Day 46 and it was mother’s day and it came with a hard decision. I had to decline an invitation to accompany the family on a picnic. I didn’t want to stretch the conditions of alert level 3. It would have involved a drive north and we knew my grandson would want a cuddle. ‘I can wait,’ I said, ‘until we have clarity on level 2.’ But oh I felt wistful. I missed the three of them and the baby bump. I missed my son in Sydney just as much. I missed my mother. The third anniversary of her death is looming in just a few days. It was on this day, in 2017, that I rang Silverdale Hospital in Christchurch — the place my mother lived when MS robbed her of her mobility — to wish her a happy mother’s day. We’d been on the phone the day before. I’d described the view across the exposed sand at Cox’s Bay, the tide was well out — the children stepping over the squelchy sand, two women walking, and in deep discussion, one wearing a pink hoodie, beautiful in the distance against the wet grey ground the pale white sky. ‘It sounds good, Deborah,’ she said. She loved this, me in the car taking her places around Auckland and describing the scene via the Bluetooth connection to my phone. Mum only had a small crackle in her chest. I remember thinking, please not pneumonia again. She’d nearly died two years earlier.
The next day I rang her again. The nurse answered and said, ‘Your mother’s condition deteriorated overnight. The doctor is here, would you like to speak to him?’ The following conversation had touched on the surreal. He said ‘What do you want me to do? Send her to hospital or keep her here. If she stays here she will die.’ My answer, said with a gulp, ‘I rang to wish my mother a happy mother’s day. Please may I talk to her.’ My mother, very crackly, came on the phone. She said, ‘Deb they’re asking me about my end of life care plan. This is unreal.’ The ambulance took her to hospital and a two and half days later she died. Looking back I feel lucky. With my brother and sister we companioned her throughout that precious time and were sitting alongside the bed, in the field of her vision, when she died. I say we were lucky because I know of people who have lost a parent in the time of coronavirus. They were separated by hundreds of miles and were unable to follow their instincts and travel to be there at the end. Thinking about them now makes me tearful.
My mother’s day. Knowing I would be alone I prepared for the day. Yesterday I’d bought a croissant, through the window of the local French patisserie, Chateaubriant on Vauxhall Road. How do you heat a croissant without an oven? I had discussed my dilemma with my Dutch friend Fredrika. The question was posed in the context of me describing how I like to demarcate the advent of the weekend. I have Friday night drinks with myself. I buy a small bottle of cherry plum kombucha specifically for this purpose. And for the weekend I have a croissant on Saturday morning. This is something from my old life; croissants and a leisurely read of the weekend paper, sharing the sections, whilst sitting in a patch of sunshine luxuriating … and she said, ‘Oh that’s easy. You cook it in a frypan.’ What? ‘You slice the croissant apart and put a little butter and your favourite jam inside, and then you butter the outsides and fry on each side until golden brown.’ I tried this with my favourite marmalade, the Anatoth brand with its juicy chunks of peel. The best way to eat the lightly browned, buttery, dripping morsel is with a knife and fork. Enjoy with a cup of organic English Breakfast tea, just the very best.
This morning over croissant and tea I read the Devonport Flagstaff from cover to cover. There I learned about the sightings of dolphins performing acrobatics in the Rangitoto channel. There was a photo of one sleek dolphin leaping on page fourteen. Apparently they’ve been feeding in the shallow waters off the beaches at Narrow Neck and Cheltenham. They’ve been attracted here by the silence. According to research, marine life, 'from oysters to mammals, are sensitive to the noise of loud motors.' Even before lockdown, on the coastline of France, some bays were closed to boat traffic, or the speed strictly limited and this has brought the fish close to shore to feed. The writers of the article Alan and Wendy Pettersen wondered whether ‘maybe we could also be as considerate here and reap the rewards’. On finishing the read I thought this is another reason why I would like to put down roots in Devonport, to read these kinds of thoughtful nature observations by local writers.
In the late afternoon a great blessing was bestowed in the form of a family video chat with a lively three year-old, who, without prompting placed a series of affectionate kisses on the screen, in the place he judged my mouth to be. Then my son, sitting on his sofa in his Sydney apartment, turned his camera on a snuggly cream house made of felt, it looked like an igloo. There in the recess, at the back, was an eight week old Scottish Fold kitten. ‘This is Sylvie,’ he said. There were cries of delight all round, ‘the cutest thing, the little darling…’ And my heart swelled to be sharing the joy with my family; my son and grandson, and daughter, and bump, and baby cat.
When I said goodbye to my son, wishing him a good first night with a new kitten in his life, he said, ‘it feels good to have two beating hearts in this apartment.’
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