It was 20 years this summer, August 4th in fact, that my mother died. I still don't miss her. I still feel relieved. Sometimes I think that maybe now I can remember her more often, from a distance, with something like kindness, understanding, even respect. But I can go days, weeks, months without a single thought of her, even when I walk every day past the one picture of her, here on my wall (she is four years old) and I come across the odd thing or two of hers that I have kept, a cookbook, her binoculars, table linen. There is that box of her good china wrapped in newspaper down in the basement.
What did I expect? I don't know. There is no sense of loss, also no need for forgiveness.
She was beautiful for a while. Energetic, purposeful, interested. Clever, intelligent; in fact, educated is the word she would have used. Education, learning, reading, investigating, experimenting, testing, she valued all this above else. Always a book in her bag, another one open on her lap, a stack of them on her bedside table. She had no time for people who would not read, who could not remember the books they had read, could not recite at least one poem, never attempted to play at least one musical instrument, had no interest in science, birdwatching, plants, growing and harvesting. She could be harsh in her judgement of the - to her - ignorant masses. The people we were told to not mix with. To look down on.
Our relationship was never easy, marred by mutual disappointment.
Sunday afternoon walks, as a rule, mother, father, three children, along the street through the housing estate and across the main road into the forest or along the fields and back again. In our Sunday best. Parents deep in conversation, my father carrying my brother on his shoulders. I am almost five years old and have discovered words. On a fence post I stop and start to read out loud the sign the local authorities have put up as a warning after a rabid fox had been killed earlier that week. I have no idea what I am reading but I remember the excitement that these are printed words and that I can read them. When I finish, I can hear my mother laughing behind my back. Laughing at me and my stuttering attempts of proper reading. I feel ashamed, foolish and run ahead, my ears now roaring with her laughter, I know I have done something that was not expected and that I made a fool of myself. We all walk home. Nothing is said.
A year later. It is her birthday. I have made her a little book. A graphic novel. Four pages about a rabbit under a cherry tree picking flowers. Red cherries, blue flowers, long rabbit ears. That kind of thing. It's a bit smudged and crinkled but I run downstairs as soon as I wake up to show her and to be the first to sing the birthday song. And there she is at the bottom of the stairs and I jump into her arms and she laughs and then she puts her hand on my forehead, you are hot, look at me. Oh no. I think you have a fever. I start to cry then and my throat hurts terribly and she sighs and sends me back upstairs.