Sunday, 15 May 2016

Pieces of you

We spoke about ashes before we'd even got together. I've no idea why. No-one had died yet. In fact no-one's death was even imminent. My mum's cancer was still pretty much in remission. Your Auntie Joan was chugging along. We weren't anticipating having to think about where to scatter ashes for a while. But that was the nature of our relationship. We covered most of the important topics in a few short months.

We were up on the moors above Redmires Reservoir. You told me about the family arguments over your father's ashes. (We were never even allowed to argue about my father's ashes. They were buried in his wife's garden and then she moved down south with all of his money and possessions. But this conversation was about your father.) You were uneasy about the fact that he had been scattered in different places. We joked about the various ethereal body parts struggling to reach each other, longing to be reunited. I think, now, that you wouldn't want your ashes to be split and sent to the four corners of the wind, although I know how much you wanted to travel.

I remember this as your family discuss where to scatter your remains but I'm not sure what my role is. I'm not your widow. We weren't married. We'd only been together eight months. Although your family make me feel so welcome, I don't have any rights. And everyone wants a piece of you. Everyone knew a different side of you. We all have different memories.

'Tell us one of your memories,' your friend, Pete, said at the bonfire, as I cried onto his shoulder, saying that no-one shared my memories, that my memories all belonged just to the two of us. That now they just belonged to me.  So I told him this story.

We'd been walking at Wyming Brook, walking and talking. There had been a lot of talking. We weren't yet having a relationship. We were in some limbo between friendship and love, wondering where we were going. We spent much of our time wondering. Mostly I had been talking and you had been listening. Your listening was intent, you were thinking hard. I was laying it all out for you - the sick child, the bad separation, mum's cancer, the heartbreaking ex, how hard it all was. I know you were there alongside me, taking it in, weighing it up, wondering whether you were up for the job. I remember us standing on the bridge staring at water and sitting on a bench, gazing ahead at trees, afraid to look each other in the eye.

It was getting late when we arrived back at the campervan.
'We should be somewhere where we can see the sun set,' I said.
'We should'.
We drove to the car park at Redmires and raced the sunset up onto the hillside. We lay down side by side on the heath. I turned onto my side so that I could watch the slow descent of the sun on the horizon and you did the same. We were two spoons, lying a respectable distance apart. There was no-one else around and all was silent, save for the sound of the breeze in the long grass, making a soundtrack to the movement of clouds across sky which gradually deepened to a rosy pink. The air grew cool as the sun sank. I shuffled back towards you to share your warmth and you put your arms around me. And we lay there until all the brightness had gone from the sky and I was starting to shiver in spite of the heat between us. And when we stood up, you held out your hand and we bounded down the hillside, joined together, the blacksmith and the writer, at the end of another perfect day.

If it were just up to me, I would scatter your ashes right there in that spot where we lay. I know for sure that there, in that moment, you were perfectly content. You told me so. Life doesn't get better than a moment like that. But you were fifty-three. You had other relationships, other lives, other beautiful moments. I can't keep you all to myself. And so the discussions about who should have your anvil and which tree should be planted where continue, and we talk about benches by the sea and by the reservoir, discuss whether to free you to the wind or bury you in one spot. I don't know where you will end up but I know this much: whatever we decide, there will be a piece of me that is forever yours and I will keep a piece of you forever in my heart. And that spot, that piece of ground, will be forever ours, that memory shared, now, by the people who read, by the people who listen.

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