What did I forget?

I tried to spilt one cortisone tablet into two this morning in order to take in a reduced dosage but the tablet crushed into tiny pieces. I trust it’s not a omen, a bad omen for the day ahead.

The day ahead makes me breathless, so much to do that even now settling down to write seems excessive. I have no time. I must clean out the kitchen in readiness for my third daughter’s birthday party tomorrow. I must wrap presents in readiness for my youngest daughter’s birthday dinner tonight.

Two daughters turn significant ages in the space of a week, one an eighteen year old at the end of her school life, the other a twenty five year old about to be admitted to practice as a lawyer. Both girls bright and capable, both eager to celebrate and be celebrated and only last week it was my turn.

Birthdays roll along. They are such indicators of the passage of time.

Foul tasting stuff cortisone. I just swallowed the crushed cortisone tablet and had to wash it down with a great gulp of tea and even now the bitter taste lingers at the back of my tongue. It’s hard to be rid of it.

Every so often I think about my thesis and whether someone is reading it and what they might think of it. Whether someone is rolling their eyes in disgust or whether someone else is getting pleasure out of it.

It’s a strange waiting time, not so bad at the moment because it is early in the wait. I imagine in a month or two or maybe more I will start to get anxious with the thought that any day now I will hear the news. But from here it seems too far away.

The sun streams into my writing room so fiercely that I can barely see the screen. Dust motes collect on the glass and even as I wipe them away new ones take their place.

When I am unsettled like this, when the lure of activity comes over me like a rash, all I want to do is get up and about and do all the jobs I have listed in my mind. I do not want to sit here at the computer typing words onto a screen. I do not want to engage with my thoughts. I am on the run, a cortisone induced run perhaps, though I think that may be fanciful.

I have kept the dosage to a minimum merely trying to avoid a recurrence of the dreadful rash that overtook me several weeks ago and appeared to be making a return only a few days ago.

It seems to have settled again as I wean myself off the cortisone.

You need to reduce the dose of cortisone gradually the doctor told me, in order to trick your body into believing that it needs to start producing its own again, otherwise it might shut up shop believing the rush will come from elsewhere.

That’s very much a layman’s way of describing a physiological process and the ways in which the introduction of chemicals can fool your body into believing it need not do its own work.

The phone rings and it’s my mother. Her accent thick over the line.
‘I want to talk to you,’ she says. She sounds breathless. ‘What did I forget? Oh yes, I think I forgot your birthday. I’m sorry. I forget everything.’
‘That’s okay,’ I say. ‘Don’t worry.’
‘You’re so good to me and then I forget your birthday.’
I try again to reassure my mother, to let her know I understand. ‘It’s hard to remember one day from the next.’
‘I’m alright,’ my mother says but her voice sounds broken. It’s just that it comes back to me all of a sudden.’
The conversation ends here after I promise to visit the next day.
‘You’re busy, I know’ my mother says. Now it’s her turn to understand.

My mother when she was beginning to develop a memory circa 1919.

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.