Chapter 2 - Zoe
St. Leonard’s Hospice was a 20-minute drive from Haxby. I travelled along the A64 in a haze towards the house I grew up in. Beyond my beaten-up Vauxhall Astra spanned stretches of sprawling road. The engine revved as I pushed on the acceleration and snaked through cars. In the background, the radio crackled indistinct lyrics. The volume was too low to make out which song was playing.
Halted at a set of traffic lights, I caught sight of my reflection in the rear-view mirror. Blotches of crimson peppered my skin, and mascara smeared around my swollen eyes. Horns beeped, signalling the green light. I just had time to wipe some of the blackness away with the end of my woollen jumper before I reached my destination.
As I approached the drive, I could see my father’s inky Ford. He’d made it back before me; lights illuminated the downstairs - signifying life.
Stepping inside felt like an imposition, even though it had once been my home too. Without my mum’s presence, the rooms felt colder, smaller - all too quiet. Her laughter could no longer be heard echoing through the hallways. Her silhouette no longer hastily flurrying around cleaning and tidying. Isn’t it strange how you only recall the good times when thinking back on a deceased loved one?
My eyes caught a glimpse of her favourite mug on the kitchen side. I’d bought it for her as a birthday present one year. It was adorned with metallic, gold feathers against a soft pink background, although some of the metallics had worn off. On the front were the words, ‘Mothers don’t sleep, they just worry with their eyes closed.’ I remember after she had opened it she said, “You know me so well, Zoe!”
I had. She was always a worrier. Ever since I was born, my mother, Grace, would be fretting over my every move. Learning how to swim, she was petrified that I’d drown. She never let me swim without her eyes burning into the back of my neck. All the other mothers would be nattering away to friends or buried deep into a book. Not my mum. She convinced herself that if she couldn’t see me, something bad would happen. Learning how to ride a bike was a nightmare.
“What if you fall off?” she’d say.
“Then I will just get back on,” I’d respond.
Once I had conquered the wheels and proven myself capable, she still wasn’t satisfied.
“Don’t go too fast or too far. Stay where I can see you.”
My innate clumsiness hadn’t helped. I still have scars scattered across my kneecaps. Even as a teenager, I had to be in eyesight.
“It isn’t you I don’t trust,” she’d say.
Her oppression wore on our relationship for a period because I let it, and the guilt of that swept through me – drowned me. Her precious, motherly concern was gone, and I longed for it – ached for it.
All those memories flooded my mind as I crept through her house, like an intruder. It was so strange seeing photographs hung on the walls of her smiling. I’d seen those photographs a million times, and I’d never looked at them the way I did then, frozen in time, alive, happy, healthy.
With the biggest smile, always adorned in red lipstick, surrounded by curled, blonde locks. I turned myself away and began sorting through her things.
One of the jobs I knew I’d have to do sooner or later was sorting through her clothes. There were items I wanted to keep for myself: an oversized jacket she’d loved in the ’80s and said she would give me one day, and of course her wedding dress – a puffy, lace meringue that was truly horrendous but somehow looked sensational in her wedding pictures.
Up to this point, my father, James, and I had floated about in our separate grieving bubbles. We’d never been tactile. All my life, my father had been on the fringes of my existence, tight-lipped but present, involved just enough to know me as a daughter but not enough to know me as a person. Death only magnified our awkwardness.
As I made my way up the stairs, my father intercepted me.
“Where are you going?” Despite having lived in Haxby for decades, an Irish accent still lingered on his tongue. The same accent that seduced my mother all those years ago.
I stopped my ascent, not looking him in the eye. “I want some of mum’s things.”
I could practically feel his forehead crinkling. “What things?” he questioned abruptly.
“Just some clothes, if that’s okay?”
When he didn’t badger me further, I pressed on, taking it as a sign of agreeance.
I continued up the stairs and headed to my mum’s bedroom. Browsing through her cluttered wardrobe, I feared I wouldn’t be able to find her infamous jacket, but right at the back, practically the last item (as it always is), was the shoulder-padded piece I was searching for. I immediately smiled as I pulled it out into the light. It smelt a little fusty, but it looked as gorgeous as I remembered. It had large lapels and sturdy gold buttons dotted down the front with marvellous puffed sleeves. I slipped it on, hugging it around me.
Then I began to weep.
I buckled over and let the sadness wash over me. I knew this day had been coming, but the realisation that my mother would never return hit me like a bulldozer. It was at that moment, I felt something scratch against my skin. I thought it was a label in the lining of the jacket, but when I took it off, I saw a hidden pocket inside and a piece of paper poking out. I stared at it for a few seconds, wondering what it could be before gently taking it out and unfolding it. The letter was addressed to me.