Death and the Writer

I’m trying to write about death when my sister phones and then Nancy drops in for coffee and I’m sitting here trying to write about death when another neighbour drops in with a theatre subscription form and then someone else phones and then stops by to chat and I’m trying to write about death.

 

I must go with my mother to the edge, I write. I must take a journey to a dark place. I must return to tell the story. This is my responsibility so the story will not be lost. It is a frightening jour… The doorbell rings.

 

Two gap-toothed little people with round faces in Girl Guide uniforms stare up at me. Do you want to buy our cookies, the one who wears glasses says. Well, no, not really, not since they’ve replaced those old-fashioned oatmeal cookies with slabs of baked paste sandwiched with white sweet goo. But I’m looking into two faces, so bright, expectant, full of belief. I buy three boxes and return to writing about death.

 

How can something so world shattering be voiced so simply? How can a person just open her mouth and change the world forever with a few words. My mother’s cancer slipped between ‘do you want some broccoli’ and ‘Kimmy sit up and behave’.

 

I am dancing at the edge of a precipice, I write, when Danica dances into my mind. Danica, age three, comes to visit, is super-excited about her toes, ten little pink pearls all in a perfect row. We go to McDonald’s where she chomps down a kid pack burger and fries with such obvious pleasure, totally focussed on the act of eating that burger. Then the playground slide, first on her bottom, then tummy, then feet first, then standing up. Walking home, she is so busy looking at things she walks into a lamp post.

 

Hey, I remind myself. You’re supposed to be writing about death.

 

Death erases magic. Death reminds us that we are caught in sequential time. We cannot travel backward or forward in time. We cannot dream life into death. Yet I held her in my arms. The dream was real.

 

I’m really getting into it now. Death is always with us, at the periphery of life. Death is simply another dimension which we enter, like a dream we slip into. Maybe we can travel back and forth across the dimensions. I raise my head. Maybe dreams, in fact, are the reality. Maybe life is a dream in which we do not feel at home…

 

I phone my sister with the news. Get real, she says. Lighten up. Why do you want to write about that stuff for anyways? Leave all that bullshit suffering behind. You just want to suffer. I have my own heart, I think. Nobody can take that away from me.

 

I go back to writing about death and my mind fills with mold. Tomato sauce covered with furry little  pockets, french fries with fuzzy grey patches. How can french fries get moldy? They’re not even real food. I have to clean out the fridge. I know this with certainty. I have to clean the fridge RIGHT NOW. I calm myself down. You can do that later. Your task at the moment is to write about death.

 

We sat together hand in hand. I had made a list of things I wanted to say, questions I wanted to ask, then couldn’t say or ask them. They were too far removed from what she was thinking. We were already in two different worlds each with her own thoughts.

 

The helplessness of us all in the grip of death. Death simply happens whether we like it or not, whether we’re ready for it or not.

 

I am suddenly ravenously hungry, obsessed with thoughts of food. The smell of newly baked  buttery crusted bread, the taste of freshly churned butter, the taste of cream so thick you had to eat it with it a spoon. The summer it hailed and we made ice cream in the hand cranked churn using hailstones for ice…

 

I get the urge to phone my cousin Elna. Her mother baked the best bread. Maybe I can get some ideas from my cousin on writing about death. We talk about her mother, her baking, her cooking, the farm, the things we did together when I visited her on the farm. After an hour of such pleasant chat, I have to get back to my writing, I say.

 

Life is a race against time. Time is always the winner, I write, but my words are getting smaller. I am getting smaller. Diminishing. I am disappearing…

 

I think I’ll go to the kitchen and start a batch of bread.

I think I’ll go to the kitchen and start a batch of bread.

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