Joshie’s mum dropped me home.
I knocked on the door, speckled brown and white and grey where the paint had peeled. I remember that the doorknob was in the shape of a goblin head, from the last owners. It scared me, with a snouty nose and smirking mouth clenched around the copper hoop. I knocked and the door swung open, creaking like all those horror movies Joshie’s older sister and her friends watched, but it was really just that mummy hadn’t oiled the door, and I walked in.
I don’t remember the colour of the walls, or the pictures hanging on them but I know that the floor was cold wood in whorls and ovals that my mummy said was a tree’s inside. Strange. For me sound lingers and sight fades, and so even now I hear the pud pud pud of socks on wood, because mummy was always very strict about the no shoes inside rule, and I remember my voice shouting mummy mummy mummy mummy .
And I remember the silence, but maybe that isn’t something you can remember, not something there, it’s an absence, a hole in the fabric of noise and life. Worry crept through the rip of silence and into my heart, and its conjoined twin fear, and both lodged deep and permanent claws in my heart. If you can, imagine this moment as the transition from innocence to terror, like Eden after the fall. Or if you want, if you can, insert another metaphor that rings more true. I was never a good writer, and now my brain is being eaten all up by the tumour, so even less. I revert to my high school cliches and metaphors and similes when I write. But I digress. My purpose is to tell this story.
Far back along the warped trails of remembrance the pink, plump hand of a child turned the knob of the kitchen door and went in. And there was someone on the floor, a person. It was my mummy with her flowy-long red hair which she let me twist and pretend I was a hairdresser, but my lovely happy-face glow-eye mummy was not moving and she was not laughing and the chips for supper were spilled all round her head going soggy and my mummy didn’t like soggy chips. I went over and touched her cheek, because she hated people touching her face, but she still didn’t wake up and her chest was a crumpled empty shell.
In school we had a teacher who wore glasses that made her eyes look like big bug eyes and she was teaching us about science and how everything was kept alive by a heart which is inside your ribs and which is really for pumping blood and not feeling love like everyone thought.
If my mummy was not well maybe she needed a new heart.That was what I thought.
I remember that I didn’t want to leave her alone all by herself in the hard kitchen, but I went and got some paper and a crayon from the crayon basket in the playroom. The playroom had plastic chairs striped like candy cane. It was an orange crayon and I hoped that was all right because I couldn’t find the red one (which is proper heart-colour) and I sat and drew a heart. A child’s heart, two bumps and two lines, and then I put it on my mummy where I thought her heart was and I gave her a kiss, because that’s what princes do to wake up princesses.
Her skin was very cold, and her makeup smudged when I kissed her. Then she woke up.
And that was it.
My red mummy with red lips and red hair and red heart and she gave me a kiss, lots and lots of kisses like she always does and she didn’t mind that the chips were spilled.
“ I must have tripped, and banged my head.”
That was what she said. It was probably a heart attack. That was what got her the second time round, years later, when I was too big and grown up and far away to help.
And that was it.
We had goldfish, two, and they were in a big glass square filled with water. Sometimes I would watch how the light was reflected through the corners of the aquarium, or stick my hand in and the fish would nibble on my fingers. I was older than before when it happened. I could tell the fish was dead when I saw it that morning, but it was so pretty and gold floating above the fronds of weed and I didn’t want it to be dead so I drew it a heart, just a tiny one on the corner of paper I ripped of the shopping list. I pushed the paper underwater and held it against the fish’s heart with the tip of my thumb. The fish rolled over and shimmied away and the scrap of paper floated down to the bottom of the pond bleeding blue ink and now I knew.
It wasn’t magic or god, at least I don’t think so. It just was. That was the last time I used it, but I saw dead bodies many times more. I worked in the maternity ward, and every squalling, flailing life was a miracle, but sometimes the tiny bodies were still and my hand itched for a pen and paper but I did not, even though my own heart was aching. I knew that I could not bring them all back. I would have to choose, and as I am merely mortal I flinched from such a terrible decision, so I did nothing. That was when I learned that there is no Good and Evil, no capital letter Devil. There is only human choices.
And now, many years later, I’m in a bed where the mattress is hard and thin, everything is sterile and white and I stare down at these little black marks on the paper that I’m writing and I know that when the sight leaves my eyes and my voice leaves this world there will be no one to draw a clumsy heart on a paper and hold it to my silent chest.