I’m walking down the street with my sister, Libby. Low fences, gardens, there’s a black sleeping in the window of the place on the corner. Libby waves at the sleeping cat, ‘that’s Blackie.’
‘I thought so,’ I say.
We talk about work, and her pets, and her partner, Darren, and work. Libby works at a nursing home, there’s a cat there, too. She loves animals. She loves the residents at the home. I’m sure she she’d be in trouble if the management knew that she treated the residents like they were people. She doesn’t baby them, she jokes with them, teases them, you could call it winding them up.
I’m holding her hand, it’s soft, small and crinkly. Her hand is warm. I revel in its touch because I understand we’re in a dream.
In the woken world she’s gone. She’s dead, her remains are washing away from Platypus Rock, she’s been gone for over a year and a half. So I hold her hand knowing that my grip is time-limited. I listen to her talk and laugh at the things she says because she was always funny.
And here’s the thing.
When I wake up, I don’t wake crying, bawling, gutted, desperate to go back, like I have so many times before. I awake smiling, grinning, like a maniac.
Something has happened on this grief journey I’m on. It’s become lighter, the pain is still there and it doesn’t touch take much to feel it, a memory, a song, the sight of the hospital she spent so many hours in, her partner’s tears. But the pain isn’t so wretched. And I can smile at it. Weird.
At work we have an enormous TV set to a music channel. I think we have it primarily so that customers don’t know how long they’ve been waiting. Tuesday morning, about six or so, Madonna comes on. Holiday. The song most special to me and Libby and my other, sister, Erin. I keep my mind on the job. The milk swirls in the jug, steam, knobs, crema, my partner at the machine, she’s loves the song, too.
‘Sing it, Gin,’ I say.
Gin’s a good singer and I like that she can sing at work and be herself. I sing in my kitchen. Or in my car.
I make coffee and think of Libby. Libby and Erin and me. At the movies, at parties, smoking outside the hospital even though she’s in for Pneumonia, turning up Madonna in the car. The remembering doesn’t tip me over. Plenty of times I’ve stood at the machine and closed my eyes against tears. Plenty of times customers have looked at me, worried, why does look like she is about to burst into tears? How is she fucking up my coffee?
Instead I’m thinking about how happy I am I knew her. And I’m not thinking it to distract from the pain – in the past that has worked – I’m feeling joy even though it’s six in the bloody morning, the shop is full and my sister continues to be dead.
‘Thanks, for the good times, Lib,’ I say and sing along, because stuff it, I can’t be that bad, I can carry a tune.
It must be the Acceptance.
And the medication.
And that Life is going on all around me whatever I do to pretend it isn’t. And no, Libby didn’t get to have children, she is truly gone, but gee, sometimes my kids, and Erin’s kids, look like her. Especially, my youngest. Stephen King Junior is trim like Libby was when she was a kid. And he’s a maelstrom in a little packet, like she was. And he’s wicked, he has the glint in his eye that Libby had. And when my kids are wet, they are the spit of their dead Aunty. Their hair slicked back, just their faces showing in the blue of the pool, it’s a lovely shock every time.
She’s gone, but she isn’t. I can accept it now. I accept that that last phone call is it. That the saved texts in my phone are it.
But there are dreams.
I’ll meet you in my dreams, Lib.
a blurry shot of the days before swimming pools. as you can see, i’m in the lead. but she’s never far away.