Pa and me on Christmas Day. He had made the pram and Grandma had garnished it. I was nearly four. I’ve always loved this photo.

Auntie’s standing to the left of the doorway.  She’s crying.  Mummy’s on the right.  She’s not crying but her eyes are red.  Grandma slips between them to enter the room.  Mummy pulls me out of her way.

Except for Grandma, we’re all in the hall.  Pa’s in bed.  He’s making funny noises.

I want to see him.  I try to go in.  Mummy pulls me back.

“You can’t go in.”

“Why?”

“Pa’s sick.”

“I want to see him.”

“He’s unconscious…  Pa’s sleeping.  He’s sleeping very deeply.  You mustn’t disturb him.”

“I’ll be quiet.  I just want to see him.”

“No.  Now, be a good girl.  Go and read your book.”

***

A little while later – a few days?  a few weeks? – we’re all back again.  I want to see Pa but the bed’s empty.  It’s all made up.  The blue bedspread’s on it.

“Where’s Pa?”

Auntie bursts into tears.  Mummy explains,

“The angels came and took him away.”

“Why?”

“Because they wanted to take him to Heaven.”

I nod.  But I have doubts.  He didn’t say goodbye.  Pa wouldn’t have gone to Heaven without saying goodbye.  I test the story.

“Did they come in through the door or through the window?”

Auntie’s now making quiet sobbing noises.  Mummy doesn’t like it.

“Through the door.”

I nod again.  There’s something wrong with this story.  I test again.

“Did they fly?”

Mummy’s getting impatient.  But Auntie and Grandma are there so she won’t scream at me.

“No, they walked.”

“Did Pa walk too?”

“The angels carried him.”

“Why?”

Mummy starts crying too.  She wants me to go away.  I can feel it.  I try to help her,

“Did they carry Pa to Heaven to make him better?”

Mummy hesitates.  I knew there was something wrong with her story!  If Pa’s gone to Heaven, why is everyone crying?  He didn’t go to Heaven.  He’d have said goodbye to me first if he had.  What are they hiding?

“Where’s Pa?”

“I told you!  He’s in Heaven!”

She’s angry now.  She might start screaming.  I go before she does.

***

Me at four. The photographer did everything he could think of to make me smile, even stood on his head. I felt very uncomfortable. Mummy made my dress.

Many years later, I accept my husband’s marriage proposal partly because he reminds me in some way of Pa.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t have Pa’s natural nobility and goodness.  After six and a half years and three children, he repudiates me.

***

Many, many years later, in 2003, I write a play called Wounds.  A woman talking to her elderly mother.  It is in English so I read it to my mother over the telephone.  She is in Australia and I am in France.  Fortunately, it is only a One-Act Play.  In it, I talk about my grandfather’s death, but also about him and me.

I wrote the play in a rush for the 3rd Onassis International Theatre Competition.  I made it autobiographical because I didn’t have time to cook up a plot.  It was not very easy for me to write in English, either.  I changed all the names of course, but it’s still my story, very thinly disguised.  I only had time for one act so it has an unfinished feeling to it.  It needs at least one more act, possibly two depending on what I do with it.  I’ll probably never finish it as I won’t be performing it now.  Pity.  It’s a good first act.

Here’s a bit of it:

                         […]

MOTHER – What were you saying when I nodded off?

MARION – Nothing much.  I was thinking about Grandpa’s death…  And how it affected the rest of my life.

MOTHER – You were only four.  Do you want that biscuit?

MARION – No thanks.  (Passes the plate)  I was only four, but he was the first man I ever loved.  Daddy was never there.  …  And when he was, I wasn’t allowed to disturb him.  Reading his newspaper was more important than me.

MOTHER – Yes, I know.

MARION – Grandpa talked to me as if I was an adult.  He explained the garden to me.  The insects and all that.  I didn’t understand it all of course, but I followed him around and crouched down when he did.  He weeded and talked.  And I watched and listened.

MOTHER – You still remember that?

MARION – Yes.  And I remember when he was ill.  He was asleep and he made a lot of noise breathing.  I wasn’t allowed into the bedroom.

MOTHER – He was unconscious.

MARION – Well, if he was unconscious, I don’t see how my presence would have disturbed him!  …  Auntie Helen was crying in the hall.

MOTHER – That’s just about all she did, too!  Mum and I did all the work!  Changing him, washing him and everything.  She occasionally carried a tray!  On condition it wasn’t too heavy.  And usually only when the doctor was there.

MARION – Then one day, the door was shut and you said that the angels had taken him.  And I couldn’t believe he’d gone without saying goodbye.

MOTHER – I had to open the door and show you the empty bed!

MARION – It was made.  It was as if he’d never been in it.  Gone without a trace.  I remember asking how the angels had come in:  through the door, or through the window?  You said, “through the door”.

MOTHER – Did I?  I don’t remember that.  …  They did, of course.

MARION – Pardon?

MOTHER – The angels.  …  Well, of course, they were really the gentlemen from the Funeral Parlour, but it’s best to stick to the truth with children.  …  Especially you.

MARION – And your idea of “sticking to the truth” was to tell me that the angels had come in through the door?

MOTHER – Yes.  …  Well, I suppose so.  I don’t remember.  But you were that sort of child, you know.

MARION  – What sort?

MOTHER –  The sort that, having been told that angels had visited the house, asks whether they’d come in through the door or through the window.

MARION – Well, I had to fill in the blanks!

MOTHER – What do you mean by “blanks”, dear?

MARION – The holes!  The enormous gulf between Grandpa breathing heavily in bed, ill, but very present, and a perfectly-made empty bed with a freshly ironed blue satin bedspread on it!

MOTHER – You remember that too!

MARION – Of course I do!  That bedspread was part of the shock!  …  I should have been allowed to go to the funeral.

MOTHER – Yes, I realize that, dear.  But in those days, children didn’t go to funerals.

MARION – I know.  …  I’ll go and do the washing-up.

                         […]

***

The opening speech in the play is from Marion, who says, “Some wounds never heal.  …  You think they have, then Life comes along and rips them open again.  You find yourself living the same things over and over.  …  The faces change, but basically, the situations are the same.”

I think that this is true until we decide to do something about it.  We can break the cycle and free ourselves, but it is not always easy.  I don’t think that I ever really managed to do it.

***

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