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The International Writers Magazine

An Evening Out
Gina Robertson

Where does all the love go when someone dies? Mum said I was the best thing she ever did. I was loved with such a fierce burning love that sometimes I got scorched. Our separate selves blurred and merged. She only ever wanted the best for me, even when I did not realise. I was pushed and shoved to do well at school and ending up outshining her but she was my sun, my moon, and my stars.

As I got older we became more equal. I grew up and moved out of her shadow. Then two days after my forty ninth birthday my Mum died of a brain aneurysm. Doctors assured us that she never suffered; she never knew what hit her. I didn’t know what had hit me and I suffered. How could all that love just disappear? She had been dead for four years, but to me it felt like yesterday.
‘Mum would like this’ or worse ‘I must tell Mum’ – those thoughts clouded me every day. We used to read the same books. Since Mum died I have avoided reading, I’ve taken up knitting.
Is that why I have just paid £30 to see a medium, because I need to speak to Mum again? That I can’t accept that something I want most in the world can never happen. I want my Mum.

I remember a few years ago- I’d guess it was five years ago but it was probably more like 10. We- that is Colin and I – were spending an evening with my parents. We had shared a Chinese take away – so much simpler than sweating over the stove. This fashion for dinner parties is clearly aimed at people that do not have the drudge of cooking every single day. And don’t get me started on all this ‘sipping a glass of wine whilst preparing a three course meal for ten of my closest friends’ – Mum and I had plenty to say about that rubbish. Anyway it was still light, I think it must have been about July, and we sat out on the patio overlooking the green of the garden flecked with white blossom, mauve lavender and the delicate pink bells of fuchsia.

‘Did you know that Sylvie has got tickets to see that John James at the Playhouse?’ Mum asked me. We were sitting side by side on the wooden swinger. Colin and Dad were in deep discussion about football.
‘What that bloke on "Crossing Over"? I didn’t know Sylvie was into that rubbish." John James was a celebrity medium who had his own show on one of the satellite channels.

‘Well, I think she just views it as a night out. She’s not expecting anyone to contact her.’ Mum took a sip of her water (whenever she drank wine she would drink gallons of water in the hope she would not get a hangover. It never worked.) ‘Those mediums make me sick. Making money out of people’s grief. Like say I died – if I would contact anyone I’d contact you - not some one I didn’t know. Not someone I had no connection with ‘I hope when I’m dead, I’m dead.’ Mum said.
‘Blimey you’re being cheerful Meg.’ Dad must have caught the end bit of our conversation. We all laughed and started to talk about something else.

My car was in the garage for its service, so I had to get the train home from work. Seeing I had a half hour to kill and to shake off the irritation that I had to wait half an hour for a 15-minute journey, I bought the evening paper. I sat on the station bench, valiantly ignoring the young couple next to me ‘necking’, reading the paper. It was a typical right wing –oh lord aren’t times bad- local paper. The letters page was funny, full of indignant rants of how the town was going to the dogs and being overrun by hooligans. I then saw the advert. John James was visiting The Playhouse later that month. Tickets were £30.

I told myself not to be so silly. If there was anyway Mum could contact me she would have done. These mediums were just actors with a keen sense of reading body language. Everything they said was so vague it could be anyone. Mum had told me herself that she had hoped death would be the end. She wouldn’t want me wasting my money on this rubbish. I told myself all this as I left the station and took the short walk to the theatre. I bought one ticket at the book office. I paid cash. Colin and I had joint accounts and I didn’t want him to know what I had done. I spent the journey home thinking how to go out for the evening with out Colin realising where I was going. I knew that Colin would try and talk me out of it. And I very badly wanted to go. I did not view it as just an evening out. Later as Colin and I ate our dinner on our laps in front of the telly (now Julie has left home I don’t have to worry about ‘standards’) I racked my brain. I suppose it should be a good thing that I was not used to lying to my husband, although I couldn’t share the good news with him. (Guess what Col, I’m finding it really difficult thinking of a good lie – Colin is not exactly going to be over the moon with that news is he?) I was trying to think of somewhere where he wouldn’t be able to call me on my mobile.

That night as I was cleaning my teeth it came to me- going to the cinema! I grinned at myself in the bathroom mirror. It was perfect. Colin hates the cinema and I sometimes go with Becky. Becky was an old friend from the antenatal classes, when I was pregnant with Julie and she was expecting Calum. We have a weakness for horror films and Grudge2 was out. I frowned, if I pretended to see that film then it would be awkward when I did want to see it. A voice popped up in my brain – don’t specify the film, dum dum. And of course at the cinema I would have my mobile switched off. I was so pleased with my ingenuity I forgot to feel guilty or wonder why I so badly wanted to keep it all secret.

It had been years since I had been to The Playhouse; I think the last time was when I had taken Julie to see Snow White. I remembered it as being a tatty place, all worn out leather seats and frayed carpets. The theatre hadn’t changed but that night it was crowded. There were some men there, but mainly it was women. There seem to be lots of groups of people, all chattering excitedly as we moved to our seats. I scanned the crowds to see if there were any other loners, but I couldn’t see them. There were a lot of young girls, with their dyed black hair and tattoos, flirting with death. I couldn’t believe they had lost any one.
‘Is this your first time to see John?’ The lady sitting beside me asked. I assumed by her age that she was probably a widow.
‘Yes. Is it that obvious?’ I attempted a light laugh, but it sounded strangled to me.
She smiled, ignoring my question, ‘I see all John’s appearances that I can travel to. I’ve even spoken to him a few times.’
I smiled and thought- and how many things have you blabbed to him in your little chats?
‘Do a lot of people follow John’s appearances?’ I asked.
‘Oh yes,’ she smiled. ‘I usually see the same faces.’ To prove her point, she turned to scan the people milling to their seats. ‘See there’s Ken, I see him at all John’s evenings. He’s trying to contact his wife.’
I followed her gaze. ‘I know him’ I whispered, ‘excuse me.’

I quickly got out of my aisle, I wanted to catch him before he sat down. ‘Dad!’ I called. ‘Dad!’
‘We’re a right pair.’ Dad said. We had left the auditorium and were in the bar. It was a dingy place that smelt of stale smoke, the tables were scratched and the upholstery was faded. Dad was nursing an orange juice and I had a coffee. We would like to have had something stronger, but we were both driving.
‘That lady I was sitting next to, she said you were a regular.’ I tried to keep my tone from being accusatory. I kept telling myself Dad had a right to privacy. I could hardly talk, the lengths I had made to keep it all secret.
‘That was Dot. She’s got a big mouth.’ Dad looked up from his glass, ‘Your Mum..I’ve never heard from your Mum.’ He looked very sad. I had always thought of my dad as a big man, he’s over six foot tall, but sitting in that chair he looked shrivelled. Diminished.
I shrugged. ‘Come on Dad. Of course Mum wouldn’t come through. I bet Dot’s has had lots of – I don’t know the name for it- ‘
‘Messages, they call it messages when you hear from someone who has passed. Yeah Dot gets her fair share’
‘But Dad she talks to John. She told me herself- she’s probably fed him all this information with out even realising it.’
Dad looked at me. ‘Annie my head knows that but my heart doesn’t. It’s the same for you isn’t it?’
My throat got tight and I blinked back the threatening tears. I nodded.
‘Does Colin know you’re here, Julie?’ Dad asked me and I just shook my head.

Dad and I sat, our glasses empty and we talked and talked. We talked about how lonely we felt, how much we missed her and how we had hidden our feelings trying to protect each other. And how that had made it so much worse. We were, indeed, a right pair.
‘Did you know I’ve still got Meg’s ashes?’ Dad said as he walked me to the car.
‘No, I thought the funeral parlour dealt with that.’
‘They were going to, but’ Dad faltered, I could hear the catch in his throat.
‘You don’t have to explain Dad.’ I said quickly. We had got to my car and I fished out my car keys. Dad put his hand on my arm. I looked up, we have never been a touchy feely family.
‘Annie, I want to bury the ashes in the garden. I want to get two lavender bushes – one for you and one for me. I want to bury half of the ashes in my garden and half in yours. We’ll have a lavender bush each, and whenever we’ll smell lavender it’ll be a way of remembering Meg.’ Dad said in a rush, as if I was going to interrupt him or disagree.
‘I think that’s a great idea Dad.’ And I kissed him on his cheek. ‘Mum as compost.’
We both giggled.

We talk a lot more now. Not just about Mum, although we talk about her a lot. Dad doesn’t go to see mediums any more. We both know that we have to make do, the thing we want most will never happen. We have to cope without her. We planted the lavender bushes over the buried ashes. It’s comforting, I like to feel Mum is close by.

Do you know what I did today? Let me tell you. I went to Waterstones and blitzed my credit card. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. When I got home I upended the carrier bag on the bed, closed my eyes and picked a book. Then, with a cup of tea, I sat out in the garden and started to read.
© Gina Robertson Jan 2007
gina at

Gina is studying with the Open University

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