My mother hated April. My sister was born on April 28th 1955, a tiny premature girl with only a few days of life. My mother only saw her for precious moments before she was rushed away to hospital where she died on April 30th. If her prematurity had been survivable, the bizarre and barbaric treatment thought suitable for premature babies was not.
Each year, as we approached the end of March, the April cloud appeared in our family sky and my father and I learned to tread carefully. It never worked and more often than not she would descend into grief and anger. Slammed doors, afternoons spent sobbing behind closed doors and long hurt silences. My father was as excluded from her loss as much as I was and he would take me out of her way to the garden.
Throughout my childhood, a single baby photograph sat on the sideboard. I hated it. As a young teenager, in a whingy teenagerish way, I moaned that I hated it. A sharp angry slap taught me that, although the photograph was of me, the baby looking out was her.
Where I was real, flesh-and-blood imperfect, Rhian was forever the perfect child. In my mother's last weeks, a kind, well-meaning neighbour remarked that it was such a shame that I was an only child with no-one to share responsibility for caring for my mother.
Too bloody right, I thought. Where are you now, sideboard sister?
I grew up with no patience for the tyrant on the sideboard, this child who had never lived. She had never been a playmate, a companion, a sharer of family memories. Toboganning in the snows of 1963, grandpa making little gold wire animals, planting rapberry canes.
The garden was my father's refuge. No matter how hard he hard worked in the day, there was always time to prick out the tomatoes or walk the row of runner beans. He saw no point in flowers but didn't mind if vegetables were decorative. They compromised: lettuces sat underneath rose bushes, courgettes climbed the rockery, peas and sweetpeas alternated. It was a place of peace and beauty for him. When he retired in March 1982, he told everyone that he would live in the garden. And he did. On April 8th, three weeks after he retired, pausing for a rest, he leaned on the garden fork, lit a cigarette and died.
My mother lived another 20 years. Frail and confused in her last days, she asked "What did you do with that other baby?". In clear moments, we talked about how she had met my father. Waiting at the railway station, he had admired her car. She had told him tartly to mind his own business. And they fell in love.
And now I'm the only one left to remember them. My small hurts and humiliation and pain are small in comparison but I can see why she was glad when April was over. I'm glad that anniversaries are out of the way but I can't find it in my heart to hold it against the month itself. The yonge sonne hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne. Friends have remembered and been kind and quietly generous with their time. Sunshine and the garden. Dog walking. The small delights.
Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth.
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