First Interlude: Signposts
I search for the right word and feel the shape of it in my head, in my mouth, but the letters elude me. Sometimes you’ve got to let things go before you can get them back.
When I was younger, old age was another country, another planet. It happened to other people. I would never be old. I would commit suicide, make the choice to die before everything changed, physically and mentally, transforming me into something I now struggle to recognise. Age creeps up, incrementally. Imperceptibly. It has to, I suppose. The brain must trick us into changing priorities.
No longer will I totter on six-inch heels to impress a date. Comfort is the new watchword.
Waking up in the morning isn’t like it used to be. It has acquired a weirdness, an unsettling. Disconnection. It takes time to work out what day it is. The brain has to backtrack. What has been achieved this week? What did I do yesterday?
It wasn’t like this when I was ten, twenty, thirty, forty. Waking up wasn’t an event. It just was. Natural. Effortless. Now, it’s conscious, has to be negotiated, a feeling of often deep unease.
Second Interlude: Cutting Deep
We are a string of memories.
When I was five, I became intrigued by a cluster of glittering silver shapes discarded on a pile of rubbish dumped on a patch of waste ground beside our house. As soon as I picked them up, my fingertips turned crimson. Perplexed, I dropped the shiny razor blades onto the already blood-tinged grass. Despite the neat incisions they had inflicted, I didn’t feel any pain until I screamed. Mum made it all better.
As soon as an event has occurred, it is already a memory. This act of remembering, this dredging, prospecting, unlocking doors to rooms that are still haunted—it can be like steel slicing into flesh.
Final Interlude: The State of Before
It’s been eight years now, but last night I dreamed of my parents again. I’m in a fictional house with chameleon qualities and many rooms. Sometimes they are in different rooms, at different ages, and it is the only place I can find them happy in a state of Before.
The house grows as it fills up with people. Each time I visit it gets bigger. Party guests are talking, eating, drinking. This time, Mum is younger and, in her element, chatting, gregarious, sipping her favourite pale milky tea.
“I think there’s another funeral upstairs,” I say.
“This is a family party,” she replies. “A wedding reception.” She’s smiling.
There’s another door, but as my hand rests on the handle, I hear voices from the other side and know it is occupied for now. I will come back another time.
Before I walk on, my gaze lingers on Dad, or rather a version of him, a facsimile but a good one – when he was in his forties, hair black, thick moustache, reading his newspaper, no doubt picking out his racehorses to bet on.
“Have you seen your Mum?” he asks.
“I was just speaking to her,” I say.
And I realise I am dreaming, but I don’t want to wake up.
© Jane Ayres
[This piece was selected by Sommer Schafer. Read Jane’s interview]