One day, Tuesday it was, she was a young woman for a moment there, tatty at the edges, but for a laugh she'd been singing Wild Thing, of all things,as my sister washed her hair. They were beginning to primp themselves for me, for my 'wedding' celebration with my partner Lennie, that coming weekend. She hadn't had her hair done in a long time, and it was starting to look like long grass, snagged and a bit threatening. It was grey as a dark sky, and as the colour had also seeped out of her green eyes, to leave them soapy and sad; it was as if she only shone in black and white. Age does this.
The hairdresser came round, and got to work. Mum perched uncomfortably on her seat, grimacing. But when it was done, the cut looked great - it took years off her. It was as if we believed a new do might actually have somehow turned back the clock. She looked at herself suspiciously in the mirror, not convinced.
Friday, she went into hospital with a thyroid condition. Tuesday was the last day we sat together, and she had told me a story about being evacuated with her little brother from Birmingham to their aunt's in the country near Coventry. They had been picking blackberries in the hedgerows, eating more than they dropped in their baskets. In the evening they were doubled up with awful stomach cramps, howling. But louder were the air raid sirens. That same night, bombers poured incendiary bombs like fairy dust on Coventry's munition factories and boxed-in streets. More and more bombs, more than ever seen. Mum and my uncle clutched their bellies, begging to be allowed out of the shelter and back in the house, oblivious to the world coming to its end. I didn't remember mum ever telling me that story before. She had a memory for things that happened long ago, and the memories sparkled. The present was dull as lead.
When I was a kid, I used to sit at mum and dad's feet watching TV. After 9pm there were always films and plays on BBC2 with adult content. Sometimes there were queers on these alluring screens, mostly desperate and decadent, and they often got murdered, or committed suicide. But I also saw a movie Parting Glances, set in New York, and despite the grim reality of Aids it suggested something resembling... hope? Parting Glances always meant a lot to me. Meanwhile before 9pm, the TV was chockablock with gays, but presenting all the variety shows and mincing like court jesters across rickety sitcom sets to the sound of canned laughter. Gloom or pink froth, you decide. Dad would head upstairs to bed, since he had to get up around 4 o´clock for his milk round. Mum and I then had a time to ourselves, an enigmatic space in which to talk. One day, she said she wouldn't want a gay child. I was maybe twelve, an ingenue, what I held within me darting like fireflies in the mysterious night. Nonetheless, the statement was harsh, and my heart beat faster with knowing, aware somehow such statements were a two-way mirror reflecting on me and her. Why, I asked? I wouldn't like to see my child suffer too, like they seem to always do, she replied.
Thirty years later, she would have been there, all dolled up at our commitment ceremony. My dad had already passed two years previously. But he would have wanted to come too.
Monday, her heart stopped. I hate to imagine her being scared, of being in hospital, of what was to come, but I think if anything she was just so tired of suffering. My sister had said she had called out for her own mother in her sleep. Something like this will happen to all of us. We all lose, and then eventually we too are lost. But there is an irony here. She was suffering, not me. Her gay child was living the happiest of days and she knew it.