I spent my time in Wigan digging dad’s garden. It used to be mum’s garden but gardens don’t live after the one who loves them dies and it had turned scruffy, despite my desperate attempts to nurture it. Nature is simply too powerful and I couldn’t maintain it from 200 miles away and I’ve had to watch it slowly turn feral. I pulled out nettles and brambles from the back field last October which had found a joyous and unhindered path under the hawthorn hedge and turfed over the unkempt borders now invaded by pulmonaria, that velcro-leaved thug, and mounds of concrete-rooted geraniums. At least dad can cut grass. Just about.
But this time, I restored a part of the garden that had been hidden by dead leaves. There is a row of Cyprus trees along one edge of the top garden, in front of which mum had planted slow growing doily-leaved acers, each in its own precise square of large grey pebbles. It was a such a lovely part of the garden: neat, elegant. And over time, although the acers thrived, it became over grown and forgotten. This week I raked off the rubbish and dug out all the stones and smoothed the earth and set the pebbles back into their neat squares and lifted the moss so that fresh turf can be laid and gave the acers a hair cut and it made my cry with joy to see it back to near-perfection. There’s a bit of mum still there.
I think I need to get this off my chest……
Last Day Here
I knew that you wouldn’t come back.
I watched you go. Pale. Dark-eyed and dying.
Dad backed the car out of the drive and you went from me, not waving.
You wore the trousers that you had bought in Selfridges a year ago,
me with you, pregnant.
Laughing in the changing room. They fit!
Fine black wool. Wide legged with a heavy swing: elegant, perfect.
You charmed the assistant and a strange woman smiled a wide smile at you.
But that day they hung from your hips in loose folds
and no one noticed.
You were too hot although it was March
and a cold wind blew hard into the house from across the fields
through the open windows.
I wedged open the doors with cushions to stop them banging.
Your skin like aged parchment, yellowing.
Always tanned and glowing before.
We put our cheeks together, mother and daughter, and I felt your bones.
I fed my daughter while you slept
and then lay down next to you like a child,
my head on your shoulder, trying not to touch your body,
in case it hurt,
your liver gun shot with cancers.
You had nice skin once.
It always turned brown in spring after gardening started
and your fingernails were always broken and rimmed with soil
and your finger skin grained green.
I stroked your arm.
Bring me my bible, you said, the black leather one, the one I had as a child.
I forgot the first time.
But I put it in your case the day we left without you and read what you had read.
I pulled your case through the foyer
into a clear blue morning, sun splintered,
my daughter strapped to my chest, head nodding, small socked foot in my hand.
I had your gold bracelet in my pocket, its smooth yellow discs, limp.
I couldn’t take off your wedding ring.
Couldn’t even try.
Couldn’t find your other nightdress anywhere either;
best to throw it away, the nurse had said.