Fiction

Double morning day

I am not supposed to leave the facility alone, but on the night of the funeral I am shuffling out the door after curfew, right up the middle of the unlit road, ink-pad sky punctured with dead scattered stars, and I feel a sort of nothing.

Today is yesterday and tomorrow is last Tuesday, though it is also next Sunday, and let’s be honest with ourselves we owe ourselves that at least – it is also the following Wednesday. Next month, October, is expected to be July again, indeed the same July we just had.

When you are small as the day dips towards the evening, your fingernails full of the day’s dirt your hair matted and smelling of a lived day, you sometimes ask me, Is it morning? and I say, Yes yes, it is morning again, today is a double morning day, and why not, what can be done in the morning that can’t be done in the early evening, relived even, when the dimming light is kind and trembling.

I am walking by the river and it moves like a slow smooth-edged thing, an alive thing, a beating heart thing, a great brown seal. We cycle here when you are small and the ripples are fast-flashing mirrors of white light. Now the river does not flow, it moves singular and slimy through the suburbs, oblivious to dead trees half sunk in the river mud.

Your funeral is on Zoom, and I watch the live stream to the end and I learn there is a reason they make people leave the room after a funeral, but there is no one to tell me to stop watching the screen after everyone has filed out and all that is left are the drawn silver-shine curtains, ruffled along the bottom with an extra lace-edged skirt along the top, when all that is left is a badly lit empty room cradling the unbeating heart of my adult baby girl.

Do you feel it too? That nothing I feel at that nowhere time of night when something awakens me into my aloneness? But what has awakened me, when there is nothing, and there is no one?

I am a child and I am the oldest person alive, the last person living, I am at the beginning and the bitter end, I am dazed and dopey, searching the passing hours days weeks looking for a bobbing stick floating under the bridge, some difference between here and there, between yesterday and today, is it time for tea, when is the biscuit tray coming, can I take my turn around the courtyard.

It is always strange to see the smiling faces of the dead at their own funerals, like they didn’t get the memo, but when everyone is a screen, the living and dead, when every day is a screen, when life itself is a screen, dead people on screens are just as likely to begin speaking as the rest of us, and that day you were just as likely to laugh into the half-empty room, that same runaway giggle you’ve had since the start.

What is a day, you ask me when you are a child, and: what are we doing yesterday? You mean to say what are we doing today or tomorrow and I correct you, but of course you are right because the answer is the same no matter the day, so what different does it make, the question?

I do not know the time or the day or the month or the year and it makes no difference except for whether I need a cardigan.

The seasons change but it’s all the same, you say. You can’t unlive it: the bone-deep knowing that today is yesterday is tomorrow is last week and next month and next year. This was always true, but now you know it, know it in your brain and in your bones.

You could have talked to me. I would have understood. Don’t you think I feel it too?

And if my child is now dead, my grown child who lived and died in a different country, who lived and died on the screen, who lay softly unbeating in a box while tacky curtains closed around her while simultaneously she beamed happily, stupidly, like she had no idea what was going on, well, what difference does it make, any of it?

Your friend, your handsome friend, he speaks on the screen, stands next to your beaming face and describes parts of you I have never seen, he knows more than me, I who made you, of your sorrow. He makes a joke and people in the room laugh, people whom I have never met, never will and who understand the joke and whose eyes crinkle above their cloth masks. They are pleased for the release. I could attack them, I could bite down on their bones, I am a rabid dog jawing the air.

Your beaming blind face: is it you or the mirror twin I never knew? Or is it me, is that what I look like all these years while you are living one life with me and another with them?

I am so quiet I am screaming. I am screaming as if they are killing me, I am screaming as if I am killing them.

All I have is a biscuit, all I have is a turn around the courtyard, all I have is a dark walk along the road to the river, edged by night trees kneeling thick and heavy in the wormy shallows.

My child you live and die every day for me and how dare you when by rights it is my turn to die, let me ask you this my sweet newborn baby, my secret faraway girl, my grown distant daughter, is it morning again? – no, let me tell you this, as I will tell your daughter too: look at the dimming light, see how it trembles, yes, yes it is, today is a double morning day.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 30, 2021 as "Double morning day".

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Alison Martin is a writer, political adviser and former humanitarian worker.