Not every woman's story can be told in a light of glory or fondness, but every woman's story is worth reflecting on if we're to achieve greater empathy as humanity moves forward. In creative non-fiction prose written shortly after an abusive grandmother's death, Helen* reflects on some of what's left behind in the wake of a life in which love, positivity and calm were scarce.
No cross words from my father’s mother greet me as I step from the hallway to the bedroom. Her brow’s no longer furrowed. Her lips are dry, resting open. Words like bullets no longer line the wet pink inside of a tense jaw.
Instead, the face of a life expiring; tiny faded roses on a stand-up nightdress collar, white wisps of uncurled hair on a baby blue pillowcase.
My Granny, brought to my Uncle's house to die.
Me. Come to bear witness, to complete the tour of the moral high ground, perhaps. To try again with a kindness that’s started whispering about martyrdom and virtue too smug, when I’m alone.
My Granny’s miniature scale’s hidden under a thick duvet with pristine white ironed cover. No sun-bleached, pastel-striped flannelette under heavyweight blankets, like when I was small. No biting air from suddenly wide windows chasing germs and the warmth of dreams. Dawn isn’t carpet-beaten into day by impatient, Presbyterian mornings here.
I help her sit so she can see me better, trying not to think of wolves, red capes, fear.
In half-chanted, half-whispered fragments she wanders; sunlit memories of childhood, excerpts of a meadow. Her father. Then, a smiling dog with a golden coat. Mr Clarkson next, smiling too from his gleaming black car; his greetings a gift from rich to poor she basks in still, held tight by the same synapses that have forgotten to scold me for something. Anything.
I curve her fingers gently around a small glass of amber juice, steadying the straw someone’s scissored shorter so it fits better.
Death travelled slowly arrives at unchartered territory. The eye of the family storm is quiet, tallying at last with a love wished for but withheld; Granny - small, sweet.
*names have been changed in accordance with the contributor's wish for anonymity