Ashes to Ashes
“Can I turn the radio off?”
“Thanks. Just need to phone the office.”
So… this is my student activist brother aged 41. Slight paunch, thinning hair, works in middle management. You sneered at Mum 20 years ago when she suggested finishing your degree. She wanted you to get the qualification you’d invested 2 years and a stack of her cash in. You said she didn’t understand you. Dad did, of course.
I guess I shouldn’t judge. I’m a long way from the dreams of that 17-year-old girl.
“Traffic’s not too bad.”
“Yeah, pretty light for a weekend.”
30 years ago, we were those kids in the service station, chasing each other and bouncing off chairs. Yesterday we shook hands at the funeral like strangers.
Poor old Gran. She didn’t take sides; not between Mum and Dad, not between us. She told me about your move to the US, about your marriage, showed me the pictures. She always wanted to get us together but wasn’t underhand enough to try. At least, not when she was alive.
“We’ve been lucky with the weather.”
“It’s not bad for October.”
You were off on your gap year, you didn’t see Dad hit Mum. It was only once, but once was enough. Once changed our family. She was hurt, he was ashamed, and shame made him angry. With her for being his victim. With me for having witnessed it. Not with you though. You weren’t there.
“Want to stop and get some coffee?”
You weren’t there, and Mum wouldn’t tell you because she didn’t want to wreck your relationship with Dad. Two years later, when she’d had enough of the angry silences and walked out, you accused her of making it all up.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting Gran out.”
“Jen, you can’t take human ashes into a service station!”
“It’s just a box, no one will know. I’m sure as hell not leaving her in the car.”
“Oh fuck it… I’ll get coffee to takeaway. What do you want?”
“Long black. Medium.”
Easier for you to believe Dad. He understood you. Easier to believe that Mum would lie than to accept that your favourite parent was flawed. Easier to think that she’d wantonly broken his heart than that he’d ground down hers. You said I didn’t give him a fair hearing. You never gave her one.
And you didn’t believe me. You assumed your little sister could never understand better than you. I think that’s what hurt the most.
“Well, we’d better crack on.”
“Yeah. Any idea what this place is?”
“Not really. Maybe somewhere she went with Grandad.”
The weird thing is, the rest of us are sort of ok now. Dad and I manage to speak a few times a year, and your wife video calls Mum with the kids. It’s just you and me who can’t talk. I know Gran gave you my email. She gave me yours too. Neither of us ever used them.
Maybe we hated each other too much. Maybe we were scared.
“This is it. Does it look familiar?”
“Sort of. Maybe. What does it say to do now?”
“Cross the field, follow the path through the copse, then down the stairs to the beach.”
30 years ago, on holiday with Gran and Grandad. A big wide stretch of welsh beach gleaming in the wake of the tide, a sharp sea breeze whipping our hair. A kite, printed with a bright blue butterfly on a red background; Grandad running bare-footed in the wet sand, throwing it into the air. My big brother with his arms round me, helping me control the string, helping me fly for the first time.
“I remember this place.”
“So do I. That holiday – you remember the cows outside the caravan?”
“Mooooo. Do you remember…?”
One-nil to you Gran.