I can see it clearly. From horizon to horizon there is the gold of swaying stalks; the land is flat like the sky, their edges never to meet and stretching away. The smell of grit and earth rubs into my skin and clothing. Then there is the light, falling at the couple lying by the tree on a hill, raised from the surrounding plain. They are resting, they are in seclusion. She is auburn-haired and dark-eyed. He is so tall and angular, that even while resting, he is folded together awkwardly—still, so is she, and they complement one another. His arms drape her. This light is like memory.
We are watching the gold sway—Mary, that was your turn of phrase.
I am watching the gold light brush against you, I see it is a strange quality of brightness found only there, on the gentle texture of your skin. But I don’t want to mention it and break your meditation… of new wheat turning into clusters of sun, and of stretched spun light under the early morning.
I cannot know what time this is—watching it—as we were days ago, as we were years ago, it is under uncertain light. Just a thrill of your body, slowly reaching back as you’ve relaxed and have fallen against me. As I can feel your dry skin against my own, warmth for warmth, and as I watch these images flickering over me.
This is my meditation—your catching my gaze, and my not looking away. You’re so young. I’m taken to rubbing your back, where your pulse is strong against my palm, while we are caught up in our adoration. Stroking your shoulder there, silk-tight skin under my hands, and turning to an antique velvet at my touch, whilst we picnic for our forty-first anniversary. This isn’t any one time I see us together, not as I watch it in undulating light. I remember and I feel you laughing. We are making love.
I’m out of my mind now—making recollections—I can see them coming. It all happens at once like an inspiration—she was like an inspiration, she is my inspiration. It will not be left alone. As I think it, it will come.
You began to live in such a small and fragile world, waiting for a visit that wouldn’t eagerly come. Together, we were moments in our fear. His being lost, while one image became another, and they complimented, each against the other. Our son, our family, the fear of us never again connecting together. From this picture, his eyes do not look out at us, forever looking beyond the bounds of the photo. His smile a phantom. A smile that is there with him, and only for that certain time.
You looked out all the ritualised pieces. All the days turned to treasure in our hands. There. We ought to have been planning your birthday, but every thought had its partner—we could be this, coupled together. They’d said you had the ‘longer months’ left, fewer than two years—but here we could both be free, your cancer could not sicken these things.
“Do you think, do you think he will come?” Mary, chewing your lips, taking my hand with your face.
“He is our son.” Follow that curve of his cheek, all around his face, it will take you round to ourselves. That line, it is as you put there—did he not grow so? You always said ‘there,’ that he became his father. Did you mean that? Follow that line of his mother’s, and we shall show our faces in our child.
These were photos cast surely upon that table, they made a tree of life that grew, marking its leaves through from black and white, deepening until sepia and then to colour. Never did a photo tell its story. We do. Our commiserations and our celebrations.
“You remember his 16th birthday?” Yes, yes. “Surrounded by his friends, and we stood back, like we said we would.”
“He couldn’t get us to leave.”
“It was our celebration too! Stood back, until that song came on—he never should have trusted you with the music.”
“I saw your chance. And perhaps he just needed that little push to see it too.”
“He wouldn’t give his mother a dance.”
“Not until his friends dragged him to you.”
“We danced slow.” She smiled at that.
It’s a small smile of his on the picture, making a great expression on his face. Leaning forward eagerly—like his father you’d say. I never saw the same in that picture, instead he had your waiting energy.
“Slow. All his friends kept time.” I mimed your dance.
Clapping. “He was so embarrassed—but he was my baby. I wanted him there, like he was a little boy. Just for then. Again. He wasn’t ashamed.”
“He wasn’t.” Mary made a lost smile.
She’d gone to bed, getting tired so easily. I was clearing away when I saw what she had done. Laid it out there for the next day, to put up in a frame. It’s a nice photo of him that caught his likeness well.
“I hope you come David.”
People sit along the benches leading to the temple, at the edges of these blank, grassed squares. They sit idly on their Thursday morning. I must rest. I cannot do this. I am looking at her funereal. There is no sound, while there are many here for her here today, they are their own comfort. I can hear nothing of them.
Suzanne is here. My daughter. Here for her mother.
I can’t. David, for your Mother… for the sake of your name, your uncle Dawid.
I’d always wanted you to have met him. Though I didn’t even have any pictures of you Dawid, to show him his uncle. David after Dawid. Now I keep so many photographs of my son, of all my family. I can’t be left with nothing, not again. So many moments I’ve had to take… and now I don’t have either of you. Loss is resonant with loss. Brother, please give me love.
Son. I have so many memories that I cannot tell any more, are they ours, or mine and your uncle Dawid’s? Holding you high, arms wrapped around my arms as I held you, you said you were so high, I told you, “I won’t let go! I won’t.” Why aren’t you here? For your mother…
I wanted you to see them, Dawid. I’ve never spoken of your loss, and they’ve never known. I couldn’t tell them of my love for you, for the family I had lost…
Susanne wants me to come over to her, but I’m not sure I can make it. Don’t let me lose them all. Not again. For me.
There is a shining liquid honey and a weight in my hand. Now she is here. I need only to stand, and walk across the room. Now my daughter’s eyes—or maybe they are my own eyes—they shimmer, and one of us playing with our tears. If only it were us both, we could see each other clearly, and ripple by cried ripple, remove them.
My lovely daughter, she’s standing there. I need only to walk across to her, and Mary would have said that that’s all I ever had to do. Does it seem so obvious?
Our daughter, Mary, is standing across the room. She is here. You see her.
There is a man leaving weight in my palm, down where there are brandy ripples playing with their golden past. Through my glass, I see that these people are your wake. I’ve tried to listen to them, but there have been too many of these glasses between you and their benevolence, while they try to take my hands and to press them against their comforting lips, then I hold tight to the glass, where I can still see my past. Circle after circles coming against each other where I’ve stirred into the drink. Now my finger is burnt and numb in the alcohol, and I bring it to my lips to taste the brandy at its end. The glass plays idly by itself.
My finger feels a smile around it. Now everything makes me think of you. Every action, every instant holds a memory… we were together for so long. From the first day, till the last day, to the music playing at our wedding day—I close my eyes—we danced. Mouth pressed against yours, and at last feeling the whispered ‘I love you’ from another’s lips.
I love this memory, Mary. Now I can open my eyes.
By Paul McLaughlan