3 x 50

Her, you and me. Me you and her. You and her. Me. You. 50.

I have nearly outlived you. 53 when you died, your 50th was at the time when we had space. When you waited up for me coming back from gigs with VHS tapes of Tales of the Unexpected and Cheddar Spread on toast. Our best time. Grace and John painted a huge banner and hug it from Windleshaw Bridge so you’d see it on your way to school. And then a party upstairs at the Lamb with sausage and mash. I was there. But it was mainly Grace and her friends. They called you the Duchess. I’ve said that before. I like the idea of it. Though I think of Alice Through the Looking Glass, not you.

The week before, with my first wages I took you to Mcdonalds. Just you and me. You had a Fillet o’ Fish. We ate outside in the street. You wanted woolly tights from Tyrers. Wolford – purple, speckled, thick like socks. For the dog mainly and to wear for cold school mornings. I bought them. Me, crap at gifts me, not special daughter me. Me who has to be told to buy her presents, who has to be ordered to wrap them, becomes gift-acing special daughter. And we are equal. You and me Mum. Women – you and me mum. I am a woman with you before you go. Our best day.

Special daughter. Always a competition. I gave up early because I knew there was no hope. She was so good at it. She recited the daffodils by Wordsworth on her first day in Mrs Bagshaw’s class. Mrs Bagshaw tells me this on my first day in her class 7 years later. I feel her disappointment when all I can do is tell her the joke about the big chimney and the little chimney. Failed . And when we move from school to school because no school seems to want her special giftedness, no school is special enough, I learn to say nothing. Put on the uniform, get ready for the expulsion. I am silent. I stay silent till I am about 13. Then I don’t speak in public but I do do public speaking. From the top of a bus with a megaphone at Peace Action Group rallies, from the stage in competitions. At the CPGB youth branch meetings. Then I come down and don’t speak again. She speaks all the time. All. The. Fucking. Time. She eats every moment of you. As the hormones press through the walls of me I hate this more. Want to ask her for once to shut the fuck up. The same struggle always. All ego – both.

Her 49th is just days before prison – and her fiftieth is in her pad. They call cells that. Its in her pad lined with prayer mats. She hates the cold floor. Hates the grey walls. So with the money she gets sent in each week on remand she buys a prayer mat until her pad is carpeted with them. They send the imam who wonders if she has converted. Its no, but she loves the colours. She likes the feel. She likes the way her eyes can catch on threads and weave across the whole 7 square metres of the floor. They take them off the canteen list. She is outraged then loses interest and trades the whole collection for body cream and tea bags. Once for marmite hooch. Often for benzos softened in someones cheek, the sharp outline crumbling. She is a good trader. Always an eye for a bargain.

Her 50th is my friends. There’s a pleasing symmetry. (Who am I trying to kid? There’s an obliteration of her with me. Ego) I get every friend to send her a birthday card. There are at least 50. Some send books. I am genuinely hugely comforted by this. I feel the pressure change. Perhaps it is just that weekly visits are so fucking hard. Being the only one who sees her, the only one who supplies her, when I  hate hate love her is too much? But her world has shrunk. And my apparent devotion to her in that world is a sideshow. A strip cartoon at the bottom of her day. I still can’t be important enough to be more important to her. I tell people I am doing it for you. I feel guilty. What would you do if this had happened when you were alive? You would have been devoted. I am devoted too. See how devoted I am? See Pogle give.

Her real 50th for her are gifts from the women she is now with. A bottle of shampoo. A mars bar. 5 cigarettes – prefabs – that she makes into ten. A party in association. before going in she didn’t have one friend. Now she has a wing full. Except for the ones she hates. Some of them give her the best gifts. Devotion.

My 50th is the last of our birthdays. Neither of you can be here. Not you or her. No you and me. No her. No you. Me.

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