Stories

Mother’s Lullaby.

Hello, and how was your weekend? Mine was full and lovely [thanks for asking!].

Today I am sharing a piece of performance prose that was Highly Commended and performed as part of last year’s Shore Lines Writing for Performance Festival, in Bunbury.

It has brought a few people to tears–which could mean they found it really good, or really bad… Either way, they were moved, and that’s okay by me. I hope you enjoy the read.

While entries have closed for this year’s Shore Lines, you can still be a part of the Festival; it’s happening at BREC on Saturday, 23 May 2015.

Wishing you a brilliant week,

Hannah.


Mother’s Lullaby
by Hannah van Didden

     Crazy midnight tired. Third night in a row now backward, forward, gently, rocking. The world around us sleeps and we are in a learnt embrace.
2:22am. I have a habit of checking the clock on my phone at duplicated numbers. It’s meant to be lucky. An hour and fifty-three minutes already.
Your eyes are shut and you resist the repose that would ordinarily come with your stretched-back pose. I lay you in your cot and count the seconds until you are once again awake.
Your teeth are giving you grief and I offer comfort as your little face twists and scrunches, my tiny munchkin. There is nothing I can do to give respite but pat your back and coo.
I’ve tried it all. The breast, the bottle, new nappy, homeopathics, clove oil, gum rubbing, teething ring, the amber necklace thing that I am worried will choke you if I leave it on overnight. Almost ready to resort to a drive to a twenty four-hour chemist, to drug you up in spite of my objections to your father’s yesternight suggestion.
You are standing. It must have taken you thirty seconds this time. Your drooping eyes are open and you are on your feet, rocking against the bars of your cot.
‘Lay down,’ I tell you. ‘Lay down or Mummy will go back to her own bed.’ I count down with my fingers. ‘Five, four, three–’ You always move by the time I get to three.
Your reluctant recline is quickly followed by a request. ‘Water? Water?’
‘You’ve had water, my love. Any more and we’ll need to change your nappy again.’
‘Water?’
‘Ok. Water,’ I sigh. I slide my hand under your back and help you to sit just high enough to sip. You didn’t really want that sip. It has wet you in a warm dribble.
‘Ice?’
‘Not now, bubba. It will melt all over your bed.’
‘Ice?’ I think you get your stubborn persistence from me, but I would never tell your father that.
‘Ok, bubba. I will have to go to the kitchen for it. I’ll just be a moment. Wait there.’ As if you could go anywhere else.
I slip the frozen block into your mouth. Your lips feel soft, like powder-coated marshmallows. You smile at me in instant relief. So wise you are, my little one.
‘Mummy. Mummy,’ you say, lolling the iceblock around in your mouth.
‘Yes, my baby?’ I say, on the point of total exasperation.
‘I love you, Mummy.’
‘I love you too, bubba.’
‘Mummy. I love you too, Mummy.’
I lift you up and out of your cot, knowing this was your plan all along, and I know I should settle you where you lay, but my arms are operating outside of my control on account of the fact that my heart has melted.
I’m verging on delirium, from lack of sleep and love for you. I hold you tight to me and rock in squats and lunges. I feel the iceblock drop from your mouth and down my front in a jolt of cold.
Your little body is sinking. I wait to be sure it’s real but it seems you know what is to come.
You lurch yourself awake and start that squeal, the one like the kettle’s boiling, and I hear your daddy in the next room, tossing and turning as you gather volume. You get that from him, you know, the way you throw yourself about in bed. You are boiling over, balanced on my shoulder, your failsafe place. Why is it not working now?
‘Please, little one, sleep,’ I beg, but you either can not or will not listen.
2:55am. I have a habit of checking the clock on my phone at duplicated numbers. Two hours and twenty six minutes, if my midnight maths is right.
I am frustrated in the beginnings of anger, on the cusp of tears. I mustn’t let you see me lose it. I have to be strong for you. I place you in your cot to immediate protest.
‘Two minutes,’ I say firmly, because I need this break. It’s a bargain to which I know you won’t agree and I shut out your screech as I walk the hall. It’s a wonder the rest of the house is able to sleep through your wails.
That’s when I hear it for the first time: the bark. You are coughing a chesty cough and all this time I thought your raspy voice was from your restlessness. Not just two-year old molars coming early, as if that wasn’t enough, you are really sick and I feel like the worst Mum in the world for thinking of myself and my meetings. You are sick. You won’t be going anywhere today and neither will I.
I am by your side, grab you close, rub your back. You rub mine back.
I resign myself to this all-night movement and soften into our unending wake. As I feel my bones relax, I remember. I remember your song. It’s been a long time but I have nothing else to lose, so I sing:

     Now it’s time to go to bed.
Time to rest your weary head.
Dream sweet, my darling girl,
rest deep, my darling girl,
and go to sleep.

Second time through, you grow heavy in my arms and I swing you above your mattress in a minutes-long hover, gradually slower and lower, my triceps will ache tomorrow. I stand at your cot-side to watch the in and out of your breath. I smile and allow a tear to escape me. My angel is at peace.

*

     After visiting daily for what seems like weeks, I have been here at your side for the last three nights because I didn’t like the way the nurses were cleaning you. Then the doctors told me your time is near, as if I didn’t know that from the sign on the front of the building. Your eyes are closed, nearly always closed, but you don’t sleep anymore.
I have tried everything I can think of to make you happy–opening the window in the morning, playing music, telling you about the bird life on the lake outside, reading the paper out loud, talking in general, closing the window with the afternoon chill–but I don’t know how much is sinking in. My family is on hold and they are wearing thin. I don’t want the kids to see you like this.
The hacking starts again and I hold a tissue to your mouth. You are too weak to lift your head and I have to scoop out the gunk, sometimes yellow, sometimes green, sometimes a shade of army brown. The first day was hard; it’s now our routine.
‘War-aah.’ You are all creaks and groans in vowels, your words have left you. I would have liked one last game of Scrabble.
‘Water?’ I ask.
You nod feebly. It is hard to see you like this but I mustn’t let you see my pain. I have to be strong for you. I prop up your head with pillows, just enough for you to take a sip, but it is beyond you now.
‘I. I.’
‘Sorry, Mum, I don’t understand.’
‘I.’
‘Ice?’
A dip of the head. I think that’s a yes. There is a freezer in the room. I wonder how long the ice has been frozen in the tray. I place a block in your mouth. Your lips feel like leather, like the rest of your shrivelled skin, and they give no expression.
A drip escapes from the corner of your mouth and I catch it with a tissue, mop up its trail in dabs. I pat your withered hand, take it in mine and notice how small you have become. You are fading from the inside. You squeeze, just enough for me to know you are still there, and my heart breaks.
‘I love you, Mum,’ I say, and I can tell you feel the same by the lone tear falling down your cheek.
Forty years ago, you did this for me, I remember. I remember the times I was sick or hurt or scared and you were there. I remember not wanting to sleep in case you disappeared and the times you stayed. And, as I stroke your head, I recall the song you sang to me:

Now it’s time to go to bed.
Time to rest your weary head.
Dream sweet, my darling girl,
rest deep, my darling girl,
and go to sleep.

I sing it twice, even though I know you are gone after the first time through. I close your eyes and let mine flow, knowing this time you are at peace.

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