SPRING – Child
After the snow had turned to slush, green shoots slowly began to appear, fighting through frost-crusted earth. Snowdrops sprouted in green and white clumps, then yellow and purple crocuses pushed their noses into the sun, while finally groups of daffodils shot up and waved their yellow trumpet heads in the breeze. The thaw revealed the lane which led to my family’s new home, invisible for our first eight weeks there after blizzards had cut us off, snow drifting into huge white waves across the lawns, fields and the lane itself. My conscious memories began right then as spring broke, almost as if I had previously existed in a dark room and someone had just flicked on the light.
Soon I began to walk the lane’s great length, which felt like many miles, aided by my mother. My little legs, usually stuffed into Wellington boots, worked so hard to make their way over its big boulders and to clamber out of its many crevices. The holes in places were so large I thought that if I were to curl up in one I would be hidden from everybody.
Close to our end of the lane was a five-bar gate, the latch of which, climbing up, I would unhook, and then hold on tight as the gate swung back. I would jump off into the ditch before the inevitable jolt as it came to rest, repeating this several times until I tired of pushing it back to the start position. Once through I would hopscotch my way across the holes, kicking loose stones about and jumping on and off the grass ridge that ran down the middle of the lane like a big green vein, often stopping to pick at the hedgerow for flowers, feathers, insects or anything I could spot entwined in its ivy claws.
There was a darker side to the lane though, a side that scared me to my core. For halfway along it, by the turning to Rosiers’ Farm, the reds, yellows and pinks of the pretty-but-lethal deadly nightshades lay hidden in the hedgerow. They twinkled in the undergrowth like coloured lanterns; my little fingers reached in, so tempted by them.
‘No Lou, you can’t eat those, they are poisonous. Witches use them in their nasty potions,’ my sister Sarah would warn, pulling my hand away. To my young mind, the rules of country living were often confusing. Life and death co-existed there side by side. Like the birth of lambs in spring and then, months later, the trucks taking them off to slaughter. Attachment was not encouraged and potential dangers needed to be learned well and learned quickly.
SUMMER – Lover
Outside my window a Tyrannosaurus Rex sprints across the sky with an arrow in his back. Then he’s a horse galloping, breath visibly pouring like vapour from his nostrils. Next he’s a cat crouching, ears erect listening for prey, then he’s a crocodile skeleton then…gone. All this takes place in the space of a few moments as I gaze out looking for answers.
In the round bedroom, full of fever, I’d drifted in and out of consciousness as the evening summer sun bled across the horizon, staining the sky pink then orange then red.
Day to night, night to day, but which is which? Every time I woke there you were, dressed in black, thick hair dark and unruly, coffee in one hand, joint in the other. The joint went out repeatedly as the conversation, the flame and your face floated around me. Was I stoned or just delirious?
You’d invited me a few weeks before to come to your show. Then that Black Widow Spider – your ‘Last Rider’, still holding on – had appeared and caused a scene. You had looked at me and shrugged – ‘Sorry’, while she was strutting up and down, mouth wide and thoughtless, arms flailing around. I’d left.
I had thought then I should not get involved, would never get involved. I looked on at the triangle you lived in, and could never imagine myself in such a place.
You talked of the Island, of the summer days and of the big flood, of your dreams, of India and of Paradise. You told me of the Sagas and spoke the beginning of Authun and the Bear in Old Icelandic. You were a magician pulling Shakespeare, Milton and Blake out of your hat and mixing them up with amphetamine Burroughs, rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat.
Or reciting in long drooling Dylan tones;
‘How does it feee-yel ? How does it feee-yel?’ You ask, about my a brand new leopard-skin pillbox hat. Or pleading with me to – ‘Craa-wel’ out my window, ‘It wont ruin yoouu’ you say. ‘Use your arms and leeegs’, you say. Your words leave me spell-bound.
Night to day, day to night – it was all the same to you, who didn’t sleep. Sometime in that dream which came and went through those few days, I stepped up on the bank and looked across the water with you, floated above it on the clouds with you, looked back and saw that everything else was very small and unfamiliar. I mistook my damaged teenage heart for a strong vessel, not the patched up leaking life-raft it was.
You kept vigil by my bed and with tender song embraced me with your words, played me with your touch, and caressed me with your lips. All resistance drained away, all caution already fled, all fear abandoned: there would be no turning back if I said yes.
You asked as though a formal proposal, ‘Will you be my girlfriend?’
A final disarming moment, before I heard that little word, that small, bright, quick little word, leap from my lips – ‘Yes.’
AUTUMN – Son
The high days and holidays of my teens and twenties passed by in a haze, more highs than holidays. Then, like a fermenting apple I fell with a thud and lay helpless and bruised on the sun-charred ground.
Bob told us – the times they are a-changing – and I realised I would have change too if I were to reach maturity.
I scrambled and crawled through the undergrowth searching for a path; brambles tore at my skin, tugged at my hair and snaking tree roots lassoed my feet again and again along the way. I found a freshwater stream, and lay down and watched as it turned from a muddy trickle to a flowing rush of clarifying life.
Stevie called out to me – not waving but drowning – so was I too far out?
I felt the water rise; I let it flow over me, slowly it ground down and polished my sharp edges. I was able to stand once more on solid earth, raising my sight from ground to sky, for the first time looking life straight in the eye.
William told me – the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. He was right of course, but not in the way I had imagined.
Following the pruning, ploughing and planting, the watering, feeding and the sun warming I had come to full bloom. My rounded belly held the future, all hope and wonder. I would never again experience being just me, from now on there would always be you too. You were the harvest, the bounty, the prize.
A deep and vibrant palette painted our canvas with ancient hues; gold ochre, burnt umber and cadmium red flashed and turned. Warm air swam about us and all living things hummed, whispered and sang:
Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing,
Onward the sailors cry,
Carry the lad that is born to be King,
Over the seas to Skye.
Autumn was the first full season we shared. It was full of plenty. At the Equinox the swelling harvest moon reached fullness.
For three long nights it cast a warm orange glow upon us as we danced and crops were gathered to sustain us. I sang to you:
Dance t’ thy daddy, my little laddie
Dance t’ thy daddy, ti’ thy mammy sing
When thou art an old man, father to a son
Sing to him the old songs, sing of all you’ve done.
WINTER – Mother
My final season is yet to come. I hope it will not come too soon as there is so much more I want to see, hear and feel. So much I need to learn, to explore and to tell.
Your winter came early and was long and dark. I was too young when I walked through it with you. I did not then have the strength I now have, to face the harshness of that cold and dying season. To witness you, who had given me life, lose your vibrant colour, your budding brilliance, your oozing sap.
Remembering now, visiting you as the days shortened and darkened.
You’re sleeping, that’s a relief. I know I’m late. I had to stop on the way.
You see, the truth is, I just can’t face you. Can’t face what you have become.
The drink takes the edge off. But then it makes it worse too. I know when you smell it on my breath, you know why. You know I find it hard to look at you.
Those bent crooked hands, trying to drink from a baby’s beaker; your pillow-matted hair, your weak drugged voice, your steroid-swollen face, your bed, surrounded by bags and rubbish like a tramp in the subway. The smell of stale milk in the bottom of the plastic bag you carry on your Zimmer frame. Those maggots, oh God those maggots I found in the bag that day. The vile smell and the picture of that squirming mass will never leave me.
Twenty-six springs, twenty-six summers, twenty-six autumns and twenty-six winters have passed since you left. Through them all I have followed your ages as I pass through each. I have experienced motherhood myself and understand you anew. Now I know to be perfect is not to be human, that it is through each seasonal cycle that we grow and we cannot remain in just one; spring will always turn to summer and autumn leaves must always turn and fall.
If I close my eyes I can go back. I remember your wide smile, your full husky Tabasco laugh, the way you held your cigarette aloft in prideful and elegant defiance. Your rich flaming auburn hair, cut into your nape, when no-one else did that. Your sense of drama and fashion bravery, that time you went to a dinner party dressed in a gold sari, or your favourite shocking pink scarf around your neck. Your chunky Maltese Cross hanging down, nestling between your breasts.
And your sweet-perfumed handkerchief a balm as you wiped your lipstick from my small, resistant face.