Everything can change in a heart beat, which must be about how long it takes for a heart to stop. One minute you are making an early lunch in a sun filled kitchen, the next you are taking a panic-stricken phone call and you are collapsing.
In a blue skied summer at the end of an August I held a month old baby girl in my arms and watched hot air balloons drift across the sky. Look, I murmured, see the balloons, so pretty. In the very early morning warmth they made soft whooshes of sound as their fires lifted them. The moment was all about you and me, but it is a moment you will only have remembered if I told you, so that as you got older you could dream it. Maybe you saw pictures. You a tiny baby and me a young mother, smiling, the balloons drifting over our house, so that it became your your memory as well. I know that my Father was staying, and he came to the room and saw us together, and maybe he shares our memory to.
Our house was painted bright colours. We were young. The hallway was a deep red, the paintwork mid blue. The kitchen was ochre yellow, made from pigment I bought and rubbed in so that it was patchy and soft and bright. On the wall a vibrant poster of a dancing spanish couple, and clay faces of mexicans with bushy eyebrows and huge grins. Navy painted wooden cupboards your father made lined one wall, and the floor boards were a worn black. Rickety glass doors led to a courtyard, pebbled, pots of geraniums bright against terracotta walls, a private bright hot sun trap. We used to sunbathe naked, and when I was pregnant with you — a great mountainous pregnancy — I would lie feeling your tiny feet and hands beating against my overfed ribs as I read, shading my eyes, waiting for you.
When you were a baby, some Gambian friends came, playing their guitars on a sunny morning. I held you and swayed to their music. We were all smiling, or that is how I remember it.
Your father bought a table made from salvaged thick pine and it was on that table and around that table that our family centred. You ate on it and painted on it. Now, twenty years later, there are still smudges of cerise and bright yellow underneath where you must have sneakily smudged off painty hands. When I see them I can see you, small and soft haired, painting, smudging, grinning. Your father and I danced on that table, he pulling me up after him, kicking away beer bottles, everyone laughing, and we danced a country tune together. We were good at dancing, people would watch us and clap. He was better than me, but he taught me to dance in the same way he taught me to live and laugh, and to cry.
I think then that I thought I was maybe the luckiest and happiest person. Over the years as life happened to us, the music quietened, our houses got duller and duller, whiter and whiter, pale. I liked the calm feel of these quiet spaces, but early on you fought against my white walls, wanting red, the brightest pinks, rich colours, velvet and gold fabrics. The first bedroom colour you chose was a deep shocking pink. Later you had rich velvet curtains and gold fabrics draped, blood red walls. I am making a garden of reds and purples for you, and I think of you as I plan it, as I think of you almost every moment of every day.
The candle by my bed is still alight. This morning I woke up at 4, thinking of you. At 6 it seems time to start the day and I call your sleepy sister.
When you were about 10 and your sister 6, we went to Morocco. I wanted to take you everywhere, show you everything. The day we left Marrakesh to come home, we had to get up at 5 in the morning. I woke up before you and your sister and went into the still dark courtyard, tile walled, open above to the soft blue black sky. There were candles everywhere, and I lit every one of them, so that when you woke up, you could stumble into a magical day. You and your sister sat, eating croissants, quiet and sleepy haired. There are things I did as a mother that I am proud of, and this is one, but there is no one but me now to remember it. Your sister was too young and you are gone
I am waiting for a sign from you, but I have not even dreamt of you. Sometimes there is a dark movement around me, a shadow slipping, and I think it must be you, but then it is gone. You are gone. Every night I light a candle. I leave it burning so that it can light your way home to me.
I love you moons
I am sitting at a kitchen table. Your Dad is here, your stepmother, me. We are drinking coffee. The sun is shining. Your sister and your brother wander in and out, wanting to know what is happening and not wanting to know.
There are choices to be made. I know that you would go for the black and shocking pink or red zebra stripe, but I can’t do that, and neither can your Dad. All I can think of is Sophia Loren; Mahler; Julie Christie; Death in Venice; Don’t look now. Maybe because of your long dark hair and your very dark sunglasses, maybe because of an underlying horror, maybe because I feel as if I am in the middle of a film. I am only playing this part, the part of a mother who has lost her daughter, soon it will stop. But it doesn’t stop and we choose a pale greenish blue cover on a simple coffin and all I can think of are huge bunches of Arum lilies. It seems I can’t leave Venice. I have never been to Venice, although it was one of our next stops, Italy was on our minds, we were going there to celebrate your twenty first birthday in two months time.
The funeral director is a true Bristol boho woman. Big glasses, loud shirt, lime green or orange, or neon orange, with zebras on it, or something zoological. It seems with funerals you never quite get your way, you get what you are offered and you’re way too distraught to argue. I want rain, dark brooding trees, you and me, utter sadness. But this is not about me, its about you, and it’s also becoming apparent it’s about everyone else. I have to stop myself thinking of weddings, stop myself thinking of your graduation ceremony, stop myself thinking that I would have wanted to buy you a car, or help with the deposit on a flat, or send you travelling. I would have wanted to do anything but what we are doing. The boho woman is snappy. She seems irritated at my lack of togetherness, as if I should know what I want, as if planning the funeral of my daughter is normal, as if this is an everyday occurrence. I keep wanting to shout that I shouldn’t be here, this shouldn’t be happening. This really shouldn’t be happening.
You are about eighteen months old, your hair is wavy and soft pale brown. I am pushing you in your blue pushchair. We are not far from home, walking pavements of grey. The morning is a washed out blue, I am remembering it as autumny or maybe pale winter. Moon you say, in a soft and slightly unsteady voice. You point a small finger and I look up and see a half moon above us, hanging palest white against the blue. It is one of your very first words. I will always remember it as your first, although I am never quite sure if this is true. Yes I say, it’s the moon. I love you to the moon and back, I say. We giggle. Loving you to the moon and back became what I said to you, and then what I said, and still say, to your sister. I love you to the moon and back. I love you moons.