The removalists scour Mama’s house, wiping away any traces of her. It has taken me the better part of the day to pack the picked over bones of her home, and I have left her bedroom till last.
This is the most difficult room, the one in which she disappeared so frequently into her own world, and then eventually disappeared into the darkness of her illness. There are too many memories here.
I nudge open the drawer of her bedside table and find a neatly folded square of Doctor’s Flannel nestling in the corner, its tail of multi-coloured threads tucked beneath it. I run my fingers over the exquisite softness of the material and notice with a little envy, the precise lines of running stitch marking out a bird, wings spread, feathers transforming into flames.
Mama’s last creation is a phoenix rising from the ashes. My mind floods with the unbidden memories of Mama through her ages, sewing, always sewing.
Suddenly, I am a tear-stained, snotty-nosed eight year-old with a skinned knee because Anthony Perrin pushed me out of the tree-house, a fledgling flung unceremoniously out of the nest. I stand in the doorway watching her, wanting to run to her, wanting her cooing comfort, but afraid to break the burning intensity of her concentration. She is glaze-eyed and purse-lipped, eyebrows furrowed, her hand bobs up and down, machine-like in efficiency, stitches falling into line with the precision of a marching band.
I am a heartbroken teen, a wounded bird, crushed by the cruelty of rejection of my first love, drowning in a sea of self-pity. Again I stand at the threshold of her bedroom, desperately wishing her arms would fling open in welcome, to envelope me in an embrace that melts my woes, afraid to disrupt the heat of her spotlight focus, an impenetrable silent wall between us.
I am an adult, marriage in tatters, children under my wings. Again I am at her door, the satellite in orbit around her, futilely awaiting acknowledgement. I expect less from her now. I am the protective mother hen to my own chicks. In every way the mother she never was. I compensate for her absence in my life, with a cloying presence in my children’s lives.
And now, I am here in her room without her. I poke around guiltily, feeling like a voyeur. I sift through her secrets. In the drawer I find the memories she can no longer store in her head. I look for little clues to her, to our distance.
I lift the embroidery out of the drawer and spread it out on the bed next to me. A note falls out, and I notice under the phoenix, in neat lines of running stitch, is my name. I open the note.
I have always seen you.
I am sorry.