Forty-three

My mum was in labour for fourteen hours with me. It was the hottest May on record. So hot I didn’t wear any clothes for the first two weeks of my life.

‘I used to lay you on my tummy and we’d sleep for hours,’ she says. ‘It was too hot to do anything but sleep.’

Like charades, this going over of memories.

‘I used to take you on the bus to meet Dad in his lunch break and you’d sit on my lap and stare at people. You had such an intense look about you. Everyone used to comment on it.’

The light is very bright. A great slab of it falls through the window and lands on the bed. I can rest my hand in sunshine without even moving.

‘Do you remember when we went to Cromer and you lost your charm bracelet on the beach?’

She’s brought photos, holds them up one by one.

A green and white afternoon threading daisies.

The chalk light of winter at the city farm.

Yellow leaves, muddy boots and a proud black bucket.

‘What did you catch, do you remember?’

Philippa said my hearing would be the last thing to go, but she didn’t say I’d see colours when people talk.

Whole sentences arc across the room like rainbows.

I get confused. I’m at the bedside and Mum’s dying instead of me. I pull back the sheets to look at her and she’s naked, a wrinkled old woman with grey pubic hair.

I weep for a dog, hit by a car and buried. We never had a dog. This is not my memory.

I’m Mum on a pony trotting across town to visit Dad. He lives on a council estate, and me and the pony get into the lift and go up to the eighth floor. The pony’s hooves clatter metallically. It makes me laugh.

I’m twelve. I get home from school and Mum’s on the doorstep. She has her coat on and a suitcase at her feet. She gives me an envelope. ‘Give this to your dad when he gets home.’

She kisses me goodbye. I watch her until she reaches the horizon, and at the top of the hill, like a puff of smoke, she disappears.

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