Vigil For A Mother (for Michael McDowell)

The last time I was a mother, I was waving Darnley off in his dinghy. Polished mahogany flashed under an early autumn sun, the red of his sail slowly melting into the scarlet wall of maples on the great lake’s far side.

I’ve learnt when a parent loses a child, she becomes something undefined. Losing a breast in ‘89 ungendered me – something clothing or surgery couldn’t undo – but when life cut my boy from me, I couldn’t even call myself a mother.

So now I wait. To be a mother again.

In the study, I wait. In the kitchen where countless meals for one have been cooked, as I look vacantly over the sandy shore to that great mirrored firmament, I wait. For the little white V, for the whipping slap of cord on weatherproof fabric. For the ting-ting of wire on an aluminium mast.

But Darnley doesn’t return.

And despite the storm-washed flotsam the plovers beachcomb on the mean shore, there’s no sign of wreckage.
After seven decades, his little arms must be tired from rowing back to me.

I wait. I’ll always wait.

I waited in the lounge when Sam – unable to carry the burden of blame, or continue his own vigil – left, leaving the lake house, his son, where I could not…

And now, as words and memories of eighty-something years haemorrhage from my mind, I only remember one thing:

You have to wait.

Time erodes my brain by stealth, like the wavelets washing the shore clean; my wedding day, first car, and last Christmas are sanded away, till eventually…I know I’m waiting, but what for?

And there, sitting like a lone red leaf amongst the now bare winter trunks, a distant red triangle bobs towards me, and an unrecognised word comes, unbidden.


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