Fiction by Juleigh Howard-Hobson
When my daughter died, she was 12. Taken from me just like that. An accident. Drowned. Who was to know the bridge would wash out beneath the car she was in. Took them all, it did. Her best friend, that whole family. There were three children in that family, two boys and my daughter’s friend, all lay dead in the bottom of the car, in the bottom of the water, with their parents. And my daughter. A drive in the country. To collect holly boughs and such. Such a cold day. I didn’t want her to go, it was too cold. But she begged and in the end, I said she could go.
Looking back I suppose those heavy winter clothes—the scarves, the boots—they didn’t help at all. Oh I bundled her up! Jumpers and vests and woolies, but she drowned in the cold water like the rest of them.
After she died I became no one. A distant shadow of a person. I was no one’s mother. No one’s child either. Husband gone, long before. I told him she died. He asked how. Drowned I said. A bridge washed away. He said he thought I hated bridges. I said I wasn’t there. He said oh. And he sent flowers, but not to me. He addressed them to her. She always hated cut flowers, even as a little girl. She would say how they made her feel so bad, to think of those lovely things, cut and dying before her eyes. I threw them in the compost. They lay there, those flowers, dried out on the top of that bin for so many grey days after that. I never could throw anything on top, until one day I looked and they were gone. Gone. Just turned to nothing in the end. Dirt, I suppose. Or mould.
They wanted me to bury her. Bury that bright hair and those fingers and those legs. Shut it all up in the cold, wet, miserable dirt, and let it rot and fester and turn into more dirt, more mould. Mould that moles and worms and roots and maggots move and bring to light again as nothing but dirt. Not her, but once her.
No. I told them the Vikings had it right. Cremation—let her leave all at once—let her escape the mould, the wet, the maggots—let her bright hair catch fire and burn and go. Just go.
I threw the ash that was her into the water. The closest I could manage to a long boat was a box. I opened it and I threw it into the same water that took her life. I didn’t know if I was releasing her or abandoning her, but I knew she’d understand what I meant. Even if I didn’t.
Even if I didn’t.
After that, it all softened and blurred into a grey world. I suppose I turned on lights and bought soap and paid bills and I suppose I woke up and I went to bed. I suppose it rained some times. I suppose some days it didn’t.
Now I am an old lady. Older in years now from that day, than she had ever lived. It was so long ago when I had a daughter. Another time. Another life. I was another. I am not her now, that woman I was. Did that ‘I’ die, too? I did, and I did not, and that’s the pity of it.
Sometimes I am so afraid of losing her, what I have left of her. Some days I hardly recall her. Her voice—was it light? Her hair—how exactly did it shine? Flecks of gold or of chestnut? She would be an old lady now, you now. 65 years old. Her voice would be old. Her hair would be grey. Her face lined and sagging like we all end with. Her name was Margery Fletcher but would be something else, now, because she would have fallen in love and married and perhaps she would have been happy or perhaps she would have been sad. But at least she would have been. Would have been 65.
I am 87. A long time to live as a ghost. With a death stuck deep in your heart. It is time to go. I hope she remembers me, because I have missed her so. Do you think the dead miss us, at all? Like we miss them? Like I miss her? Margery. Her name was Margery. She was 12. She was my daughter. And she died. And I wish—oh, I wish—oh, how many times I have wished, I told her no – no! No, Margery, you may not go!
But she went and I said she could.
Juleigh Howard-Hobson’s writing has appeared in many places, including The Lyric, Mezzo Cammin, Verse Wisconsin, and The Raintown Review. As well as garnering other awards, she has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her fourth and most recent book is Remind Me (Ancient Cypress Press).