I do remember her from those years. Hair the colour of chestnuts and lipstick a vivid smear. She was taller than you are today, but the same smile. Laughed in that way of throwing her head back and shaking from the inside out. Wore a perfume the tracks of my memory can no longer find.
Tucked you in tight. Chased you in pyjamas and pulled you to her lap – come that time of evening you wanted no-one else. Sang you lullabies, stroked your face, and closed the door running tired fingers through her hair. Complained to me there were not enough hours in the day. She sat late at night, columns and letters – diaries for a time – at a scored wooden desk drinking tea, and of the weekends, wine.
Moved us from a semi in town to the edge of the land. Stood by the window in that cottage only metres from the sand. Whistled, she told me, to the tide. Walked on the beach and lit a fire in the blackened iron grate come night. We danced there sometimes – on the tiled floor of the kitchen by refrigerator light.
She loved me, I’m sure of that. She loved you with an ease I had never witnessed around anyone else. Dressed you in your apron on a Sunday afternoon. Made you cakes and watched you lick the bowl and baby wooden spoon.
It broke my heart to lose her – and it utterly bewildered you.
Letters came, in the first few months, elaborate apologies and rambling words. Time and space and excuses I’ve long since forgot. I didn’t keep them, I’m sorry for you that I tore them up – but try and understand how their very existence ripped me apart.
It’s been over 20 years since I saw her handwriting land upon the mat.
And the urge to stamp, to burn or tear or shred the thing apart. Toss it to sea and wash my hands of ink and salt and decades now of hurt.
But this time it’s your name I read in her curling, handwritten font.
And more than plain resolve, more than days and nights and years of coping on our own. It takes every ounce of love for you that I have ever known.
Against my better judgement, against the brother and son that I’ve become, against her late incoming tide –
I give you back our Mum.
Helen lives on the West Coast with her husband and children. She is a graphic designer who started writing and has been unable to stop. Helen co-edits the Britmums Poetry Round-up and has grand designs on a stone cottage by the sea. Helen’s poetry can be found on her website: All At Sea and her twitter handle is: @ellieallatsea
Photograph courtest of PublicDomainPictures.net