My friend William talked to me yesterday about the death of his father. Being a migrant and losing a parent is a strange kind of loss. It’s not like you can no longer drop in for a cup of tea. They were already on the other side of the world, awake when you were sleeping, and asleep as you went through your day. For ten years I lived with an inbuilt sense of when it was morning or evening in England, a kind of body-clock calculation of “a good time to call”, that shifted through the seasons, as her Spring and our Autumn blended together in odd conversations about gardening at each other’s time of year.
Before she died, I used to wonder what it would feel like to look up from some middle of the day activity and realise she had gone from there, rather than simply that she wasn’t here, and it wasn’t a good time to call. Would the planet seem emptier, or bigger, or something?
For some people, evidently, this is the moment when the opportunity for conversation is over. That’s how William puts it. But I think it’s different for me. We all still seem to talk about her in the present tense, as though she’s still up there, and we can call her this evening and talk about the compost.
If I was going to call her today, I’d mention that it’s been raining on the escarpment and Dora astonished everyone by achieving a sort of crazed topiary on the bush I can’t name, but that I once found by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetary. She secretly likes gardening, but she doesn’t want anyone to know, so she does it when no one is looking.
I’d also mention that my compost is backed up because the vegetable patch needs a complete structural overhaul, and now I have bags of things waiting to go into the compost, and the compost is so full it can barely breathe. And I have frangipani rust.