The smell of death reeked through our house when I went back, the air impregnated with nostalgic aromas. Turbulence and grief were trapped within the walls, imprisoned and not exorcised. The uncanny silence, bereft of noise and everyday activity, was loud and palatable.
I climbed the stairs tentatively, mindful of every step, a kaleidoscope of memories flashed before me causing me to draw in my breath and clutch at my stomach, I faltered slightly in my climb as her perfume assailed my senses, permeating through her home, latched to her things she wore and touched.
In her bedroom, standing in the centre of the room closing my eyes; I inhaled her, she came into my mind all the time in vivid flashes, and it was though I had a slide show in my head but the pictures were not in chronological order.
Surely this was just a dream and she would come yelling through the door screeching,"Janie, where are you?"
Her clothes were still strewn across the bed, her makeup scattered across her dressing table, the perfume bottle lidless. Picking it up, I brought it to my nose, inhaling deeply, this was her smell.
How would I ever forget it.
Her gilded hairbrush and comb set lay on her dressing table like trophies of war, carefully kept and polished, attesting to the many battles fought. These instruments of beauty had outlived the hands that so frequently wielded them a weapons.
Picking up her hairbrush, I placed the gold back to my cheek, stroking the handle. Many times she'd lashed out with it in a frenzied strike , the back connecting with my face or arms. Angry, red swollen welts almost immediately rose on my soft pale skin.
I opened her wardrobe, fondling her things, holding them tightly against my cheek, as though at any minute they too would turn to dust and disappear.
What would become of her things I wondered.
The wooden coat hangers hung in her cupboard like soldiers on parade, cold, hard and unbending, waiting for the next opportunity to display their dual role as hanger of her clothes and handy weapon. Staring at them, I flinched; the bruises they'd left were only but a few day old.
They seldom broke, but when the did, they splintered, the shards embedding themselves into my flesh. I wasn't sure which use of weapon I preferred - the coat hanger or brush were equally brutal, and both left more than just marks on my flesh. They left welts on my very soul.
The bathroom at the end of the passage - a familiar place, though not in the sense of bath routine. It was more know for the times of solitary confinement after I'd survived one of her beatings. Those times were designed to make me "consider my behavior". They were endless hours where I felt so alone and emotionally deprived as though I were just an empty shell sitting curled up under the bathroom sink to protect myself in case she returned.
The bathroom looked white and stark, the clothes bin overflowing with dirty unwashed clothes. Little yellow ducks lined the edge of the bath tub, and a wet soapy face cloth lay on the bottom of the bath, left behind after emptying.
By now I felt emotionally exhausted by the flooding of memories, many too painfully fresh to ignore or forgive.
Needing to relieve myself, I closed the door behind me and concentrated on my ablutions, enjoying the release of emptying my full bladder as though symbolically releasing some of the pain I carried. My thoughts involuntarily reminded me of the relationship I had with the toilet seat.
Many, many times my mother had put my head down the toilet and continuously flushed leaving me gasping like a trout that had just been thrown from a lake. She would pull me up again and again by the scruff of my neck, screaming for me to repeat after her, I'm a stupid, good-for-nothing girl.
"What are you, I can't hear you", she would yell, and I would gulp back toilet water and repeat, " I'm a stupid good-for-nothing girl!"
I must have been very bad to be treated this way - why else would a mother treat her daughter with such disregard and abuse?
I walked out of the bathroom backwards, closing the door behind me, as if by so doing, all that had happened in that room would stay in that room, and not haunt me for the rest of my life. It didn't; it was like an insidious fog, it crept from under the door, through the door lock and invaded every inch of my mind.
I wiped the back of my sweaty hand across my face and down my skirt and tried to pull myself together, mouthing the words I'd been brainwashed with since their death. " You have to be brave now Janie. This is no time for tears".
Would there ever be a time for tears? Or would I be too busy trying to survive the ghosts and repercussions of this horror.
Sitting on top of the stairs, my mouth still mouthing, " You have to be brave Janie, no time for tears" I moved forward on my backside, one by one down each step till I reached the stair I had sat riveted to in fear only a few days before.
Looking down, I noticed her blood stains covering the sofa, the only evidence left of her murder.
I ran down the stairs and searched for a bucket and water. Ineffectively I begun to scrub the stains, fervently trying to remove the starking reminder of my loss.
The wet blood smelled and my stomach heaved.
I couldn't hold it in any more, and as I vomited and vomited till I heaved with nothing left but bile, I fell in a heap on the floor and cried for the mother whom I would never know, who would never know me.
My mother's death taught me that close relationships can be impermanent, security ephemeral and family capable of being redefined. I developed an adult insight whilst still a child, but only had juvenile resources to help me cope.
With her death, my chance as her daughter for reconciliations also died. My mother will never say "I'm sorry," will never in effect become the mother she never was.
And just because I lost my mum didn't mean I lost the need to be mothered.
" By means of an image we are often able to hold onto our belongings; but it is in the desperateness of losing which picks the flowers of memory; builds the bouquet". Colette 1873 - 1954