The early morning sky is grey and cold. It has come, the day I have been dreading. This day, I know, will force me to admit to myself that this dream, this horrible, twisted nightmare is no more, no less than the truth.
Black skirt, black top. Black coat, black shoes, black gloves and scarf. I can not put them on. I will not wear them. Black, they are a sign of mourning, a sign of grief. A sign of death. I will not accept death. I sit in front of the mirror, and silently, slowly and ceremoniously rip these abhorrent garments to shreds. As if it will help. As if it will make it alright.
Time is a strange concept. A second can seem like hours, while an hour seems like nothing. The hours pass quickly, and all too soon it is time.
We leave the house in silence. We walk in silence. My aunt's face is drawn and white. Her eyes no longer sparkle with happiness. She is not happy to see me dressed in a long grey skirt. I do not care. Under my blue coat I am wearing a red top. My aunt thinks it is inappropriate. She says it is disrespectful. She is dressed all in black. Perhaps that is appropriate, perhaps it is respectful. Perhaps she accepts death. I do not.
The streets we walk were once familiar. Now they are strange and intimidating. I see people I know. People I used to know, for their faces, pitying, are alien to me.
The snow crunches beneath my boots. I used to love snow. Now I do not. I can not. I hate everything about this day. I hate the people who wordlessly watch us. I hate the things I know they think as we make our way to the church. To the funeral.
As we reach the wooden gates of St Mary's, the hearse passes us. I see the coffin, her coffin, nothing but a box with a garland of flowers on top. She is not in there. That is not her. That is not my mother. My mother is not dead.
As we walk through the graveyard I try not to see the gravestones, covered in snow. A few of them are well looked after, a few have fresh flowers by them. The majority, though, have not been touched in a long time. They are forgotten.
Is this what is going to happen? Will people forget? I swear it to myself there and then, turning my eyes from someone's forgotten tomb. I will not forget. I will never forget.
We are almost the last to arrive. As we walk down the aisle to the front row of pews, people turn. Row upon row of people dressed in black look at me with sympathetic expressions. I take no notice. I do not want their sympathy. I do not want anything from them, except departure. I want them to leave, now.
As we take our seats, a sepulchral hush descends. No music plays as the coffin, my mother's coffin, is carried in by some people who I have never seen before in my life. Some strangers. They never knew my mother.
It is taken to the front and there it stands, surrounded by flowers. My mother loved flowers. It is a shame she can not see these, I think.
The priest stands up, and the service begins. I do not listen, for I do not want to hear. All of a sudden it has become real. That is my mother. My mother is dead.
The pain of realisation is torment. I struggle to cope with the emotions, the emptiness I am suddenly feeling. My mother is dead.
Various people stand up and say a few words about the wonderful woman they had the honour to know, the kind woman, the great teacher, the loyal friend. Now it is my turn to stand up and say a few words about the person who brought me up, who taught me everything I know, who made me the person I am. A few words. I can think of no words.
I stand up as if in a dream. I feel tears running down my cheeks. My mother is dead.
I walk slowly, hesitantly to the coffin. Out of the pocket of my skirt I pull a small photo in a silver frame. It is a photo of my mother and me when I was young. She smiles up at me. I do not want to give it up, my precious picture, but I place it upon her coffin, and walk up to the pulpit. Staring at me are countless expectant faces. What do they want me to say? What do they expect from me now?
I am sure I had a lot of things to say. But now I have nothing. I can hardly think.
"My mother…" I start, and falter. A few words, that's all I have with which to tell these people what she meant to me.
"The day she died," I say, "my mother told me that even when she died, she would not have left me. She would not have gone. I believed her,"
I pause. This does not seem to be what these people wanted. I do not care.
"Now I know it was not true. She has gone."
I do not look at anyone. Tears are still flowing down my face. I step down and walk out of the church. I do not know if people are watching me. They can do what they like. My mother is dead.
Outside, the snow is falling. I do not feel the cold that I know I should. I wait for them all to come out for the burial. Soon the huge wooden doors open, and all the black clad people vacate the church, led by the solemn priest.
Once again, time is behaving oddly. I gaze at the trees on the opposite side of the graveyard, and before I know what is happening, the coffin is in the ground and earth is being thrown on it.
Ashes to ashes, I think vaguely. Dust to dust. The priest is saying something about entrusting my mother to God.
There is no God.
I feel like screaming, yelling. What God would do this to me?
Does it make you feel better, I wonder, to pretend she's going somewhere?
"What God?" I say quietly. Everyone turns to stare, yet again, at me.
"THERE IS NO GOD!" I shriek. My head is pounding. I give nobody time to respond, but run, as fast as I can. I am not sure where I am heading, but I just keep running, keep going on and on, until finally collapsing, sobbing desolately under a tree.
As I lie there, my head on my arms I try to forget the pain, the life that I am now facing alone. My mother was all I ever had and memories of her drift through my confused thoughts. Things she said, things she did.
I remember times she would sing to me as a small child. I would sit for hours on end and listen, spellbound, to her beautiful voice. And I would ask her, every now and then, to tell me a story. She would tell me the fairy tales which we so loved. I was enchanted by stories of another world, fairies and wicked witches, handsome princes and majestic castles. I loved happy endings. I did not know that there is no such thing.
One of my favourite fairy tales was one she told me just the once. I can not remember it exactly, but there were twelve princesses. Every night they would go down a long staircase to another world. I do not remember what they found there, but I am sure it was a happy ending.
I remember the first piece of advice she gave me, and I have always tried my best to take it.
"Be yourself," she said. "Do what you want to do, be what you want to be but always, always be yourself."
But she has left me alone. Alone, I don't know who I am. I certainly don't know how to be myself.
I remember what must have been my seventh birthday. More than anything I wanted a dress that I had seen while out shopping with mum a few weeks before. It was beautiful, made out of velvet, with puffy sleeves and tiny pearls around the hem and neckline. I had imagined myself as a princess in a fairy tale, dancing at a ball in this dress, or perhaps just wearing it around my grand castle.
It was black.
I was seven years old, so of course I was very excited on the morning of my birthday. I was fully expecting to receive the dress I had asked for. My disappointment when I ripped back the wrapping of my present to discover a different dress must have shown in my face. This dress was beautiful too, but it was not the one I wanted. I was stupid, maybe cruel enough to tell my mother so.
"I'm sorry love," she said. "I couldn't afford the other one." She looked terribly hurt and at once I wanted to apologise, but she had already left the room in tears. I felt awful, and that was when I promised myself never to hurt anyone ever again. The dress I had so harshly rejected was made of blue denim, with brightly coloured flowers embroidered around the hem. It was lovely. With tears running down my cheeks I put it on and went to say I was sorry. My mother forgave me. I did not forgive myself.
I remember the times we would go to the theatre together. When I was about nine, we went to see Joseph, and thus I discovered my love of musicals. The wonderful colours, the music and the atmosphere as a whole bewitched me. A few months later we went to see Cats. The song Memory brought tears to my eyes, and soon became "our song". My mother's and mine. Now, I suppose, it is just mine. Memory. My song.
I remember all our Christmases. I adored Christmas, everything about it, every single aspect from late night shopping to the smell of cooking turkey on Christmas morning. I wonder if I still adore it now.
We used to go Christmas shopping in the long winter evenings. I loved the town at night, the welcoming lights of the shops shining out into the darkness. The Christmas lights were never really particularly spectacular, I realise now, but they seemed magical. Everything about Christmas was magic to me. We would spend hours decorating the tree, using the same old fairy lights, the same old decorations that we'd had for years. I'd put the same old angel on the top but it always looked fantastic. Then we would put the main lights out and turn on the multicoloured fairy lights, and just sit in the multicoloured room, light dancing on our hair and faces.
I loved the smell of Christmas trees. We always had a real tree, never a fake one, and the smell brought back memories of things I didn't know I remembered.
Christmas was magic.
It will be Christmas soon. I will not love it. I will hate it.
There will be no magic.
A year ago we went on holiday. We went to the highlands of Scotland, from where our family originates.
Now, I think, there is no family. There is just me. My aunt is not really a relative, just a very close friend of my mother. There is no-one else. There is only me.
Suddenly I realise how alone I am.
The Scottish highlands really are spectacular. The mountains, the lochs, are beautiful. The place where we stayed for that last holiday was a small cabin by a loch. Every morning I would stand by the lake, before the sun had really risen, regardless of the cold and just watch, taking it all in. Every night I would do the same, watching the moon and stars' reflections on the surface of the water. There is nothing more impressive, I would think, than this. There is nowhere I would rather be.
We went one day for a walk. It was raining and the sky was grey and dismal but I didn't care. A man was standing by one of the many lochs playing the bagpipes. The sound was haunting, eerie, atmospheric and wonderful.
"It's depressing," was all my mother said, and she was right but I loved it. There was real feeling in that music. Chilling, it was, and it brought tears to my eyes, as music so often does.
Ecstasy of grief, I read somewhere, a long time ago. Standing there that day, looking over the steely grey waters, listening to the sorrowful tones of the bagpipes, I thought I understood. Grief, despair was as beautiful as it was terrible, powerful in every way possible.
I had never felt it. Not like I do now.
There is no ecstasy in grief. There is nothing, nothing but pain, emptiness. There is not power but an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. Suddenly everything is out of your control and the world goes on turning, without you.
And the world goes on turning without me.
I remember when she told me she was ill. When she told me she was dying. Can it be months ago? It feels like yesterday. Can it be days ago? It feels like a year.
I wanted to scream and cry and yell and hit things and break things. But I could do nothing. I could say nothing, I could not think. I just stood there as my world shattered and collapsed around me. There was no expression on my mother's face. She was calm, calmer than I had seen her, ever. How could she feel nothing?
"No. No, that's not true. IT'S NOT TRUE!"
She looked down.
"It's true. It's true."
Still no emotion showed on her face.
It couldn't be true.
It was true.
She died in hospital. I was by her side. That day she looked different somehow. Beautiful, as always, but different. She seemed calm, resigned. We knew this was the end.
"It will be alright," she said quietly, serenely. "It will happen soon." I couldn't believe the tranquillity with which she said those words. "I will die, but I will not have left you. I will not have gone."
She could say no more. She sighed. For a fleeting second I thought I saw panic in her eyes before they closed for the last time.
Sitting under my tree I see nothing of the turning world, but my mother is so vivid in my mind that she could be here. I can hear her voice, telling me it will be alright.
I do not believe her.
"How?" I whisper, to myself, to my mother.
"How will it be alright? How can it? How will anything ever be alright?"
I can feel her touch on my hand.
Trust me, she says.
I can see her, her face smiling but her blue eyes sad.
Is she real? Is she a ghost? Is she an angel?
I look up, and there is nothing. But the wind blows, warm against my cheek. The light shines through the bare branches of the tree. I hear the wind whistling, suddenly strong. And something else, a voice, a whisper, a breath on the wind.
I will never have gone.
Perhaps I am crazy but I do not feel alone. My feeling of utter helplessness is gone. I do not want to leave my memories but I know I must.
I stand. It is time. Time to go, time to return to my life.
Spring has come. The grass is green, flowers are growing. The rain falls. The world turns.
Walking through the streets I see familiar faces.
"Hello!" I might call and smile at them.
I stop at the florists.
"Hi Mrs Jameson," I say to the kind old woman behind the counter.
I look around the shop for a while before settling on a small bunch of sky blue flowers.
"They were your mother's favourite," Mrs Jameson says vaguely as I pay her one pound fifty for them.
"I know," I reply. "They are for her. She loved flowers."
Mrs Jameson smiles and I bid her goodbye before leaving the tiny shop. I head straight toward the church, through it's wooden gates. I kneel down by a well tended headstone, a strangely life-like white angel, smiling up at the heavens.
I lay the flowers on the grave. My mother loved flowers.
I sit back on the grass. The silence in the graveyard is complete. I have nothing but my own thoughts.
Perhaps I should be crying but I smile.
The day she died my mother told me that even when she died, she would not have left me. She would not have gone.