I can remember, clearly, the harsh, shrill shrieks of the seagulls as I stepped off the train, and the sudden strange feeling the sounds evoked; a lonely ache I could not quite understand, pulling at my heart, making it beat faster.
My headache is terrible; these wretched creatures are doing nothing to help. I look around me, at the ugly, grey platform and at the few other people who decided that here, for whatever reason, would be a good place to end their journey. I catch a man’s eye, and he looks at me, strangely, as though he can tell what I am thinking, and resents my intrusion. I look away, sharply and walk toward the stairs leading to the exit. I roll a cigarette and smoke, walking down the street. I start searching for a sign, something I do when I am sad. A robin, maybe, or two magpies. A smile from someone who looks like the person I believe I am losing. The name of a street that connects to my life. But there is nothing. I stare at the houses opposite me and they stare blankly back. I don’t know what I am expecting. I am trying to distract myself for a reason. I have travelled to see my grandmother who is very ill.
I sigh and drop my cigarette. Anxiously, as I approach her house, I wonder how she will be. Will she recognise me? Will she look worse this time? I try to gather my thoughts as I stand on the pavement observing the tidy but bare front garden, a tatty looking bike leaning against the wall and I grimace as i am forced to inhale the smell of burnt vegetables coming, I think, from the house to my left.
I knock on the door and after a few moments, it opens. The regular nurse, Claire who has very red hair smiles warmly.
“Hello Emily” she says, in a Northern Irish accent. I nod and she lets me in. The house is warm, almost stifling and the interior looks different, faded, like it too is changing, weakening.
“She’s upstairs in her usual bedroom” the nurse says, “give me a shout if you need anything”
I hesitate, and Claire watches me kindly.
“Is she ok?” I ask, though my words are futile, pointless.
I think I see the hidden meaning in Claire’s words and I begin to climb the stairs.
Up on the second floor, it is a little cooler, and there is a pleasant lavender smell. I am filled with an apprehension I must destroy. I go straight into her room, I don’t even knock.
She is lying in her bed, and her eyes are closed. Going closer to her, I see her face looks a little more distorted, rather like one side has shrunk a little, but other than that she looks like herself, though paler.
I reach out and take one of her hands and hold it carefully.
“I’m here” I say
She does not respond with words but her eyes open. They look quite glazed from the morphine.
I smile at her, weakly, feeling my eyes start to well up with tears. She looks confused, but, like Claire said, peaceful. I let go of her hand and walk over to the window , to compose myself. I look up at that impossible sky, a collage of greys and blues and volatile sunshine, so dramatic and commanding. It takes me away from that sad, tired room. I imagine I am flying over these houses, stopping to collect my grandmother, who at my appearance splutters into life and recognition, her brown eyes shining, and smiling at one another we fly out of the window, leaving an open-mouthed Claire behind- the words she tries to utter never quite forming, as we disappear behind the sun.
I turn around and begin to talk, about what’s been happening. I tell her I’m sorry for not visiting more even though I’ve come once a week since she was ill, I tell her about how sorry I am that this had to happen, because, really, it didn’t have to happen. I tell her that she will get better, even though I have no idea. And finally, I am quiet, and I let the tears flow.
Then a strange thing happens, I hear a good deal of shuffling, and through aching tearful eyes I see that she is looking over at me and has a ghost of a smile on her face. I walk over to her, and she moves her hand so it is touching my tears and she says, “Every tear is a fairy”, and the slurred way she speaks and the sweetness of her words just makes me cry harder.
She is studying me so intensely, so tenderly. My sadness is lifted a little. I begin to calm down and smile at her, then I look down at my knees, overwhelmed by it all; a lump in my throat.
“You can do it” she whispers.
I don’t know what she is referring to but it’s just wonderful to hear her voice. The last time I came she didn’t say a word. We sit quietly together; I stroke her hair and she drifts in and out of sleep.
The clock ticking nearby is like a strange lullaby. I must go. As I stand up to be on my way, she suddenly takes my hand and squeezes. Our eyes lock, and there is a meaning behind her effort that I only comprehend later.
She squeezes me tighter. “Goodbye” she says, in a steady, clear voice; taking control of that one, last word, like it is a greeting and a parting all at once.
Claire fusses over me as I leave promising to ring if there’s any need.
I take my leave, out into the world, the noise, the indifference.
Weeks later, at her funeral, I read out the poem I had written. It was so hard.
Outside in the sunshine, I went and sat on a bench, to be by myself and my thoughts.
I went back to the last time I saw her, and the words she had spoken. Every tear is a fairy. You can do it. Goodbye. She knew I had things I wanted to achieve, but could get held back by doubts and problems. She knew that the only thing to fear is fear itself. And her? I believe she was ready to let go, she had fought long enough, a battle she realised she could not win. Her life was rich and fulfilled, an inspiration to many. She said goodbye and gave death her blessing. She lives on in my dreams and my stories.
I lost her, but I find her again and again.