Ah, back for the second instalment? Well, get yourself a cuppa or a glass of wine, settle yourself down and we’ll begin…
I left you yesterday at the point where I realised that the person I was following in my dream-walk was my long-deceased mother, which had surprised me. You too, I hope, or else I’m not relating this well! So, here we are on a suburban street in Northern England (in my dream) following a woman who turns out to be my mother.
I was thirteen when she died. Whilst I realise that there’s never a good age for a person to lose their mother, I think thirteen is possibly the very worst age: for one, it’s universally recognised as an uncannily unlucky number, a fact that wasn’t lost on me at the time. My mother had been a remarkably superstitious person and had always had issues with the number itself. Furthermore, she had been born on a Friday the 13th and I think felt the shadow of Kabala throughout her life. Possibly more pertinently is that this is the exact age at which girls leave their childhood selves behind, questioning every element of authority and most particularly, that paragon of primary ascendance, one’s mother.
Thirteen year old girls can be universally unpleasant towards their mama’s, answering back, calling them out on every issue under the sun and being generally incredibly disdainful of everything their mother believes to be holy. I was extraordinarily and unremittingly rebellious at that age, for a host of reasons that I’ll save for another time. Mean-spirited, self-centred and inglorious to a fault, I was a horrible thirteen year old whose utterly egotistical world crashed spectacularly when the person who created me abandoned me to my fate. Of course, as an adult I understand that was not the case, but as a thirteen-year-old, all I could see was that she had left me, without any recourse for repairing the damage I had done by being so obnoxiously objectionable. It was a sobering slap in the face.
So here she was, walking in front of me. No wonder then at the depth of my longing to see her face. To touch her arm. To see her twinkly-eyed smile. To feel her lovingly stroke my hair, pushing it behind my ears as she had done so often when I was a child. To tell her I was so sorry. That I’d spent my lifetime being sorry.
Aching, in a place so deep inside that I cannot fathom, that I hadn’t even know existed, I hurried my pace to be with her sooner. The set of her shoulder altered almost imperceptibly, she was aware someone was stalking her. Her pace increased too. Within just a few seconds, or maybe a whole lifetime, I was running after her, chasing her down countless streets, across roads – fortunately unpopulated with vehicles – through open parks and down winding alleyways.
I secretly marvelled at her agility and speed, which was impressive for someone so long departed from this world.
Finally, she stopped. She still had her back to me but she was now almost motionless. Her shoulders lifted and fell as she took a deep breath. I was so close to her now that I could smell her perfume – Yardley’s Lily-of-the-valley. It was overwhelming, threatening to entirely envelope me.
My mother had never been a classic beauty. She was forty years old by the time I was born, had lived a very hard life through many traumatic experiences, including the Second World War. She had borne at least three children. And she had always worked very, very hard. So by the time I knew her, each wrinkle, each line on her face represented a struggle to simply get through another day. There had been many days of struggles. I remembered her face being etched, in some places very deeply, with experiences – she used to say that each line was a ‘laughter line’ so she must have spent a great deal of her time amused. Her beauty had always been concentrated in her scintillating hazel eyes.
As she turned, I found myself opening my mouth and guilelessly gaping, in complete, total awe. Her face, familiar and yet unknown to me, simply shone, brilliantly. Bedazzling me into a stunned stupor. She was an angel. An actual, corporeal, proper, in-the-flesh, truly amazing angel.
I reached out and caught her arm, which she raised from her side to meet mine. Thunderstruck at this completely unexpected tactility, I realised that her hand was warm, it was real and she was holding my hand. I stared at our entwined hands in marvellous awe for some time. I could feel her warmth spreading through my arm, up to my shoulder and then deeper into my soul. I was ready to hear her speak.
‘I’m so sorry’ I began to say.
But the words faded as my lips formed them. She put her finger to them and all movement ceased.
‘I have something for you, Lillibet.’ As she spoke, I visualised a hundred tiny tinkling bells, the sound of a refreshing waterfall tumbling its freezing cargo over centuries of softened rocks. I hadn’t been called by her pet name for twenty one years, at least four life-times ago.
She reached inside her coat and produced a beautifully wrapped gift, all soft, tiffany tissue with silver and blue ribbons. She paused for a brief moment to observe the Chinese tradition of handing important offerings to a recipient with two hands, showing simultaneous humility for oneself as the giver as well as respect for the beneficiary.
Perplexed, but with enormous pleasure, I took possession of the precious gift. It was surprisingly heavy, about the size of a rugby ball and warm to the touch.
‘What is it?’ I enquired, wishing to engage her in a longer conversation.
‘That’s all, for now.’ She smiled and added ‘Look after it with the very greatest care, my little one.’ She tucked my hair behind my ear and then she turned and melted into the ether.
‘Come back!’ I begged, the tears streaming down my face. I hadn’t had a chance to ask her so many questions that had plagued me for so long. I wanted to keep hearing her voice. I wanted to keep smelling her perfume.
But she was gone.
I think that’s the end of part 2 … in part 3 we find out what the gift is. And how I discovered that. You won’t want to miss that.