There’s something that’s been bothering me for the last…how long? Two and a half years probably. My mother. Well, more accurately, my mother’s ashes. She died nearly three years’ ago and at first…well... Her long cruel illness, her awful death…I simply couldn’t think about it. I buried (except…but no...) all memory of it.
She’s been residing at the funeral ‘home’ (Home? Really? Surely not?) Funeral 'parlour'? Interesting. An ‘audience chamber’ – where we talk with the dead? Anyhow. Whatever. It wasn’t right. I hated the idea of her there, sitting on some shelf with the rest of the dispossessed, like baked bean cans in the supermarket.
My family is small and far-flung. We got as far as deciding that we’d scatter (rest act) her at Cerne Abbas, where she’d lived as a child, on Giant Hill (which she loved). Which bit, exactly, we hadn’t decided. I rather favoured his erect knob (as that would have amused her). But anyhow, we didn’t agree a date and months passed and then (time flies) years. I started getting perturbed, a vague psychic wrongness.
I asked Adrian if he would go to pick her up. He said yes but forgot. Again and again and again.
Why didn’t I go myself? Well, because the place gives me the willies. I’m not squeamish, not remotely, and I don’t get spooked easily, but there’s something about the suburban banality, the tin-tacky denial of a funeral home/parlour that sends shivers down my spine. Anyhow, it had become a point of principle. I don’t often ask Adrian to do stuff for me – I’m not the helpless type. This was symbolic though. A bit like the skirting board. But that’s another story, from twenty years’ ago… Yeah, I have a long memory when it suits me. :-)
So you could have knocked me down with a feather yesterday.
‘I’m fetching your mother today.’
‘I’ve phoned them up. They’ll have her ready.’
So he dropped me off at the health shop in town and reappeared twenty minutes later. I had a large bag of muesli, soya yoghurt, tofu and a bar of Green and Black’s. He had…nothing.
‘Where is she?’ I hissed as the guy behind the counter weighed the muesli.
‘Oh. In the car.’
The guy smiled benignly.
‘What’s she in?’
The guy looked puzzled.
‘Huh? Oh…don’t worry,’ said Adrian. She’s in a bag.’
‘A bag??’ I held up the muesli. ‘My mother’s in a bag?’
The guy hastily gave me my change and busied himself with re-arranging herbal cough pastilles.
‘Noooo.’ Adrian shook his head vehemently. ‘Not a bloody paper bag. It’s more of a pouch.’
A pouch? It was getting worse. I began to wish we’d never started this.
‘Anyhow, if we’re going to watch James play rugby, we’d better go. Look…’ He smiled reasonably. ‘…she’s coming too. She’d like that.’
I frowned. Was he really suggesting I stand at the touchline with my mother tucked under my arm…in a pouch?
Anyway. We got home eventually and James sprinted off leaving Adrian and I to unpack the car. Needless to say, neither of us had told our son that his grandmother was in the boot, in pieces, in a pouch.
‘Well?’ he said. ‘Are you going to look?’ He nudged his head towards the boot.
‘Your mother, for pity’s sake.’
Oh. So I looked, eyes half-closed, squinting, wincing. And there it was. A sort of drawstring bag, a bit like one of those fabric doorstops. Maroon. Velour. It looked vaguely Christmassy, in a sort of tacky way. Who chose maroon, I wondered? Is there a catalogue that funeral home/parlour people flick through, choosing colours, fabrics? Could you get other choices? Perky gingham? Jaunty Cath Kidston? Conservative tweed? Why didn’t we get Timorous Beasties, FFS?
I picked it up. She weighed more than I would have suspected. I undid the bow, opened it up like a present. Inside sat a grey plastic container. Like some kind of chemical container. Industrial. Banal. That’s it? A bald label. So you know you’ve got the right one, I suppose.
‘It’s not her, you know,’ said Adrian.
‘I know. Well…’
‘No,’ he repeated, firmly. ‘It’s not her. She’s up here…’ He pointed at his head.
‘What? She’s possessing…’ My eyes widened. No. Let’s not go there. My mother is most certainly not possessing my husband.
He frowned and shook his head. Dislodging the thought? Because, of course, you don’t need actually to speak the words for them to reach the psyche. ‘I meant in our memories. By the way, do you still want her in the drinks cabinet?’
‘Absolutely. She’d like that. In amongst the spirits, of course. Next to the gin, probably. Up above the Knob Creek.’
And there she is. In the Oak Room (made of pine). By the fireside. In the drinks cabinet with the weird carvings (which may be oak, come to think of it). On the top shelf (of three – nearest to heaven?). She’s living with me… as she always wanted. And, you know what? It feels good, it really does.