X is for Xeric

An attempt to produce a poem or story from now until the end of April (except Sundays).
The theme for the 2022 A to Z Challenge is the human condition.


Everyone else carries a satchel or a laptop bag, except my son. He is the only fourteen-year-old on this planet who carries a briefcase. It belonged to his mother, but she never used it. Her father bought it for her when she became a fully-fledged accountant. And my wife ditched that career almost before her father was cold in his grave.

When we met, Elise was training to be a chef. When she died this January, our restaurant had a coveted Michelin star and a three-month waiting list for a table. Just because she wasn’t a number cruncher didn’t mean she didn’t know how to use those skills. 

My son still misses his mother, but my daughter is coming through her grief. And only she and I accept the fact Elise isn’t coming back. I confess I still talk to her before I go to bed, and I still wear my wedding band. But life goes on, and I have to rebuild mine and start again. Every day, I force my desiccated heart onwards and upwards. It isn’t easy.

The grandchildren help. I take them to school for Charlotte and my son-in-law and at the end of the day escort them to whatever after-school activity is on the timetable. Ballet, chess club and judo are the current subjects du jour. Then it’s back home for tea with my despondent son.

Maybe it’s the age gap. Charlotte is sixteen years older than Jeremy, or Jez, as he likes to be called. But Charlie has always been self-sufficient when it comes to emotional intelligence. She wept at the funeral, and that was it. She mourns our loss, but to her, the past is the past and her family is the future.

I confess I enjoyed telling Oliver and Ruby my version of what death is, and where you go afterwards. It balances Charlotte’s rather brutal narrative of worms and a state of nothingness. Bless their hearts, but to my grandkids, death is not a thing to be afraid of. It’s what happens to old people. How I adore their unknowing innocence!

It’s only Jez who still struggles with the concept of gone for good. He tried a religious journey from Baptist to Zoroastrianism, but none of these satisfied his need to know what happens next. The idea of eternal life in the kingdom of heaven was a bit too Disney for him. And he couldn’t abide the thought of reincarnation. How dare some celestial being judge his mother and find her wanting? We are all human and all subject to human vices. Or as he said of these divine justices: who died and made them pope?

He tried spiritualism, but that didn’t help because of the tendency of the dead to come back and remind their loved ones to pay outstanding gas bills, and waffle on about how they were doing fine. Jez said it was like being at a party for the terminally boring.

The poor lad is suffering a psychological drought and wandering blind in the desert of misery. I don’t tell him to be brave or strong. I tell him to go with the flow because some days he cries like a baby, and on others he laughs himself into a hernia. And if he wants to crawl under the covers binge-watching Game of Thrones, then so be it. Sometimes I join him.

One thing I tell him, which I know he finds hard to believe, is it gets easier. In time, his pain will lessen, and the grief will be something that he will manage rather than it managing him. And on that day, his life will bloom again.

Duty

‘We were happy, your mother and me. She was a good wife.’

Standing by the graveside, I nod in agreement because he never knew the truth. That’s how good she was.

Mum believed in her marriage vows: Putting up with the other women and the drinking until the summer daddy went away.

She met Uncle Ted, and her joy and laughter filled me with hope. But daddy came home, and Ted disappeared.

Mum stayed until cancer broke those vows.

My father dabs at his crocodile tears, and I weep for my mother’s wasted life.