She steers my mother slowly across the care home lawn. A ship of state adrift on a sea of green.
“Here are my two favourite girls,” I call from the shade of the arbour. Because if I wasn’t jolly I’d cry.
“Haven’t seen you for a while,” I remark as she lowers mum onto the garden seat beside me and relays two porcelain hands from hers to mine for safe keeping for the next half hour. “Been on holiday?”
“I’ve been to Mogadishu,” she says and then adds quickly before I have time to ask something crass like oh what’s the weather like there at this time of year “to bury my mum.”
To bury my mum.
I want to reach across my mother’s head and hold her hand. But, of course, social distancing has made human instinct less instinctive. So words are our lifebelts. To stop the grief sucking us down.
Her name was Fatima. She was 60. A proud mother of four. Two children seeking new lives in America. Two here in the UK. Widowed four years ago so alone in the Somali capital. Taken by Covid before Foz could say goodbye. So she went instead to bury her. And then had to pay for hotel quarantine on her return. Red lists and all that.
These are the bare facts.
I look down at the mother who’s left.
“You can share mine. She can be your honorary mum.”
For most of the year the field is like a sheet of writing paper covered with invisible ink. Words indivisible from the page. Blank every morning save for brown-blot molehills. But the overnight snow has rendered the lines for all to see. All at once. An animal track heat map, only cold. Footsteps frozen in time and place.
Much is indecipherable. Unknowable. But some is observable. Or deducible.
The ink is barely dry on the sheep paths. Close up, the freshest, once-trodden tracks are, in fact, two closely-spaced furrows with a distinct ridge in between right and left ploughshare hooves. No such distinction in the oft-trodden lamblines where the front leg dots and hind leg dashes have worn through to the grass beneath. Feint blue becoming bright green.
Other writers have left strings of single letter words and flown. The Y Y Y of bird feet. Serif here. Sans serif there. Upper case. Lower case. Bold buzzard prints. (I know they were left by a buzzard because I saw it fan down from its perch in the snow-shadowed oak – gracious in flight, but grounded, stamping cold feet like an angry child in oversize wellies). Italicised wagtrails. Barely more than scratches on the crusted surface of the snow. Spokes leading to the stock feeder hub. Hay for the sheep. A meagre harvest of flies for the birds who’ve been forced down from their usual haunt on the clay tiles of the barn roof.
By the brook where the flood water has congealed then dropped to leave a glass dance floor, there are the arrowheads of a pheasant. Pointing back from where it came. And ending abruptly. Mid sentence. With a tail-dragging smudge and a silent squawk. Only to start again somewhere else. In another field. The other side of the stream. On another page.
The writing paper field.
Freed from the conventions of verse form, I find prose poetry easier to compose. So it’s my go-to style. That said I hope this latest piece in the Field series still has poetic qualities in its use of imagery, metaphors and symbols.
You didn’t like people making a fuss of you. So you weren’t a big fan of Mother’s Day.
Before it all became what you disdainfully called Americanised, I do remember me and my sister bringing you breakfast in bed. Dad was in on the annual conspiracy and I’m sure you knew what was happening from the clatter in the kitchen. But you always feigned surprise when Joanne carried in the tray and I, her younger brother, theatrically threw open the curtains to let the morning shine on Kellogg’s Cornflakes, a boiled egg and toast (which left crumbs on the sheet we could feel through our pajamas when we were allowed to snuggle up next to you). Thank you for your indulgent smile that morning and every morning.
You still have it. Dementia may be emptying your mind. But it’s not draining your face. I’m picturing it now. It’s your gift to me this day (because mothers everywhere give far more than they can ever receive).