‘Something funny next time, please’, said Liz, ‘this one made me cry.’
It’s good for you to cry, actually – I read it in one of the self-help books over-loading my bookcase. Tears contain a mild antiseptic which wash your eyes when you cry. At the same time, your body releases endorphins – those feel-good chemicals which lift your mood. Hence, you really do cheer up a little. Try it, next time you feel like bawling and are straining like mad to keep it in. Just let go! Trust me, in my extensive experience, it works.
And according to the book, ‘Why Women Burst into Tears at the Drop of a Hat and Men Seem to be Complete Bastards’, crying is not a sign of weakness in a woman, no sir-ee. It’s genetic, a hard wired tool handed down from our fore-mothers for eliciting sympathy from the alpha male. Or was that empathy? Sympathy AND empathy. To make him think “Nay, I WILL return to my significant female and the screaming, squawking fruit of my loins! I WILL ensure their survival! I will NOT keep all this woolly mammoth to myself!” So it’s natural, see, and I can’t help it, any more than my old man can help wanting to rut every 5 minutes.
So, what would Liz find funny? I know what used to make her laugh: a maraschino cherry dropped into a pint of Stella at The Horse; me telling her to give it up coz workplace romances never work (how is Neil by the way, Liz? Don’t forget that invite to your 25th!); lemon curd tarts from Birds; the classic coffee-break question “shall we go back upstairs or try the Times crossword as well?” (the answer usually “Nah, it’s fag time,” and out we would trot to the back porch, even though I didn’t smoke); espadrilles on a rainy, lunchtime walk to town; the postcard we sent Helen from her appendix, ‘having a lovely time here in Barbados’; the satisfyingly plumy intonation of the word ‘knob’ when used to describe Research Associates, partners (usually mine), random idiots in numerous places. All these things made Liz laugh.
But Liz is an Artisan these days. Has moved away. We are comedy partners no longer, haven’t been for some time, in fact, nor typed a report or faxed a proposal or franked a letter for many a year. My coffee breaks are now called Play Time and regimented by the blow of a whistle and if Liz drinks coffee, she does so by an open fire, looking out across Northern Irish hills. Even The Horse isn’t what it used to be – have you seen what happens now of a weekend nightime in that sought after village where she used to live? That wouldn’t make her laugh, for sure. Nor would it anyone else for that matter, especially if they’d forked out top house-buying dollar on the basis of a daytime viewing.
But I would dearly like to make her laugh because she needs to right now and because her laugh was always so delicious. And probably still is.
Today is the second anniversary of my mother’s death. And I forgot, for a while.
Not forgot that it was coming; on Sunday, for instance, I counted the days on my fingers and worked out that the 21st would fall on Wednesday. ‘Wednesday,’ I said to myself. And again on Monday I thought of it – still Wednesday, still coming.
But something happened during Tuesday, some unknown thing disconnected my consciousness of the chronology of days and by this morning I was blissfully unaware of the importance of Today. October school half term and I was loving the freedom of it. I got up, ate breakfast watching the news, did a few chores, spent an hour creating an email to my aunt – my mother’s sister, even mentioning Mum at one point – all in a fairly cheerful mood and all without recognition that today was particularly significant. Set off for a lesson at Uni, smiling at the benevolence of life and singing loudly along to The Cure.
And up and onto campus – the largest enclosed campus in the country, by all accounts – where I drove rakishly along University Road to the Library, weaving to avoid the hoards of young ‘uns, nodding at those who waved thanks as I let them cross. Zipped around a corner and WHAM – onto a part of the campus I know particularly well, a part whose imprint is etched deep in my skin.
The ochre and burnt sienna leaves of the roadside trees, a particular quality of today’s grey-washed, Autumn sky, the damp fragrance of the air, recalled, instantaneously, memories of October half terms in this, our childhood playground. Of conker collecting, brook jumping, tree climbing, impromptu football matches with the students. Obscured from view by newer buildings, my childhood home sits hidden away on the estate to the right. My childhood home. Instant remembrance of everything. My mother is dead and she died two years ago today.
We had a fairly awful relationship, my mother and I; turbulent; angry; like a sore that wouldn’t heal. People sometimes use the phrase ‘lost’ – ‘I have lost my mother’. I don’t; I haven’t lost her, couldn’t lose her, because she wasn’t really mine to lose. She didn’t have trust enough to give herself away, not even to her children. Except for on that one last night together, the night before she died, when pain and fear and the seriousness of what was happening cut through the crap.
We healed much, that night, gave something of ourselves, glimpsed what might have been if only we’d been open and honest and giving every day of our lives together. A terrible night and a magical night too, in many ways. A long and tiring night. And in the early hours of the 21st of October she sent me away to rest and I promised to be back in the morning.
But she tricked me in the end, because she didn’t wait. She left before I got back. And it happened two years ago today.