house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Meeting Hope


Stephanie, my mother-in-law, died on the 24th of June - we have had two weeks now, of learning what we already knew and hadn't entirely understood: how extraordinary she was, and how loved. Two weeks and I suspect it's only the beginning... 

A few months back she told me she couldn't possibly write a book. 
'Not even an autobiography?' I asked. 
'Oooh!' she cried. 'I wouldn't have the faintest clue what to say, where to start...' 

I made a start for her. 


MEETING HOPE

To Stephanie, with so much love…


1993. Summer, somewhere between islands, in the Adriatic sea:
you lounge inside the boat, one hand trailing through the water.
The air thrums on white sun strings.
The sea around us is an eye; long furrows of salt, born and blinked away…
And I - too young, too shy, too new to you -
Sit up straight, at the prow.


Steph and Kira
Photo by Magnus Wolfe Murray (but not in Croatia, and not in 1993...) 


Next, you jump onto the rocks, and your skirt flares like poppies in the breeze,
Such slender ankles, I think; and the trust, the flair…
Your scarf floats into the sea, you laugh and wrap it round your head.
‘Gypsy-style’ you declare.

Next, we cross paths with a stern-looking woman. You smile.
A lost cause, I can see, an effigy of ancient Balkan grief…
‘Lovely day, isn’t it?’ Your cigarette, as you talk, leaves fleeting lines of light in the air.
The stranger’s face: a sour map of wrinkles.
You show her a feather you found on the beach, a photograph of new grandchildren,
She is determined not to quail… I watch her fail.

Next, you're lifting the cambric cover from her basket
peeking in, sniffing handfuls of basil, fawning over fresh fennel.
‘Divno’ says the Croat and I translate, ‘divine’.
I blink and see you now as she must do:
exotic in your silk skirt, your gypsy scarf, your Spanish espadrilles
Curious as a bird, and kind, exuding your own summer…

The wrinkled face folds into a tentative smile
as the woman points to herself, ‘Nada! Nada!’
You look confused: ‘Nothing? What nothing?’
‘It's her name,’ I say. ‘It means “hope”, around here…’
‘How perfect’, you cry and offer your own name: ‘Stephanie... 
...may also mean “hope” somewhere, you know?…’
Nada nods, uncertain but charmed.  

Next, we're at Nada's house. 
You’re walking round the garden, holding each other by the waist, like sisters,
picking cherry tomatoes off the vine, rubbing lemon balm into your fingers,
you're telling Nada about your Scottish crops: ‘carrots,’ you count, 
‘...wild rocket, and every kind of berry…’
‘Peppers’, Nada points, ‘doing great, and green beans, grapes in August but peaches now, 
look, peaches… try one!’
She gives you five. ‘Divno,’ you say, and next to you, Nada cries: ‘divine!’

Next, Nada’s son, the fisherman, walks up with a basket of silver and salt
A frothing of fish within, bewildered still and trying to recognise, around them, the sea
Where there is none. Only sun and beds of rosemary.

I sit on a stool, ferrying words between you.
You and Nada, Stephanie and Hope.
We eat fish soup, later
you discover you have sons born on the same day.

The sea is full of fish, Nada notes.
The world is full of sons, you laugh, mother to mother.
You both agree a daughter would also have been nice.
And here you, Stephanie, turn to me, beaming, bright as two summers. 
‘This one would do,’ you whisper.
I blink. My heart beats fast inside your echo.

Possible daughter,
Owner of words, transient voice between you and Hope,
Curator of your silk skirts and smoke rings
Warden of your Spanish espadrilles…
Possible daughter…
So many things I take with me, from that day,
One of them will stay,
In my basket of salt and silver,
‘This one will do,’ you whisper

And you beam, bright as all summers.

Another journey. Steph, again, on her way. 
(Beautiful) photo by Gavin Wolfe Murray (I'd say...)