So, it’s the end of the month. The end of the month and I still can’t think of anything to say. Forgive me for breaking the pseudo fourth wall here (“breaking the screen”?) but there are a million stories about my mother and I tell them all the time. They segue into one another perfectly: mentioning her fascination with the puffins (“but they’re only this big” physical approximation of size, “and they live in little holes and they hop, hop, hop” cue demonstrative hopping motion) flows effortlessly into the time she ran squealing towards the seahorse display at the zoo, again mystified by their small stature, and then spun around in delight to find that her fourteen year old daughter, unsuccessful in her quest to be swallowed by the floor, had slunk off to the reptile house. Of course the next logical story to tell is the one about the fashion court in the museum, the demand that her little girl come and look at “all the little shoesies!” while art students looked on and sniggered and the daughter - slightly older, a lot wiser - melted into unstoppable fits of giggles that lasted the entire day… on and on and on.
There are far too many stories to tell, no way to build up a full picture – I have no ability to marry the image of the shattered woman teetering on the edge of her eventual break down (desperately talking to her still drunk husband, baby in the back seat, trying to keep him awake for the drive through the snow because even if they died right there it would still have ended better than staying still) with the girl who rang me to chatter on and on about a party where “the men were taking salt from a woman’s neck and then drinking tequila and then they had a slice of lime from her…” (the phone was dropped and tortured cries of “my mother was doing body shots” rang out. It was the first time she’d tried tequila), this doesn’t fit again with the overgrown kid who insisted on our Friday night ritual (of sitting under a duvet eating toffee popcorn and cheap chocolate while we watched Friends and Will & Grace.), who hasn’t forgiven me for letting her watch that episode of Buffy that still gives her nightmares. I just don’t have the words.
I could talk for days about my mother. I could talk for days to my mother, in fact I frequently do. I think my record for calling her is something like seven times in two hours, in my defence I was probably cooking something and thus called every time I forgot how much of a certain thing I was meant to add because adding half a pint of stock when you should add a pint and a half makes for really crunchy soup. Crunchy soup which I served to my poor sick mother, my poor sick mother who had enough confidence in her twelve year old daughter to tell her that while she loved said daughter more than the sun and the stars no way in hell was she eating that. She was really ill that summer. Not ill like she used to be, unable to leave the house, unable to be left alone with me because of the footprints left by the other crazy women towards things she couldn’t think about, but laid up in bed with flu so bad that she could barely focus on the television.
That was the summer I started reading to her. Ever since I was a child she’d read to me and that summer suddenly everything switched – from then on I read to her. Mainly books I knew she’d love but would never get around to reading but sometimes books I wanted to talk about or books I wanted to savour. (I’m the reason that she can’t watch the Harry Potter films, none of the female characters sound like me. To her I am not only War and Granny Weatherwax but also Lyra and Apple Core. In the same way she will always be Matilda and the White Witch.)
I still read to her in my own way; I send snippets of blog posts that I write to entertain her while she’s working, I have books I think she should read posted to her house, I call her and read her paragraphs of newspaper articles while she cooks. She reads to me too; she sends stories about tattoos or genetic engineering to me, calls me up to read from her course catalogue so we can choose our next subject together (never her subject, always ours), reads me sections of her latest essay and goads me into critique.
We tell each other our shared stories (when we lost my bag in Venice or the time I stole my father’s phone and called her from France, dodging him for hours playing cat and mouse around the edges of a rental cottage all the while providing a running commentary and giggling at my sneakiness) and spin tales of our separate lives (the events that led to me calling her from the station at 8am on a Sunday morning, her frustrations with my step-brother, the bickering of my flatmates, the order of the seeds in her allotment) but somehow they always seem to converge again.
Maybe that’s why I can’t think of a story to tell about my mother, any story about her is a story about my whole life from beginning to end, almost impossible to untangle. Every story about her tangents off at a thousand points never really ending and eventually forgetting where it even starts. So the shattered fragments of stories above will have to suffice, quick flashes of an extraordinary woman, with the mentality of a twelve year old and wisdom well beyond her years, who is only now figuring out who she wants to be.