Another morning. What day is it, Hugh? I really would like to have a long lie…..maybe I would sleep better knowing it’s morning……..but I’ll never know because I cant get back to sleep………….. for thinking………………..
My eyelids are like floodgates. As soon as they open, a mighty avalanche of thought comes rushing into my head packing itself into every crevice, every nook and cranny. If I allow myself to become overwhelmed by it then I am done for. I have to be ahead of it. I have to escape before it gathers momentum and I have to have a multi-sensory approach to saving myself, for it is useless trying merely to think of an escape route. I have to physically make the effort to reach it. So I get up.
I get up and move myself through my morning routine talking to myself, encouraging and praising myself each step of the way. Very often it doesn’t work and the mere whisper of his name is enough to bring the whole mountain crashing down about my ears. I clutch at straws. I switch on the radio and find it distracts me for a little. News, discussion type programmes are best. Music is another matter. I read the mail. Correspondence for Hugh has dwindled to the odd update from his wine club or the availability of ‘not- to- be-missed’ hotel breaks and holiday cottages. I file away statements and receipts and answer those letters which require it. I feel the need to keep on top of things. I tidy up. I tidy up a lot. Thank God Anne and Ciara are coming down.
Tell me what to wear Hugh…………..I miss your approval, your honesty, the little compliments, the ‘snidey’ comments : ’I thought you had nothing to wear! Where did that come from……………’
All your life and according to you, Hugh, you never ‘needed’ anything to wear. ‘Look at me,’ you would say, ‘done up like Dandy Dick!’ But you did like being ‘well turned out.’
We bought each other coats last Christmas, do you remember, (with you protesting all the way to Slater’s). I thought it was appropriate for you to have a heavier, dressier coat.
‘Mosie, what do I need another coat for?’
‘ Well………..I know you really don’t need one but I’d like you to have one…..’
‘When will I ever wear it? It’s too bulky for wearing in the car….It’ll just be something else for hanging in the wardrobe’………..
I was thinking…….funerals. Cold, grey, miserable funerals, and we were in that age group where we knew too many of the dear departed. So the purchase was made.
Three weeks later my cousin Peter died. I helped Hugh into his new coat and brushed the collar and shoulders while he, predictably, fussed about having to wear it in the car. But he did looked smart and I knew he would be glad of it on that cold, grey, miserable day. On his return I remember putting it carefully back on the hanger for him and wondering when next he would wear it. He never did. I open the doors of his wardrobe and look at it hanging there lifelessly, as he said it would, with all the other clothes he didn’t need and most certainly doesn’t need now. …………….what’s to become of it all ?
A million images of him come flooding into my head and I quickly close the doors both outside and in. I cant think about this now. I must get dressed.
I search among all my clothes until I find something suitable. Then I change my mind. Soon the bed is littered with discarded clothing before I finally decide to opt, in exasperation, for the very items I chose in the first place. I return everything carefully to its own hanger. I force the hangers along the tightly packed rail and smooth down the assortment of garments which constitutes one of my wardrobes – yes one of my wardrobes. I sigh and hear myself thinking Hugh’s thoughts aloud. I sink down heavily onto the bed as the tears roll down my cheeks.
‘You are so right, Hugh. It’s all just hanging there ……..things I just had to have and have worn maybe once, maybe twice……. Things I had to have but didn’t need…… and certainly do not need now……….’
Sunday coats and shoes were for Sundays only or for very special occasions. Questions were asked if the attempt was made to wear them on any other day for any other reason.
‘And where do you think you’re going with the good shoes on?’
So, unless you were off to see the Queen and not, as it very occasionally was to see your chum, then the good shoes would be dutifully swapped for the school brogues. I suppose for a time in my life I must really have looked forward to Sundays and the dressing up but I found that ever after, I was always very self conscious about feeling ‘over- dressed’ on weekdays and since I have only recently ‘left school’ my wardrobe continued to be arranged in ‘Everyday/School Clothes” and ‘Special Occasion Togs’ .The sensible notion that ‘good’ clothes could be eventually transferred to the ‘Everyday/School Clothes’ category was an unworkable one (pun intended) since that brought sharply into focus other lifelong maxims such as,‘Who does she think she is……..the head teacher?!’ or ‘That one’s getting too big for her (good!) boots !’
A capsule wardrobe, that’s all I need. De -clutter! That makes sense. A million images of me with him come flooding into my head as I stare helplessly at the shapeless items of clothing hanging listlessly and entombed in their stifling cupboard. I close the doors quickly. I can’t think about this just now. I must finish dressing.
I stare squarely at the image in the mirror as I pull the brush through my tired hair. What style will we have today, then…….probably the same as yesterday…….none. I study my reflection dispassionately. Who is this sad, sad person screaming silently in my face, ‘What now…….tell me, what now?……….’ but before I have the chance to wallow I hear a car in the driveway. Anne and Ciara are here.
‘I’m nearly ready,’ I say brightly as they call out their familiar greeting. I put on some lipstick and indulge in a spray of perfume. ‘Why do you bother….what’s the point?’… the voice in my head tries to pull me back. Ciara comes running into the room.
‘Nana, are you coming to the garden centre in Papa’s car?’
‘Now, Mosie, how can you resist an invitation like that?’ and I mirror the look I see on Hugh’s face as he smiles at me from the picture by our bed.
We’ve begun, Anne and I, to grade the scones on a scale of one to ten .The first consideration is how they look. Are they well risen?…do they have plenty of fruit? ……are they too pale or perfectly golden?………Now….. how do they feel?………heavy as lead or light as a feather?
We test this attribute discreetly, of course – unlike Hugh who made no secret of his delight or disappointment after waving the scone up and down a few times and delivering a sharp tap to its underside. For the latter part of the test, the scone was held close to his ear and he obviously knew the sound he was listening for. Do not forget this is a man with two hearing aids attempting to get a note from a bit of home baking. His mother had been a wonderful baker of scones and Hugh obviously took it as read that, as the eldest of the family, he had inherited the gift of knowing a good scone when he heard one!
‘Well?’ I would ask patiently, ‘Is it in tune ?
The nurseries have begun to display their Christmas fare…. Christmas?…..it can’t be that time of year already……can it?
‘What’s today’s date, Anne?’ I ask frequently as if having lost the skill to find out for myself.
‘This is Tuesday, isn’t it?’ Anne has become my speaking clock. She patiently clarifies the time, the day, the month but I am not really listening for answers . I am already trying to work out how long it is since Hugh died…….in days, in weeks, in months..…….it can’t be four months already…..can it?
What have you been doing all this time …………besides eating scones? I am awash with guilt again. Some people in a crisis are driven to take medication or drink………..I am driven to nurseries ………for scones. Scones with butter and apricot jam…….. fruity, well-fired scones……. crunchy on the outside………..light and airy within………..melting in the mouth with a lovely latte or a comforting cappuccino…..a moment to savour ………a ‘close-to-Hugh’ moment………….Is this an addiction?…do I need counselling?…..are people talking?………..they surely must be talking in the nurseries – you’re there so often. Just as a matter of interest …………….how much time do you think you’ve spent there ‘feeding your habit’..?……..now, there’s something for you to think about ……..and how much money has been handed over to eager ‘suppliers’ in that time..?……..a pretty penny I’ll be bound. And what exactly are you gaining from this current scone therapy upon which you are embarked? Does it help? Does it satisfy the gnawing hunger? Does it help you forget? Does anything help you forget ? Do you want to forget ? No, no, no, no and no. My responses are sure yet I am so very confused. What should I be doing ? People try to help, to prompt, to move me on.
‘You should be driving again,’they’ll say kindly,’don’t leave it too long…’
‘Why don’t you go back to work?’ they say helpfully,’it’ll take your mind off things…’
I didn’t ask for this part and I don’t know how to play it but play it I must.
Those close to me watch and listen and counsel.
‘Stop!’I can hear them say, ‘you are being too hard on yourself. It’s only four months after all. Look how far you have come. You’re doing so well.’……..
No criticism, no nagging, no whispered exasperations or disappointed looks, no great expectations of an end to mourning ……….. only patience, encouragement, unconditional love and support……….and the gift of precious time given freely………… What time is it now anyway…..?
It’s time, I think …….. for another scone……
Anne brings me back home with my ‘essential’ purchases – two little bird tables – and helps me organise them in the big tree outside my bedroom window where I have already hung feeders of nuts and coconut shells. The blue tits and sparrows are well catered for. Even the big ill mannered starlings have brushed up their balancing skills enough to barge their way into the feast. Only the blackbirds, the thrushes and the robins seem always to be on the perimeter. Hence the bird tables.
‘There, mum, that’s all the birds catered for now – even your robin ………..and I’ll need to fly – just look at the time!’
I stroll round the garden before going back indoors. I like it in the garden. Pottering is such a good word and I do like to potter. I move one or two planters and give some words of encouragement to the most recently potted winter flora. The garden is awash with Autumn tones but I am already planning to add even more vibrancy for next year. It’s looking good but it could be even better. It’ll be hard work but I know how I want it to look just as I knew how I wanted Hugh’s grave to look.
It’s too dark now to go down there in the evenings with Pauline but Anne and I seldom pass the cemetery without popping in to check on Hugh’s private little plot of land and read again that which we still cannot fully accept. The stone is quite beautiful and we are deeply indebted to David for helping us to realise our final earthly gift to a loving husband and a devoted dad.
Feeling chilled, I go back into the house. I love this time of day, the time between daylight and darkness.It was a time Hugh and I enjoyed, particularly in the winter months when school was out and it was good to be home. The glow from the fireplace would colour the room and its occupants with a soft, warm light as we exchanged our news of the day. The nourishing contents of a bowl of Hugh’s hearty soup would disappear quickly amid sounds of sheer satisfaction and delight. Warm now both inside and out we would sit in companionable silence and watch the sky change colour until it was time to pull the curtains, switch on the lamps and proceed with the business of the evening.
I remember it now almost poetically and wish with all my heart that I had savoured it more fully then..O God, how I miss him. I rouse myself to organise the evening meal and hear him say as he always did, ’I’ll do the potatoes, Mosie…..’
….to be continued…….