Kirsty Baynham + Elizabeth Bourne

To Aunt Susie

You know what colours my life used to be. You were there, me a baby and then a dimpled child, when the blush left my cream cheeks and I hacked up blood with my coughs. Even then you spoke to me of horses, like magic. Mamma and Daddy asked you, my Aunt Susie, to nurse me, and when I was better you kept the promise I’d forced from your smiling lips and you gave me that horse, the only one I’ve ever owned. I called her Dolly and with my mind I painted her colourful to show the world she belonged to me.

That was not so long ago, but it clings to me now like the memory of a happy dream in a grey world. I thought I’d be happy forever, but happiness bothers me now – I cannot understand it. My present is small, only this envelope, sealed with my love and addressed to you, Aunt Susie. I had forgotten you until now. Amongst my happiness, I think – oh Aunt Susie – you slipped out through holes in my thoughts. New colours, new pleasures were distracting me.

Dolly and I both saw him, last summer, resting, grinning by the lake. It was morning and thin white clouds were being burned away by the rising crimson sun. I lay there with him and giggled as the lapping blue water tickled our toes. Dolly bent her head to drink and pretended not to see.

We stayed, he and I, until to our surprise night came. The lake at our feet had a chilly touch. We reached out to each other, slowly at first but then more and more, holding, touching. The stars above joined us, making us one heart, a parted union, and our childhood colours glowed like a flame just before it goes out.

A star stayed with me, Aunt Susie. From that night. I can feel it sharp against the red of my inside. It is darker than the others and I think it is more than a memory. I think there is more permanence to it than that.

So I’m writing to tell you that I can’t see colour anymore. It’s painful to think about, as though it’s somehow a thing I loved that’s slipped away. Dolly hangs her head now, as if she is afraid – and when I look at her, her eyes are cold and empty like betrayal.

This envelope is for you. I can’t see where it’s going, but it’s the only thing that will join my past to a future I don’t understand. I have tried to draw around it with the colours that used to be mine but it’s still blankness. So I’m sending it all to you – you whose care gave me my colours back once before – and I am hoping for your help. Until then, I have to go home to Mamma and Daddy. I have to go, and stroke Dolly’s coat that is now as dark as the star stuck inside me.

Illustrator: Kirsty Baynham

Writer: Elizabeth Bourne

Goodbye

It is very, very quiet outside. A glistening layer of frost hardens over three-day old snow. A gentle fog has settled around the treetops and there are animal tracks running across the crisp white lawn of the garden. The family went for a walk in the early afternoon but she did not see, as they passed through the garden to the road beyond, the dog or the fox who had etched the tracks into the cold ground. Perhaps they had been made yesterday, or before. Her mind ran with the tracks, away from her body and along the bottom of the wall until they disappeared around a corner and she was brought back inside herself.

Now she is sitting by the fire in the living room. It is the dusk of Christmas Day and her grandparents are there with her family and she is trying with all her might to feel the occasion in all its significance. The wonder and the magic of Christmas. The eight-foot tree stands in the corner of the room, adorned as always in festive glory, regal and noble in stature and in symbol. Reflected flames dance on the glass surfaces of its decorations and glint on the golden edges of Grandpa’s glasses. The air is heavy with warmth. But there is still a shiver set in her spine and every so often it spreads silently through her body. In spite of it, or maybe because of it, she remains still. They all do.

They are sitting together in a circle around the television, which is showing them a film that she is only half watching. She lost concentration a little while ago – she was distracted by the fire, which Dad keeps getting up to poke with the rusty iron rod she has forgotten the name of. Now she is watching her grandparents out of the corner of her eye. Grandpa has sunk into the blue cushion of the chair that he has not left since lunchtime five hours ago; Mum placed his frail frame there as Dad chased her two young brothers outdoors for the family’s early afternoon walk. Since then the cushion has grown around his trousers like moss. Despite the warmth in the room he is wearing four sweaters, including one fleece that she knows is especially thick because Dad wrapped her in it last year when they went skiing. Grandma is on the sofa in a protective sandwich between the boys – although Dad has just sworn he will move them to the floor if they fidget anymore, because you know your Grandma doesn’t like your fidgeting, boys. Grandma asks what he is saying, and Mum says nothing, nothing, in a too loud voice. Grandpa looks over and with the effort of turning his head a little wheeze escapes his mouth like a ghost.

Her parents are trying to get her used to things. Be prepared, Mum has been saying to her at every opportunity this year: be prepared to say goodbye to your Grandpa soon. And then Mum reaches out to stroke her hair, and looks at her with such soft eyes, and that look hurts her someplace in her stomach. Like the moment before someone turns out the light at the end of Christmas Day, and all is darkness.

Illustrator: Kirsty Baynham

Writer: Elizabeth Bourne