October 18, 2018
I put my slippers on and padded to the kitchen in a quest for tea. It was just me and the cat, Felix, in the house. He wolfed down his food and mewled to be let out. It was definitely a jumper day. Scratch that, it was a jumper/hat/gloves day.
My Mum was miles away in Torremolinos with a good friend on a fiftieth birthday getaway. She’d already sent me an Instagram-worthy photo of her sunbathing by the pool – so I sent her a happy-birthday message, complete with sangria-themed well-wishes. I knocked back my tea.
In the shower I mentally drafted a birthday Facebook post with a number of photographs I’ve been collecting over the past month or so. There was the one of us at my graduation in July, looking like we share the same copied-and-pasted face, with the eye and hair colors changed.
I added a snap of Mum in her mid-80s teenage glory with bright blonde curls and a blue indie-jacket, and another of her eating watermelon in front of Radio City Music Hall from our “so-you’re-turning-fifty-and-I’m-now-twenty-one-and-graduated-holy-shit!”celebratory trip the month before, and an old one of us both in Scotland taken in the early 2000s. Baby-me is in a red rain-slicker that looks a little bit like a condom.
I posted it on the commute to work, then got off the train and walked the straight path to the office that goes past the swimming baths, apple trees and Portland Basin museum. By the time I get there, the post had already gotten quite a few likes and comments wishing her a great day.
I’m a reporter at a local paper called The Reporter and Chronicle in Ashton-Under-Lyne. When I got into the newsroom, I said good morning to the ladies in sales and then hello to David, who gets here at practically the crack of dawn every day. He was typing out a page for next week’s paper.
I dumped my bag, set up shop at my desk—a Proper Grown-Up Desk with a Mac computer I feel too young to have any business using—and checked through work messages and emails from the night before. There was a ding! from my phone and a yellow heart emoji flashed from my Uncle and Aunt, my Dad’s brother and his wife. I shot back a “thinking of you” – because what else could you say? It was the fourth anniversary of my Dad’s death.
The table was bare of fellow reporters – Tom was out on a job, I think Mark was on pages and Lee was on holiday in Berlin. I couldn’t decide if it that was a good or a bad thing; did I want to be alone or with company if I was going to cry?
At 10 a.m., I noted the time we got the phone call that Dad had died in a hospital room I wasn’t in. I went into the kitchen that connects our paper and the local radio station and made another cup of tea. I knelt for a bit and looked out the window and watched the ripples on the canal.
I went through to radio and recorded the news bulletins that would go out the next morning. I messed up one take and deleted it before having another go. I got through this time. I decided that one would do and edited out the swear words – a terrible habit when I fluff my lines – and saved the completed audio file to news import.
As I exited the booth, the hourly news I had recorded the day before came over the speakers. I crumpled up inside at the sound of my own voice.
Phone calls rolled through the afternoon and I answered them, floating through conversations. Yes, your story was in last week’s edition, I can email it to you if you like? I’m sorry Sir, we didn’t take those photographs, we only printed them – if I find out more I can call you back. We’d love to cover that – did you say it’s at St Stephen’s Church? Brilliant, can I just take a name and address from you…
I typed up a story about the work a local hospice does. I had transcribed my dictaphone interviews the day before, and I was glad. One of the lovely day-patients talked about how scared she was of dying. A few people had died this week.
David came by my desk and congratulated me on the front page story I wrote. I had forgotten about it. The focus of the piece was a brilliant bloke who made the difficult decision to amputate his leg after beating bone cancer and is now training for a marathon. He messaged me to say thank you for the story. I responded with my own thanks and well wishes, because he was one of the nicest people I’d ever interviewed, and told him to drop me a line once he’s run his marathon.
I flicked through the paper, blushing at the byline, before turning to the birthday note I put in for Mum. It’s bright and fun, with a photograph of her at thirteen with her childhood dog Bonnie and another of her looking out over New York City from the top of Rockefeller Center.
On the opposite page were black-and-white grids of death and memorial notices. The one my grandparents put in every year to mark Dad’s anniversary has him smiling out at me, but the photo feels unfamiliar. It was taken at his second wedding.
I didn’t cry then and I didn’t cry on the train home. I did write a lengthy note to myself on my phone, sort of word-vomiting gunk and grief.
I got home and ate two huge samosas. They were delicious and spicy and the cat curled up next to me. I could feel his purring on my hip.
The tears finally came, just one or two at first and then huge streams of them, loads of them. I sobbed wet and wobbly. My ribs really ached. There was a moment where I found myself laughing, because wow do I feel pathetic and here I was, in all my Bridget Jones glory blubbing with the cat in my pajamas.
I finally dragged myself upstairs, went through the motions of brushing my teeth and switching off all the lights. I got into bed and journaled until my hand cramped. I threw it to the side, and turned the fairylights off.