters with girls would have been in the street or at school. That she was a cousin meant nothing. The whole concept of an extended family was quite alien to me. There were, I think, others there but as she was the only one I was vaguely interested in I took no notice of them. We, my siblings and I, were told to entertain them and so we ended up wandering over the road and down the river. It was summer; that I know for sure. They didn’t know us and we didn’t know them and so it was awkward. I don’t think we were away more than an hour but now I’m guessing. Who knows, she may well be dead now. The uncles and aunts probably are. Not sure whose kids they were even. Lily’s I think or maybe Frank’s. Not Harry’s. I couldn’t pick any of them out of a line-up.

    It’s odd though what our mind chucks back at us, what it associates with certain individuals. I think about my first love—can’t really call her a girlfriend since we never dated or anything—and it’s much the same as you. I encountered her in the same patch of countryside down by the river and went back for weeks hoping to see her again. Our families went to the same part of the beach and so we ran into each other there a few times. I remember one sports day—1971 maybe—her chasing me. I ran under a bar and winded myself but she still hit me when she caught up with me. I remember when I found out where she lived hanging around near a farm hoping to catch a glimpse of her. I remember the last time I met her in the street outside of the shop I was working in at the time, probably around 1985. I could be way out and it could’ve easily have been 1995 and I’m getting my years wrong because of the location. None of any of these memories amount to anything. We were in Primary One together—she was such a cute five-year-old with a shock of blonde hair—and so we knew each other for twenty-odd years and yet all I have are scraps.

    Did I ever show you the poem I wrote once I learned of her death? I probably did but here it is again just in case it helps:

          Poem in Want

           ( in memoriam A.P. )

          I had believed all debts paid
          yet something’s not right. I stare
          in the mirror and nothing
          has changed but nothing’s the same.

          She who had gone has gone again.

          All this talk of ‘loss’ makes me
          think of neglect or of theft.
          The misplaced are sometimes found.
          The used-up never can be.

          She who had gone has gone again.

          I want to trade this hurt for
          words but it’s complicated.
          So few words are suitable
          still I feel it’s expected.

          She who had gone has gone again.

          A girl I once loved is dead.
          I thought I’d lost that love or
          found some better use for it
          though now I know I could not.

          She who had gone has gone again

          and she’s never coming back.
          There’s no poetry in death.
          There is only a vacuum
          and silence and senselessness.

          She is gone and she is never coming back.

          Saturday, 04 August 2012

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