Monday, 29 August 2011


The day before your birthday, I woke up with a streaming cold.

It was raining.

I'd been trying to get a stain out of your sister's T-shirt but I must have left the stain remover on for too long and, when I went to rub the stain away, I rubbed a hole in the sleeve of the T-shirt instead.

I made your sister some porridge, a strange breakfast for late August, but she likes it. I wonder if you would have too. I still wonder about little things like that.

As I turned around to talk to your sister, I knocked the bowl of porridge off the top of the kitchen cabinet with my elbow and smashed it. Her favourite Peppa Pig breakfast bowl. And her porridge went all over the floor. And there was no more milk.

I picked up the ruined T-shirt, the smashed bowl and the porridge. I put the whole mess in the bin.

Your brother started crying. I wanted to cry too. For the T-shirt I'd just put a hole in. For the porridge that I'd made and then spilt. For the bowl that I couldn't fix. For your sister's bewilderment, still waving her hopeful spoon about, waiting for her breakfast. For all my good intentions heaped in the bin. But, you know, that's not the real reason I wanted to cry.

I can find pathos in anything these days. A broken Peppa Pig bowl leads me back to you. Spilt porridge leads me back to you. To you. The most irretrievably broken thing in my life.

I go onwards, not really knowing what I'm doing.
Hoping that I'm not messing up too badly but suspecting that I am.

I miss you. I wish you were here. I couldn't promise you a perfect life, you might not always have got your breakfast on time. Or indeed, got the breakfast that you had been led to expect. Some mornings we have to make do with toast instead of porridge. Even when you could have sworn that there was porridge cooking five minutes earlier.

Your T-shirts and your prized breakfast bowls might have disappeared mysteriously, leaving you wondering where they went.

But I wish you could be here. Down here, in this mess. Because this is all I know and it is all I have. This strange world where we all stumble around blindly, bash into a few things, knock up against a few other people and then leave.

Occasionally there is a brief glimmer of something that looks like beauty, that looks like sense. Amidst the spoiled breakfasts and rain. Sometimes I suspect that those things do, in fact, actually exist and I'm looking at the real deal, not merely a resemblance or a fraud.

Wish you were here my girl. To catch those glimmers with me.

Friday, 19 August 2011


She peers at them, the silvery marks on the backs of her hands. "Dots Mum-mee," she says. "Look, dots."
I stoop and pass my thumb over them, admiringly.
"Yes, darling. Dots."

Those strange, inverted stretch marks that cover the backs of her hands instead of my stomach.

And, even nearly three years later, the guilt is still strong enough to pin me down to the soil.

In August, the air around her is thick with ghosts, making it difficult to focus.
The quivering in the air where one stands where could have been two. Or none at all.
And the ghosts of other girls.
Ones with no scars on their hands.
Others where those scars would be the least of it.

The ghost of myself. As I was. Or as I would be now. With two. With none.
Even Reuben becomes indistinct. Lost in that shimmer of imaginings.
Then everything resolves again. Refocuses. And I carry on.

It's four in the morning here.
I woke up suddenly. And, in that haze between waking and sleeping, imagined that all of this had been some protracted fever dream. Terrible and strange.
Relief washed through me. That I could let go. Of this experience that still makes my fingers twitch into fists and my jaw muscles clench. Even after all this time. Some part of me is obviously hoping that I can fight it off, defend my family, even nearly three years after the fact.
If only my left hook is strong enough.
Not us, please. Not today.

But it's mine. Mine to keep. Hers to keep. Ours to keep. This experience. No amount of jaw clenching or punching at the empty air is going to change matters.
And, usually, I am ok with that.
But sometimes, at four in the morning, whilst everyone else is asleep, you'll still catch me very sad.
Very sad indeed.
So sad that I can't sleep.
And I haven't anywhere else to go other than here.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Little brother

He is irritable, squirming, plump, glorious, in my arms.
Glossy and new.
With a yellow pimple on his chin.

She is ash. Gone to ashes.

We put her cot up today. The cot she never slept in. Paid for a thousand years ago.

Although it was never used, it has been chipped from its trips up and down the ladder to our attic.
It looks second hand.

I'm sure there must be a word, loaned from German or from Dutch, that captures my state of mind. Perhaps there is an English one. I've just never happened upon it.

That of trying to construct sense from something you know to be chaos. To spin sense from sense-less.
Because you need something to hang your hat on.

Of forcing yourself to find beauty and meaning in something that you know has neither of those qualities.
To drag them out of this mess by sheer force of will.

Of perfecting the art of fooling yourself that there is something meaningful and beautiful lurking under all that mud. And there just might be. Or perhaps that is simply a double bluff.


Even if it is just for a short time that you are fooled.
Even if the beauty and meaning that you construct flicker in and out of focus, slither out of your grasp.
Even if you know that you put them there yourself, for yourself to find.

It is enough.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


It's August again.

It's very hot here. Not much like England. The air feels like luke warm tea with one sugar. I smell like soured breast milk and sweat. The me of 'before all this happened' frowns in disapproval.

Jessica and I play in the back garden. She chases me with a watering can and I hide in pathetically undefended places. With my head wedged under my T-shirt. With my face hidden in the leaves of the next door neighbour's tree but the rest of my body sticking out.

Unsurprisingly, I got watered rather a lot this afternoon.

We have squelchy wet sand on a plastic mat, interspersed with stones stolen from her grandmother's rockery.
"All mudd-dee," croons Jessica, slopping the wet sand over her feet, "all mudd-dee."
"Yes, my darling. You're right. All muddy," I reply.

She chalks my big toe, blue. The remainder, orange.
I wonder what she makes of my adult toes.
I have ugly feet, a hammer toe on the third toe of right foot.
I remember looking at my own mother's body with my teenage vanity and wondering how it ever got that way. One day, Jessica will look at me that way. In her turn. Probably sooner than I would like to suppose.

Her latest medical report contains the word, remarkable. Remarkable.
I let out a breath I have been holding for a long, long time.
Yet, lobes in my lungs remains partially inflated.
Either not naive enough, or not quite ready, to exhale. Yet.
You'll jinx it don't you know?

I feel the scars on her feet. Little raised lumps.
For a child born as prematurely as she was, she is remarkably unscarred. Surgery only ever got as far as signed consent forms and desperate conversations with the consultant as to which anaesthesiologist had put his own son under.
Tiny stars dot her hands and feet. There is one larger, thicker scar on the join between her ankle and her foot. I'm ashamed to say that I am not even sure what this scar is from.

Sometimes I find myself rubbing Reuben's feet and wondering where his scars are.
Sometimes I find myself, in the blurry wee small hours of the morning, wondering how Reuben will feel about his dead twin.
In my dreams, babies only ever come in pairs.

My mother's next door neighbour comes round to return my car keys. I've left them in the lock of the boot. This happens more frequently than I would like to admit.

"Thank you so much," I say. "I don't know where my mind is these days."
Although that is a lie.

I have a memory of walking up my mum's drive and this lady, who I don't know very well, stopping me and saying that she was sorry. Sorry about the twins. And I flung myself at her, sobbing, "I lost her. I lost her."
We don't speak about that today. We never have.

She was so sweet. She just hugged me. What a kindness. In a world so very far from kind.

I lost her.

It's August. Once again.