The misaligned calendar meant that I always had to buy cards ten months in advance, and in the later years I never knew whether I’d get to send the one I’d kept in my desk from May till March. In the end there was never a card left unsent.
The calender re-aligns to precede a holiday I never celebrated that’s meant for someone who is dead.
On Thursday night I found the burgundy velvet bag and took out my mother’s watch. It still ticks. It still ticks. I adjust the date six days forward – hath September, April, June and November – but the time, five hours ahead, needs no adjustment. I press the crown briefly and the dial glows greyish-green, but I remind myself that every press takes a little life out of the battery. The glass is cool and smudges easily. When I hold the back of the strap close, it smells like the echo of flowers.
Four years after, the sharp edges of her last days, weeks, years are rubbed smooth. I expected that quietening to release more memories of the before, but that didn’t happen. Instead it was a sense – not a presence, not a guardian angel – but a mood, a background hum where if I stopped and listened hard enough and long enough it brought up memories, albeit a defined set of them for good and bad. It takes work to get more. I am not close to her home, my home for half my life; I am not close to her remaining things, other than the ones I picked out and took with me because they carried meaning. There is a practice in remembering and it relies upon remembering who you were at the time, and if that by itself is hard then everything that proceeds from it is hard.
I rely on others for much of it, and eventually – soon – many of the people I rely on will not be there either. But it’s hard to ask them to give this of themselves, and hard to admit that I need them.
I don’t believe, but I believe in lighting candles. The basilica is still closed outside of Mass times: you have to make a reservation and requesting a seat would steal it from someone who still believes.
Instead, I bought flowers. My mother loved flowers. Cut flowers are candles.
One posy was better than all the others, and the woman at the checkout said “those flowers are so beautiful, they must be for someone special.” Perhaps she saw the grimace I felt from the inside and understood this was not a gift but a memorial, because the conversation faded away. The other person at the checkout fetched me some greenery to go with it – “thank you, but this is for a little vase, it’s all I need” – and it was known without being known that these were not chosen for the weekend ahead. Those flowers were for others.