New Prose – When The Stars Sleep
Your hair is a blonde mist on a white satin pillow that you didn’t ask for. You wanted to be wrapped in one of your new Egyptian cotton sheets and laid in the ground. You wanted your backbone resting against the sweet smelling innards of the earth, so it could digest you easily, then rest. But you also knew what Mum wanted, and you knew that she would be the one who would struggle the most when you were gone. So you said ‘I want a church and stained glass windows. I want the ceremony early in the morning to catch the new sun. I want hymns and full pews and real handkerchiefs stuffed up sleeves.’ You knew Mum would like this. You knew that she would want the place filled with light and crying and God’s name. It would make it easier on her. You had enough patience for six people, and I loved you for that. I loved how you would dream wild and big, but still step back from arguments, pull down your tongue when things started to get fiery. I remember when you scratched your head and a spider fell onto the front page of The Guardian. You shuffled it into your palm and put it on the windowsill. You opened the window a crack so it had a choice. You said to me once, ‘I don’t know where I’d be without the dawn.’ You were always up to see the sun rise. You would put a deckchair out in the garden so you had a front seat view. There was always tea when I’d come downstairs. It was always hot, never stewed. I didn’t know how you did it, and I never asked. I didn’t want to know your secret.
Nobody has touched your face yet, or your hands. But I draw four fingers across your hair. It doesn’t feel like the hair I would press my face into and fall asleep in. Your cheekbones are steep directions. The lady who did your makeup made you look more like a movie star than my Grandmother. One time you said to me ‘sometimes the mountain forgets.’ You wanted to prepare me for your new memory. A memory that wasn’t as good as the old one, the one you had when I was still wetting the bed and wearing chocolate to town. You said ‘sometimes you’ll need to forgive the mountain.’ And I knew what you meant. And I said ‘that’s okay.’ There are lots of things you didn’t tell me. I know this because you would open your mouth and a sound would come out that was half-way between a sigh and a word. When you started to stop leaving the house as often and spend more time in your chair, I would imagine you feeling sick scared of death. That feeling you get when you feel as though vomit is coming but your stomach is empty. That feeling you get of your hands not feeling like your hands, or that your head has come away from the neck. You used to balance me on your shoulders and feed the birds at the same time. That was the space in time when you could say ‘I’m his Grandmother,’ and you wouldn’t have to put down the shopping bags to do so. I don’t remember you complaining, not once. I remember when I said by back was iron stiff and sore, and you rubbed it with oil. I remember your fingers eating candle flames.
The church smells like a French market place on a Wednesday in spring. You asked for apricots and figs to be set out, so people could leave you with a sweet taste in their mouths. One day you told me what life was. You said ‘it’s the sight of an Arctic fox and making love on a bed of heather.’ I miss your shadow. These last years I didn’t stand in the shadow of a mountain, I consumed it. But it was the last thing I wanted to do. Even when I had to duck down to meet your eyes, you would say ‘don’t be afraid. I’ll die when the stars were sleeping, and that’s still a long way away.’ But the stars aren’t even tired yet and you are gone.