Fragments Of Time

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

8th October 2022

Aunt, second Gran who partly brought up my mother, advice-giver, sometimes-lecturer (you're not very organised, are you, Dear?) who bought me things to help organise me. Who listened. Who sat up late to drink a whisky with me. Who loved my husband - 'My favourite Scotsman!' Who danced. Patricia who lived a life that included being a land girl in the war, working in a borstal, purchasing and running a magazine in her 60s, taking up golf at 78, visiting me in Malaysia at the same age, breaking a foot dancing on NYE with my husband and wandering around the golf course with it not knowing it was broken, who lived countless dramatic days with her unusual family. Pat, who lived in the same house for nearly 70 years, a time capsule where nothing had changed my entire life and where I as a nomad could go to touch my roots. Fragments of time in her company; always loved, always secure. Never changing.

When the call comes all I can think of is I'm glad I wrote the letter. When the call comes I'm in a tent in Somerset, and I pack up and get a train to Leeds in under an hour. We hadn't spoken properly for two years, bar one or two awkward phone calls where she told me I needed to apologise to the man who sexually harrassed me, who of course didn't harrass me, or any of the other women or friends of mine. Of course he didn't. He wasn't creepy, not the reason I left home. Why would I hurt my mother like this. Why would I break up the family like this. Why, why, why. She didn't mince her words, didn't Patricia. Told it as she saw it. Was unmovable. Full of pure Yorkshire stubbornness. I was clearly in the wrong; she was angry.

I missed her 90th birthday party week away. I wanted to go - it broke my heart, and still does, that I missed it. But he was going to be there. I wanted to go, but I'd vowed never to put my daughter in his path again. I said to my mother if it would be possible for him to go out for one of the days during that week of the 90th party, we would come, of course we would. But he wouldn't. Of course he wouldn't. I'm still not sure if she was told of this conversation, because it was easier to put everything at my door, but it's a moot point now.

The last time I could have seen her was in my neck of the woods. They were up playing golf, all of them. Mother, Aunt, Cousin, Predator. I met up with my mother, alone, for another awkward visit in which she begged me to put the past to bed and when we dropped her off at the place they were staying, I knew my aunt was inside. She didn't come out. By this point it had been a year since we'd spoken and as we were driving away I felt the pull of my roots.

'Stop,' I said to my husband. We pulled over and I phoned my mum and asked if she and Pat would come to the cafe where they were staying and meet us all. The children, in the back, were silent and bewildered. Why can't we see Pat? they kept saying. The answer given was that if I wanted to see Pat, I could come to the apartment and see them all.

We drove away. I cursed him - my stepfather, the predator, my mother's husband, all over again. And I was angry with Pat - but her loyalty to my mother was stronger than any bond I had with any of them.

We drove home.

Fragments of time at Pat's, all through my childhood, my teenagehood, my adult life. My children. All of it in the time capsule that was her house. Fragments of my life in her house that smelled of smoke, until she gave up smoking in her 70s. Still the smell of cigarettes takes me straight back there.

When the call comes I think of the letter, and I think of the letter all the way to Leeds, just thankful that for once, I was organised and posted it before I went away. Thankful that her lectures about me being organised maybe sank in, and she will have received the letter in which I've tried to explain, that asks if we can go and visit her in the coming school holidays. I wrote it because I had one of those impending doom feelings, the ones that have always preceded a death. But it's September and we can visit her in October, if she agrees. It's almost a year since the missed party - we can still have a small celebration. It's still her birthday year. She will have read it and know I am sorry for everything and that I miss her and love her. I read it from memory in my head.

In Leeds General Infirmary she's attached to machines and her face is all wrong. Her hand is blue where she was lying on it before she was found. Nobody knows how long she was there. I know my mother and the predator are in the cafe downstairs so I don't know how long I will have alone with her. I speak in a gabble of apologies and rushed tearful sentences. But I repeat what I said in the letter - that we wanted to come and see her in just over a month, and it is possible to regain some life after a stroke. And I ask her to fight with some of that stubbornness.

She doesn't open her eyes. Nobody knows if she will survive for more than a few days.

I hold her hand and I lay my head on her bed and I listen to the beeps and watch the machine making mountain ranges out of her heartbeats.

When I get home I hug my family close on the doorstep and I go inside.

'Just thank God,' I begin, before I see what's on the kitchen table, propped up against the fruit bowl, ready to post.

When she dies six months later it is a blessing. She never recovered and spent months in limbo-life, seeming to beg one of us with her eyes to put an end to it. It's 2020; nobody is allowed to her funeral.

There are fragments of time during which I completely forget she is dead. Like the queen, she was always there. There are fragments of time during which I imagine we can still make up, talk, meet in the middle.

And the letter? I still posted it, hoping somebody would read it to her. I don't know if they did, but I can almost see her shaking her head and smiling a little. 'You're not terribly organised, are you?'

In my kitchen hangs a weekly planner blackboard she bought me one Christmas. Every Sunday I fill it in. I still forget things. I'm still pretty forgetful. But her present is there as a reminder. Don't put things off. Remember the important things. Make that phone call. Post that letter. Tell that person you love them.

There are fragments of time in which I still forget. She was Constant, and I catch myself thinking about her house - long ago sold and changed, the contents of the time capsule mostly chucked into a skip (it's covid, nobody can travel to help; no charity shops are open) as if the house is still there. Fragments in which I imagine bundling us into the car, disorganised and chaotic and driving to Yorkshire, seven hours away, to my roots and to her. She'll open the door, forever unchanged, and my children will rush into her arms, just as I used to, and run inside to play with the same toys on the same carpet in the same house with the same smells.

Fragments of time.

Snapshot memories.

Patricia 1928 - 2020