Here is a story written by Siena Shirres, a year 11 student at Girton College, Bendigo, who knew and loved Alison almost as a niece.
While not exactly true to life, there is a lovely mix of fact and dreams. You can decide which is which.
A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
I could almost hear the mixture of frustration and exasperation in her wan voice as I slammed the car door shut. I hear her voice echo Oh Digby, do you really have to do it like that? No. No I don’t.
I trudge around to the back of the car to let Clare out, this time I wrap my fingers around the handle slowly and pull back. Not all the way out, until it reaches its limit, but just enough for the latch to undo. Clare lopes down, first her front feet land on the grey, washed out bitumen and then her hind, same as always.
The emptiness felt real now, now that I no longer have some part of her with me. She wasn’t even a particularly large or loud person, yet everything seems quiet – deafeningly quiet. Without her with me, the steps up onto the front veranda feel so bleak. Why hadn’t we put a plant to fill in this space, to liven it up a bit? I thought to myself.
Some people had told me that when I scattered her ashes, it would just be some nondescript powder that would blend in with the surroundings. But I knew that it was Alison, not by some deep emotional connection, although she would have loved that theory. Instead it was because the plate from her wrist surgery a couple of years ago had stood out against the grey remains. I thought that I would scatter her in the wind and that she would fly away on a breeze, but when I got up there that was just far too dramatic, so I just spilt her out onto the ground. It didn’t feel like the right or wrong thing to do, it felt oddly neutral, as if nothing was expected of me anymore.
She was soaked up by the lichen, seeping back into the earth until the moisture had made her invisible. I went down onto my hands and knees had to have one last look. The dampness and humidity up there on the mountain clung onto my palms as if willing me to stay up there, forbidding me from descending back down to the torrid landscape of Mossman.
Shortly after Alison had been diagnosed, in her typical fashion, she tried to find some new hobby to distract and entertain her. After her mother died, it was beer making; after selling the fruit farm it was quilting, after moving into Mossman it was life drawing and now, this time it was testing out suggested cancer suppressors from every different clinic. She went to every naturopath and general practitioner in the area, seeking out new treatments as if she was trying to solve a mystery. It wasn’t because she was afraid or in denial, she was just searching for entertainment and excitement and a change to everyday life. She tried each bit of advice these medical professionals gave her, whether it was a new diet or zen meditation, except for one. She had ordered the weed online from Denmark, because apparently you can do that these days. She was so excited when it arrived, she put it straight into the freezer, behind the Coles brand frozen peas, because she had heard that it would keep longer that way. It sat there for a while, she could never seem to find the right moment to use it, between the appointments and the meditation. In the end she was too weak to imbibe it, all that medicinal high left untouched…
I swing open the fly-screen door and just stand there in silence for a while, its not until Clare’s warm breath brushes against my leg that I am back in motion. I reach into the pocket of my shorts and pull out the keys, most of which I don’t remember the use for. I fumble around for a while, floundering, trying to find the right key. Jesus Christ Digby, could it take you any longer? This time her tone wasn’t quite so indignant, it was tired, as if we had just driven back from one of her chemo treatments in Cairns, and all she wanted to do was just get inside, into the cool. Finally I find the correct one, slowly swing the door open and walk down the hall, Clare gently padding behind me. As I walk into the kitchen Clare goes and sits on her mat, the same as usual beside the red gum kitchen island that Alison insisted on having in the new house. Everything is the same, nothing seems out of place.
I walk to the freezer, wishing the normality away.
With the weed in a bowl, resting on the bench to defrost I can go in search for a recipe. Brownies? No, Alison would have thought that far too dull. Madeleines? No yet again, the flavour would be too difficult to mask. Florentines? God, that’s your first good idea in months, I hear her exclaim while her eyes widened and her eyebrows travelled upwards towards her hairline. And she was right, as usual. It would blend in with the buttery, sweet, nutty flavour while the texture would be disguised by the smothering of chocolate and multicoloured glacé cherries.
I walk into the palliative care unit of the Cairns hospital. I pause just long enough for the automatic doors to grind open just enough for me to slip through into the vapid halls. My hands begin to get clammy holding the container filled with the florentines, even in this dry sterilised environment.
I place the container on the reception counter.
‘For the patients…To enjoy.’ I say, my voice cracking midway through the sentence. I realise this is the first time I’ve spoken since Alison’s funeral, and even that was forced. The receptionist seems surprised for a moment, then just mumbles out a ‘Thank you’ as I turn and walk back down the halls. Ah Digby, not too bad a half-arsed attempt… But I feel her bemused smile. Her voice fades as I reach the door, and then disappears entirely.
Thanks Alan. Will live on in my memory. I am sure that there are many more stories about her out there yet to be told.
Very touching read Digby. Deepest condolences a sad loss. Will always remember a bright interested person with a huge thirst for something new. Alan Bartram