I lent a book to a young woman I know. It was was one of those works that tells you “How to Enrich your Life/Relationships/Soul” – books I find offputting because they presume to know me better than I do and to instruct me in a better path, the only path.
The young woman read to page forty or so and returned with my the volume and an expression of mild embarrassment. She opened the book and pulled out her bookmark.
I asked her: “How’s it going?”
“It’s quite helpful…”
I told her I never got past page forty: ”Too bloody know-it-all for me.”
But it wasn’t the book or its author that brought her back. The young woman handed me her bookmark.”This must be yours.” She blushed. ”I’m sorry, I found myself reading something personal…”
The bookmark was tiny, about two inches by three. Inches, because the card dates back to pre-metric days. It was was yellowed a little, its edges furred and thickened. On the obverse was a tiny posy of dried flowers, pressed, still intact. The date on the reverse side read January 8, 1967.
I think my mouth fell open. I recognized the handwriting – an odd and elegant hand, it looped and curled in a crisp and orderly way, warm yet somehow formal. No-one I know writes like that, not any more.
The writing was Mum’s!
The greeting was affectionate. It began, “Howard, darling…” It went on to congratulate me on my twenty-first birthday. The message spoke of my twenty one years, praising and prizing me in the way only one who had known me from birth could do.
I felt the rush and the glow of that primal love, the love that formed me. I felt deeply happy.
I looked up and faced the young woman. “Thank you.”
She averted her eyes from my face that was surely naked.
I looked down again and read the signature. It wasn’t Mum who had signed the card, but her sister, my Aunty Doreen. The handwriting so similar, the shared cuneiform of their bonded lives.
Now it was Aunty Doreen who returned to me, not displacing Mum, but present alongside her, together now as ever through their long lives. If Mum was Pollyanna, Aunty Dor saw a world in its rough reality. Orphaned early, the two turned to each other and went through their remaining scores of years love-laced and life-loving.
I held the card, soft in my hand, and thought of two women who knew me so well – better even than the author of the book I had loaned the young woman, witness to my intimate moment.
“Thank you”, I said again.