My mother is to be buried this afternoon: Why is death always so cold?
Outside the big, wide window of this overheated orchid house of a lounge that they are pleased to call the Day Room all is frozen whiteness. By manoevering the wheel of my chair close against the warm glass and craning my neck at an uncomfortable angle I can see the long row of icicles overhanging the guttering. One particularly catches my eye. It stands alone from the rest, and every so often it weeps an angel's tear.
I am thinking of you. Do you ever think of me?
I imagine you married now to a slim, pretty, contented wife with two, maybe three growing children to fill your home and your lives. Sixteen years is a long time to remember back, isn't it? I was only twenty-three then. You were my first, my only boyfriend.
Can you remember your first ever words to me? On that summer evening sixteen and a half years ago when your walking club friends pushed a group of us around some forest tracks where the scent of pine was oh so strong? You said: "Wheelchairs are something new to me. Please be patient if I don't get everything quite right to begin with. My intention is only to help."
I smiled at that. I still do.
You soon learned though, didn't you? Remember the rock concert we attended, and the football match? How can I ever forget that, so much noise and concerntrated excitement. And everyone so kind and helpful, and you sitting beside me behind the goal line patiently explaining the game.
It was never that my mother disliked you. Rather, she loved me too much. Can you not see that? She over compensated about everything because she didn't want to see me hurt anymore than I already had been by nature.
I want you to understand that. It is vitally important that you should.
"Be friends with Derek by all means." That's what she used to say to me. "It's good for you to mix with people your own age."
Do you remember the way you used to kiss me? I do. How could I ever forget?
My father kisses me still. He bends self consciously in front of my chair and gives me a tiny farewell peck when it is time to leave. Always in the same place: That one little spot just to the side and slightly above my left eye. Habit, I suppose.
If I say so myself I'm still not at all bad looking, although my hair is cut shorter now than it was when you knew it.
It was that weekend up north that finished us, wasn't it? That special treat you went to such efforts to lay on for me. You even bought and fitted out that clapped out old van to make things easier. "Enjoy yourself," my mother said to me that morning. "Remember to be good, won't you."
I certainly felt good when you drove me around all those grey-green hills that you had climbed. And when you told me their names, and talked excitedly about possible wheelchair routes up some of them so that I might enjoy the views from their tops first hand. I certainly felt good then too.
You were always thinking thoughts like that, weren't you?
They knew you in that guest-house with the sweet smelling honey-suckle clinging to the porch too, didn't they, because you'd stayed there before. That was how it was that you'd been able to arrange for a bed to be made up for me in their back parlour: And when it was time you lifted me into it. I felt like a bride!
But then ...
I know I was twenty-three, but I might just as well have been thirteen. Sure, I knew what was what, but I'd had no proper experience of life. I'd always existed within my mother's cloying, protective cocoon of love. It was like living in a vacuum. I was too young don't you see. I thought what you were doing was making a pass at me.
That phrase sounds laugable today, doesn't it? Making a pass? 'Boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses'. That's another little jingle my mother would have known. And there I go again, don't I? Jingle. How dated can you get? But making a pass would have been my mother's phrase for it. Her concept too. So how was I to know different then? I grew up in the past.
I was angry with you all the next day, wasn't I? I would hardly speak to you when you took me down to look at the waterfalls. I made you bring me home early, didn't I?
She was oh so understanding about it, my mother. And as kind as ever. And so brave, just like I knew I had to be. She never once said: 'I told you so' or anything like that. I was still living at home then. It was me who told her to say I was out the times you rang. I was hiding in my room that one time you called round. I'd told her to say to you what she did.
But you still sent me a Christmas card that year, didn't you? I have it still. It lays in silver wrapping paper in the bottom drawer of my bedside locker. I haven't looked at it in years, but then I don't need to. I know exactly what it says. 'To Margaret' you wrote at the top, and below that the printed rhyme reads:
This comes to say Merry Christmas,
And a Happy New Year too,
But most of all it comes to say,
That I love you.
And you signed it, 'with all my Love, Derek'.
It was only much later that I realised. I wrote to you. I did. But it seemed that you had moved away. My father said the new people might know where you'd gone, but my mother said we had no right to ask them. It would be improper, she said. I think my father has always been a little in awe of my mother.
I asked my mother a year or so ago, before she took ill. I said: "Did you really think Derek would have gone after someone like me if all he'd wanted was that?" She didn't answer me.
I've thought of you often in the night. Defective motor neurones may have rendered my legs useless twitching appendeges, and to a lesser degree my left arm too, but the rest of me is as God intended. It would have been perfectly possible.
But for love ...
The memory of your face has blurred a little with time. I like to think that perhaps mine has with you. Do you ever think of me, if only for a single, microt of time? I pray that you do.
I see a big black limousine passing through the gates at the end of the driveway. It stands out so vividly against the field of snow. Soon now Matron will come in and wrap a dark tartan blanket around my legs and tell me to put on a brave face and not to cry for my mother as she wouldn't have wanted that, and remind me to keep my legs from getting cold. She will hand me a bunch of lilies wrapped in celophane to place upon my mother's new grave.
Snow is white, and lilies are white. Lilies are the flowers of death. White is the cold colour of pain.
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