August 2012, Edinburgh
I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said – where we’ll go when we’re gone and all that. And you were right. I am resistant. But still, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. So I’ve decided the best thing is to write it down. No fuss. Just something plain between us in case the worst happens.
I thought of the churchyard above that bay in the North. Do you remember? That week you painted baby seagulls struggling on the roof. We walked along the beach one morning, crunch, crunch, crunch across all of those pebbles, then up through the cut to the top of the hill. It was how they used to take the coffins before there was a road. At the top there was a stone embedded in the grass with nothing but ‘Mother’ written on it, no dates or any other name. Something called to me there. I think it was the idea of being high on a cliff, nothing but a noun to describe my existence. It would be quite far for you to come for a visit, but there’d always be something for you to paint – the rocks, the waves, the sky. And a stone, commemorating me.
I also gave serious consideration to the deserted village over in the West. Of course you wouldn’t be able to bury me there, only if you did it illegally. But you could scatter me, perhaps. Fling me up towards the pine trees in one direction, or down towards the burn in the other. Alternatively there’s the old tumbled down houses where the rowan tree grows. Do you remember the brightness of its berries as the sun went down? Don’t they say rowan trees ward off evil. That might be useful for when I’ve been burned and thrown to the wind.
Then again, there is the cemetery where we used to walk after dinner because there wasn’t anywhere else to go. I like the idea of ivy crawling all over me and those little wood sorrels opening and closing their petals each morning to welcome the sun. You’d have to ignore the railway line, of course, and the people who go there for various other activities of which it is best not to know. But it is probably the most practical option. Wouldn’t you agree?
The thing is, I’m having trouble deciding on one final resting place because my family doesn’t seem to have any particular resting place at all. My grandmother is down south, buried beneath those bluebells. My other grandmother is scattered to the Norwegian skies. My step-grandmother is underneath a tree in one of those ‘green’ burial sites where they don’t have any kind of marker once you’re gone. And I’ve got no idea where either of my grandfathers ended up at all.
My great-aunt bequeathed herself to science so that students could flay and dissect her. You could do that with me. I always liked the idea of doing something useful with my life and I’m not certain I’ve achieved that yet, so it would be something to tick off once I’m dead. I’m sure they’d return something of me to you eventually. They even send a thank you letter – I’m sure I heard that too.
So if you’re reading this and the worst really has happened, these are just some of the options for when I’m dead and gone. Not very helpful, I know, but at least I’ve narrowed it down to less than ten.
Then again, being forced to think in this way has made me wonder if in fact my favourite place isn’t a place at all, more of an existence. Lying in our bed of a winter evening. Arguing about who should put out the light. Eating pain-au-chocolat on a Sunday morning with that stuffed wood-duck we bought together gazing at us through his wee black eye.
Perhaps you could stuff me too and put me in the fireplace. Or keep a piece of me – an eyelash or a fingernail perhaps – in that box on the mantelpiece with the tricksy wooden lid. You could slide a tiny picture of me into your blue and gold locket, hide me forever behind the photo of your parents. Or make a miniature me out of matchsticks and glue it to the prow of your grandfather’s model boat. I would be like a mermaid then, or an adventuress headed for the unknown. That would be fun.
Either way, the only thing I know for certain is that my home is somewhere in your heart – that vital organ – so when it comes to my final resting place I think you should decide.
I know you can do it. I trust you. You won’t let me down.
© Mary Paulson-Ellis, 2013