Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: Mortality

Friday, November 09, 2007


Limbo time. In England floods are waited for but don't seem to be happening. Back here things are hazy, sunny but relatively windless; as if the whole place is just holding its breath. Probably you need to have lived here a while to be aware how strange it is.

Granny's head meantime is in a different yet similar kind of limbo. Mortality is the name of this one. It' s one of the odd things about growing older that you start living more in the day; as you should do. It's not worth saying any more 'when I grow up' - too late now to think you ever will grow up, really. At the same time, whole life spans arrange themselves around your head; not just your own, other peoples. Memory on memory, whole processions from birth to....

The last ten days started with Dina's death: there were two more then, two Thursdays in succession. The first was of a unique maddening irreplaceable South African journalist, economist, campaigner, exiled in England for many years, and bringing up her children in the London suburb where Granny brought up hers. Granny, along with child in a buggy, was delivering Labour Party leaflets one day, a means she had of diverting herself from domesticity and the domestically buried people all round her. She had just turned away from one house when she heard the clattering of wheels, swung round to see this woman haring along behind her pushing her infant in a buggy too. . 'Come and be my friend,' she panted, more or less, and so they did become friends, propping up each other's kitchen counters and talking about everything except domesticity. It didn't seem to matter that their mental worlds - politics on the one hand, literature on the other - were so very different; their children grew up to be best friends, still haven't lost touch. Granny and her friend drifted apart as lives changed. The friend went back to South Africa at the end of apartheid. Granny too went on her way around that time, the way you do - heard only of her friend via their daughters: though she did manage to meet up with her once the summer before last, thank goodness. And now she's dead - cancer might have killed her in the long run, had it got too much of a hold: who knows. No one ever will know because the doctors got in there first and botched the operation to try and cure it. Something you hear of happening to other people, but not to your friends. No, never.

The second death, yesterday, was that of Granny's erstwhile sister-in-law, her children's aunt. What with this and that - divorce is like that - she hadn't seen much of her in recent years either. But she has a vivid memory of her sister-in-law arriving aged eighteen in the dining-room where her family and Granny - then her brother's girlfriend -were eating dinner. She was wearing shoes with small heels and a limp and very ordinary cotton frock of the kind worn then, but looking unbelievably beautiful -think young Barbara Streisand but better - glowing at the prospect of her date. Until her mother got to work on her, that is, demolishing her via a stream of vicious comments. Granny can't remember the words, can't begin to reproduce them, but she can remember -too well - their effects. Naive as she was, in love, dazzled by this lively, articulate, slightly raffish family, wholly different from her own, Granny did manage, even then, to recognise jealousy when she saw it. Not just stepmothers, she learned that night can be jealous of too beautiful daughters. Poor daughters.

Though she did produce a pair of wonderful children, her sister-in-law's life was never of the happiest. Granny picked up the pieces a time or two. Last time she saw her, at the memorial service for Granny's ex-husband, the beauty had disappeared as wholly as her mother might have wished it. And now she's dead of kidney failure, or something, aged 64. What a bummer.

Today, small pleasing details on the one hand: a warbler singing from a cactus, a chicken delighted by a melon slice: whole life times processing by on the other. They stretch back back back, then go on on on, into the dark dark dark ahead.

Beloved's solution is to work at re-arranging next year. Granny will just settle - today anyway - for looking at today. Or trying to. She stopped lamenting yesterday mostly, gave up hope of it, too, a long long time ago. Not that it has given up on her. Strange how the past can spring to its feet when you least expect, and bite you.

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