Sunday, August 17, 2014

Memory is a testy beast

Three days before my mother died, I lost my watch, and not for the first time.  It is a watch I have worn for at least fifteen years.  When I could not find it in any of the likely places, I took this loss as an omen, a sign of change ahead and bought myself a new watch in honour of my mother. 

Three days after we buried her, I found my old watch again, this time in the freezer.  It must have slipped off in the action of lifting the freezer lid and it rested there on top of the puff pastry until I saw it again last night when my husband was making lamb pies for dinner.  

The watch was still ticking time, if not a little cold, as cold as my mother’s body when I had leaned over her coffin and touched her hand the night before her funeral. 

The funeral parlour people had laid my mother out for a viewing in a blouse and skirt my sisters had chosen for her.  My mother's hands were interlinked, as if in prayer, in a way they were not the day she died.  Then they were stretched out in front of her on the patch work quilt the hospital had provided in a bid to make her look as if she were in an ordinary bed at home.

My sister told me later that they massage people’s limbs after death when embalming them into more fitting shapes.  But the woman in the coffin was no longer my mother.  Her smile, stretched tight across her thin lips, looked too wide by half and her face had been compressed. The sight of her left me cold.  

I could not shed a tear for my mother then in the funeral parlour because the wax work figure in her place reminded me of someone I once knew, a colleague, whom I was not fond of, and so I chose not to stay too long with my mother’s body in the coffin, but to enjoy my memories of her as she had lived.

I last lost my watch a few years ago in Brighton, England, when I was there for a conference.  It seemed an omen then, too, to lose a watch among the brightly lit stalls along the Brighton pier or down among the pebbles on the beach, so different from our sand here in Australia. 

I found my watch again that time, too, this time in the bottom of my bag.  But I will never find my mother again and it takes some getting used to.  This sense that she will not return, that I can never again ask her questions about her life or mine. 

And memory is such a testy beast.  The week before my mother died I went to collect some items from the drycleaner, most of them were ready but a few had not been completed and so I said I’d collect them on my next visit, which I did. 

I now find my trousers are missing, loved trousers, black with an embossed check in the fabric.  They must still be at the drycleaners, but no, the drycleaner reckons today, I must have misplaced them at home.

I tell the drycleaner – I’m a long term customer and know him well, as well as anyone can know a drycleaner – my mother died and this past week has been unsettled. 

Then I regret the telling.  He might think I’m a bit unhinged.  It lets him off the hook.  No longer his responsibility to look for my trousers among the rows of plastic coated offerings, all attached to a number.  None attached to my number. 

I tell him, I’ll look again at home.  Maybe like my watch, but unlike my mother, my trousers will show up soon. 

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