Nothing Ever Ends
She thought her grandparents would always be coming to stay and suffered their visits with the unconscious ungratefulness of a child. Her mother, stressed by the impending arrival, would suddenly start tidying under the stairs and shouting about shoes left in the hall and dirty plates in the bedrooms. All ridiculous and pointless as she seemed to leave behind a mess greater than that she had started with.
As soon as Nana arrived, she swept through the house, and before she'd even got her coat off, she'd be polishing the kettle and saying 'I'm so glad I've come to visit Sue, I can see that you obviously need my help'. Mum hated this, she knew, but within days, the house would be in order and a delicious stew would be simmering on the stove. She didn't have to endure her mother's experimental soups for the whole week and didn't even mind that the stew was of such vast quantities that it was served up every day. The mashed potato was as soft as a cloud and with the gravy soaking in and the only vegetables being carrots, it was nigh on heaven. Nana also made the most perfect, delicious cakes. Not only that, she'd always bring something that they all liked. Nana knew that she liked her chocolate cake, perfectly delineated into segments and topped off with tiny sugar flowers. No longer was she hungry after school, Nana was always there to offer tea and treats.
All this time, Poppa was busy painting something - not just with a brush and the paint tin, he had a paint kettle and was very particular about the state of his brushes. His father had been a painter and decorator, he loved to explain, and care of brushes was very important to him. He would sigh at Mum's clumped and dried brushes and spend hours cleaning them with a smell of turps wafting from him. He wore work overalls which never got a speck of paint on them. He also ate a full English breakfast every morning - no cereal for him. He also loved white bread which meant that Mum had to buy it and she was saved having to chew on their usual cardboard-brown bread for the length of the visit.
Mum also had a phase of buying goat's milk off a friend. 'So much better for you than the cow's milk you'd get in the shops', Mum said. All it meant was that she'd stopped drinking milk at all, but when Nana and Poppa arrived, the cow's milk made a swift and very welcome return too. The grandparents wouldn't understand Mum's fads.
With the delicious food, the never-ending supply of snacks, and the helpful DIY, however, also came the refrains.
'I don't know why you can't draw your curtains evenly in the morning, it only takes a minute darling and it looks so much better'...
'When you take clothes out of your drawers, do take a moment to close them again, it looks so untidy to leave everything hanging out like that.'
'You must take a coat to school, it's cold outside, I can't believe you've forgotten it, oh and here's your tie, it must have slipped down the side of the sofa...'
'Now, when you've made your bed in the morning, it would be very nice if you could also go and make your brother's....'
She didn't hide her annoyance very well and usually complied with ill-grace, tearing her tie off at the end of the road and stuffing it into her bag.
Finally, when the grandparents left, and the house returned to its usual warm but chaotic self, she knew they would soon be returning. It was inevitable. It was life. It would never end.
Of course, it did end. First Nana got Alzheimers and started seeing strangers at the window and having to wear a bib to eat. And then Poppa, too old finally to drive, just withered away at home, falling shy of his centenary by a mere 3 years. So inevitably, their visits, which had annoyed and delighted her at the time, did end. It seemed unfair that when she finally got old enough to appreciate them, they were no longer around. All that love and attention that they had poured onto her had poured straight off again hadn't it?
As a parent, she was unlike her own Mum. Tidy and organised, with no flair for improvisation, she cooked from a cookbook. Her children however, drove her to distraction. One day when she had watched one of her teenagers slope off down the drive in the rain, shoulders hunched against the wet onslaught did she remember how annoyed she had been when her own Nana had forced her to wear a coat.
And only the other day had she gone into her teenage daughter's bedroom and berated her for not drawing her curtains straight and for her clothes drawers which looked like 'Vesuvius erupting'. Her daughter hadn't even replied but had simply pulled the bedclothes over her head in a perfect display of non-verbal communication.
Now, standing at the front window, watching the water rivulets slowly inching down the glass, she realised that things actually did go on forever. She had filtered those visits into herself and so her grandparents were truly a part of her, just as she would be a part of the next generation, and so on and so on.
She smiled and turning back to the kitchen, she got out her laptop and looked up a recipe for beef stew. The week's menu was sorted, so she had time to pop down to the hardware shop in town and see if they sold such a thing as a paint kettle.
The horizon marks me
who needs help,
my boat sailing
for no shore,
no landing in sight,
paint a canvas
in the pointillist style
and I am
in every dot,
crying for the Sun
to set on the water,
weaving a path
for me to follow
until it disappears
in the rushing darkness.
I am adrift,
the line of demarcation
out of reach
like a true
I have been marked
have no use for
and the seas
bury like treasure.
Take a fast sloop,
a rusted dhow,
fly a seaplane
from island to island,
please come for me
before the horizon
cuts me in two.
Sunlight illuminated the horizons’ shadow. A low mist blew gently across the rippling sea. There was no sound save for the light waft of waves upon a pebbled shore.
The morning awoke in the slipshod, seashore village to a clink of full fat milk bottles on polished slate doorsteps. Clocks on mantelpieces counted down in reverential silence until the allotted hour when their hands at quarter to eleven, automatically opened front doors, spewing out families, women in widows’ weeds and men in ill- fitting suits and hand me down hats walked, heads bowed staring at spit polished shoes, towards Moriah Chapel.
Mam, being the one to whom the village turned to in times of pestilence and plague had two days before laid out the dead and organised the wake with military zeal. I sat in slow motion on a fine upholstered chair, staring wide eyed at the coffin of the late Mrs Stanley Sheridan, twenty-three, Balaclava Terrace, widow of the parish and a close friend of my grandfather by all accounts.
At eleven fifteen, several men, black coated, top-hatted and tall picked up the coffin and took her away. I recalled my Sunday school teachings and wondered if like Jesus on the third day; Mrs Stanley Sheridan would rise again, reappearing, rejuvenated and smelling of peppermint and rosewater.
Curtains sealed shut with Presbyterian piety were drawn open when the lamenters returned. Thankfully there was no Mrs Sheridan in tow. Men wearing drab, demob suits reeking of pungent moth balls, rolled their own with tobacco stained fingers. I, rendered invisible, buried myself away under the table which was covered in snow white Damask bought especially for seventeen shillings and six pence by Mr Jenkins Post from Pryce’s Emporium in Tenby. The label still attached, hung down as proof of his benevolence. I held my paper plate in hand, feasting on paste sandwiches, potato crisps, and shop bought Battenberg cake, looking on as the womenfolk walked in short staccato steps, dishing out steaming cups of tea from a perpetual polished teapot, pushing thick slices of home cooked fruitcake onto men who bore full fat, barrel curved stomachs.
Food reserved for pious Chapel preachers, tinned ham and summer salads, spring onions and scones with cream and jam were served while Miss Price Spinster and Mrs Price Divorcee, held a discourse on the cost of such frippery. A full fresh salmon, pink and smelling of the sea, donated by Enoch’s of Abernant, took pride of place, centre stage in memory of her weekly order.
I witnessed nods and nudges and a sharp pursing of lips from several members of the village choir over the merits of the hymns chosen and the stilted playing of the chapel organist, Mr Moc Morgan, while Mrs Protheroe Thomas, sat statuesque on a hard wooden chair in the corner, sipping tea from a transparent China cup. Her face, pinched winter chilled from years of absolution barely moved yet she saw through walls and her thin lips tut-tutted at the goings on of strangers and the gossiping of the gatherers.
As the dim radiance of an ancient afternoon slowly matured into dusk, I found myself sitting on the stairs, sipping a flat ginger ale through a limp straw, throwing an occasional glance at the English King’s castle over the water.
In the hallway, the reed-like voice of Walter Williams, village rat catcher rang out the quintessential “Myfanwy” a melody minted in heaven. Walter, stammering in speech, performed like a Cathedral cherub, with the sing-song, flim-flam words sung like gossamer chocolate. The crowd broke into a spontaneous combustion of applause and others took the stage. Rosi Rees recited poetry and the choir found their voice again.
At the dry edge of mortality, there is a spiritual oasis in the wake and as the gathering departed in dribs and drabs we left, leaving the men to their ale, their whisky breath and bawdy jokes.
We walked in silence, in the dark through narrow streets, down towards the lane that led towards the waters’ edge and I squeezed my mothers’ hand.
“What happens when you die, mam?” I asked.
“Some think you’ll go to heaven boy, if you’ve been good. And if you’ve been bad… well...” She smiled, pursed her lips and took in a sharp intake of breath. “To be honest, Davy, if you’ve lived right, you’ll never die. And if you've lived wrong...well I suppose it's the same. There'll always be someone who remembers. It's a circle, life and death, never ending see."
I wasn't sure what she meant by that, not at the time
“Was she a nice woman, mam?” I asked “Like they were all saying.”
“Nice?" She paused. "Well, they tell the truth in this village, Davey, but they tell it slant.” She replied.
I understood and as we walked across the shoreline and heard the soft lapping of the estuary waters there was no thoughts of sadness and no tears. The pale white light of the crescent moon emitted an eerie glow and Mrs Stanley Sheridan, six foot under, lay well remembered.