Cirencester Scene November 2017

Frost – by Sophie Livingston

I know it’s freezing. The grass splintered like glass beneath my feet as I walked in and the air is starched with ice but I think it will do us both good to go outside. I feel I am inhaling too many dying breaths in here – perhaps it’s just the automatic fragrance dispenser by the door. HAWAIIAN BREEZE MUM. Is it just me that finds something sinister about the need for so much scent in the air?

I know you can’t talk. The stroke saw to that.  Let’s just get your coat and hat and I’ll push you to the river. If we wrap the scarf high no one can see your face, which is good because, to be honest, it is a little frightening.  The left side has collapsed completely and when you try and talk globules of drool trickle out of the corner of your mouth. You were always so proud of your looks. Remember Father Docherty?  He used to say: “Fine looking woman your mother, Maureen. Let’s hope you grow up like her.”  How you bustled round Father Docherty. He must have smiled. All those good Catholic mothers competing to fill his teacup and all the time…

Our Joseph won’t be coming to visit. You knew that. How long is it since he last spoke to you?  Decades?  It’s funny isn’t it. Your own voice used to be so loud you never could hear ours, however hard we tried and now, you are such a good listener. I’m sure he sends his love. No, actually, I’m not sure that’s what he’d send.

Are you cold? It is bitter here and the water looks black under the ice. Guess who I met yesterday? Gilbert Roberts. After all these years.  Gilbert was my own glorious blast of heat. His home smelt of okra and bell peppers and his skin gleamed like aubergine. His mother wore clothes the colour of Caribbean summers and laughed like sin did not exist. Gilbert shone. Mum, and his sunshine warmed even my pinched heart.

How does it feel lying naked in the bath while that nice nurse washes you; her hands tenderly sponging your neck, your armpits your…

You used to say they carried diseases. That you didn’t like the thought of sitting on a toilet after one of them had used it. Have you told her that?

He said he begged to see me when he knew the baby was coming; before you handed me to the nuns; before they handed my baby to God knows who; before the hospital and the electric shock treatments; before the endless, barren years that led to now.

He told you he wanted to marry me.

You refused.

My goodness, the wind is bitter here. Is that a tear, or just the creeping cold?  Let’s loosen your jacket and unwrap the scarf. In an hour or so, I’ll run across the brittle grass and cry for help.