Monday, 15 August 2016


'But I want to watch the SICK mummy. The sick video. That video where Jessica is really sick. I want to watch it again.'

Nearly eight years since my twin daughters were born so terribly early, a younger sister bounces on the sofa. Blonde curls bobbing, robust arms and legs pumping. Visiting a time when she might have had two big sisters, a time when she might never have come to pass at all.

So I roll the reel. For what feels like the two hundredth time this morning, we will again watch the video where Jessica is sick. It is a montage of photographs I made of Jessica's first year of life, an activity seemingly beloved of parents but especially parents of premature babies where the transformation is particularly startling. Where what is usually hidden by flesh is revealed. It's this video here

This is not the sort of video I intended to show my two year old daughter. Our fancy-schmancy TV uploaded all of our photographs and videos to a cloud accessible directly from the TV and she somehow clicked around and found it. And, for some inexplicable reason, took a shine to it.

Back again to 2008. The chords of the music that I never really liked, the opening photographs of a tiny, red baby that looks as though she has been burned or skinned. All those machines. And over the course of four minutes or so she transforms into a baby like any other.

The first couple of viewings I sit and hold back tears. The next few I just sit. By what feels like the twentieth I don't feel anything of much, only boredom.

I've cycled through and through these days in my memory for nearly seven years. Some days I cry, some days I don't. Some days it hurts, some days I find it hard to summon up any feeling at all. Like anything else over played, over thought, material that my fingers have run across over and over, it becomes worn away.  I have become habituated.

"Pretend I am the sick one," she insists. Lying down and sticking her tongue out.

"And now I am the dead one,"  she declares dramatically. She closes her eyes and sinks even further down amongst the cushions. Eyelids fluttering.

I sigh. I wonder if I should ever have shown her this video. I wonder if I should ever have told her that our family has its very own 'dead one.' I wonder how much money I should save for future therapy bills.

'Let's do something else now. Too much television will give you square eyes,' I say.


'When I am a grown up, you will be a granny and then you will die.' He looks at me coolly, appraising my chances. 'Yes, you will be dead. Then I will be the granddad and then I will be dead.'

He looks thoughtful. But not afraid. My little boy who has always been the one with the questions. Who once had an obsession with building a graveyard in the back garden.

'It is like a circle,' he says.

'Yes,' I say, 'it is like a circle.'

He seems satisfied and changes the subject, to how he is bored of the summer holidays now and wants to go back to school.


Yesterday a family trip to the museum took a dark turn when we were unexpectedly confronted with a major exhibition about the sinking of the Titanic.

Peering at a yellowed newspaper report of the disaster, a family of eight trapped under glass. They were not even supposed to be aboard. Yet there they were. On the boat, in the newspaper.

'They all died?' says Jessica. 'Even the baby?' Concern fills her voice and she turns her head away, eyes closed and face pressed into my rib cage.

'Yes they did,' I say, 'even the baby.' I think about how to spin this one, to make good the death by drowing of this small child so long ago. I open my mouth but close it again. Some things are beyond amelioration.

I finally settle on, 'It's sad isn't it?'

'Yes,' she replies in a muffled voice. 'It is very sad.'

She unsticks her face from my jumper.

'Can we go and look for Pokemon now mum? Please.'


The headphones buzz slightly. I readjust the connection of the jack.

The writer, Norah Vincent, is speaking.

'We've found, over time, we need all these pretences. It looks like a stage set, fabric we put together, that of culture and society that makes things run. It's not really there. Your brain is taking in what it can take in, what is really there would scare the living shit out of you and you don't have the ability to see it anyway. Really what is out there is mostly light and an atom is filled with space more than anything else. Everything we are touching seems solid but really it is made very much of air.'

<<taken down in note form whilst listening to the audio, all mistakes are of my own creation.>>

This is where I find myself, nearly eight years later. I pull my little scrappy blanket around my shoulders, made of books, paid employment, TV series, housework, Pokemon Go, wine, car maintenance, pets, Instagram, Two Dots. Whatever frail scraps I can find and stitch together.

I fancy that I catch glimpses of what is really there. The yellowed photograph of a baby who drowned in an icy sea years ago. The video of Jessica transforming from a raw foetus into a baby. Another baby dying in my arms. Light. Space. Solidity quivering. The starts and the ends, the threads all catching up one another and snarling. No possibility of patching and stitching together into anything coherent.

But I don't care to look too long. Because Norah Vincent is right. It would scare the shit of me if I could see the truth. Even the tiny glimpses of it I do catch scare the shit out of me. And I couldn't begin to understand it anyway. It is all light and space. Pushing on the edges of my brain, of my abilities.

Georgina. Made of air. Caught up in her own tiny circle and sent to who knows where.


  1. 8 years. It seems impossible, but there it is. Remembering Georgina with you, Catherine.

    1. Oh it does seem impossible. I know you understand. Sending love to you and remembering SM.

  2. Georgina made of air, you are loved and remembered.

    Last night M said in the middle of his playing 'the baby I was having just died. It never got to be big.' I wonder about therapy bills, too.

    Sending love to you, Catherine. It's lovely to hear your voice.

    1. Thank you March. I miss writing here. I still read a lot but my words for commenting seem to have all dried up xx