Monday 21 December 2020


It is the winter solstice today. The shortest day of the year and also the special meeting after 800 years between Jupiter and Saturn. An astronomical event. I used to write almost immediately when a thing happened. An important, moving thing. A change to my story. Lately, I write less here. Lately, I let the waves wash over, and I go under, go quiet. 

On the 15th of December, a Tuesday, in the morning, my beloved friend, Mary Haybittle, died. See that last word? I never wanted to write that word. It still doesn't look right, or feel right. I feel heavy at the stopping point of that word. All the comforting clichés of continuation have not arrived at my doorstep yet. Mary instructed us not to be too sad. She wouldn't be far. She would be perched on our shoulder. Perhaps I need to let go of the heaviness before I can feel the lightness of that perch.

When her husband John died, three years ago, Dad began phoning Mary every single day. Occasionally, like when he fell and was operated on, the phonecalls temporarily ceased. But then, soon enough, the daily ritual would be picked up, and since Dad always used the speakerphone, Mary's voice filled our house. 'Lovely to hear from you, Chotu' and 'I've been so lucky. All my life, so lucky.' So lucky is what I have been. I was fifteen when I met Mary. I inherited her from Dad, who was already a soulmate of Mary's. I, more than sixty years her junior, knew in an instant that I had found my soulmate, too. And soulmate she stayed, decade after decade, until I almost began to believe Mary would be, forever. 

She was the one I needed when tears would gather at the base of my throat, when a storm threatened to capsize my little world. As a teenager then or as an aunt, now. Mary to the rescue, always, always. Once, as Mum likes to recall, I was very distressed and desperate for Mary after just coming home from hospital. It was 9pm, and only Mary would do. My mother, embarrassed, but too loving to argue with a sick daughter, rang Mary, and Mary came. 

On Saturday, I attended a lecture on Virginia Woolf by the artist, Kabe Wilson. 'To The Lighthouse' was Mary's first Woolfian gift to me at fifteen. Our handwritten or emailed letters to each other ran along Woolfian lines of stream of consciousness... her ellipses mirroring mine... And all through the years we marvelled at how 'that Bloomsbury lot' managed to enthral us, decades after their heyday. I, living in Cambridge, would have written to her about Kabe Wilson, sitting by the sea at eighteen, reading 'The Waves', and she would have been intrigued. And she, living in Chichester, by the sea, wrote to me of the waves, which I never see, hemmed in by the fens as I am. 

104 is a respectable age to leave the ones who love you, for being you, because you are special every day. But it isn't as though I had Mary for a hundred and four years, I think, still dissatisfied in the most childlike way. Perch on my shoulder, Mary. Never leave me, Mary. Come back, come back. This greedy child will wait.

(Paintings by Kabe Wilson and Clare Bowen)