Anthony McDonald Books
GONE TO BUY A CUCKOO
Dreams at the time of my mother’s death
By Anthony McDonald
Ten nights before my mother died I dreamed it. She had insisted in getting into the driving seat of a car – she who had continued to drive until her ninety-second year, but now at ninety-five was out of practice - in the car park of the care home where she herself had briefly parked. To the dismay of bystanders she took off the brake and revved the engine, and in seconds had hit a wall. The speed was low, but her frailty so extreme that the brief contact between forehead and windscreen was enough to cause her instant, painless death. I awoke and wished that it could be like that. Without more ado. Without pain. I guessed it was too much to hope. For anyone.
I knew that she was dying by the time the next dream hit. I’d seen her in the afternoon, and squeezed her hand. Four days before that she’d found the strength to squeeze mine back and squeeze out the words ‘I love you’ which turned out to be her last. But that final afternoon she knew nothing, I supposed, and the breath began to rattle in her throat. Fifteen hours later I was dreaming I had gone to visit her. “She’s been wandering again,” the staff, not unkindly, said. “We found her outside and brought her back. She said she was going out to buy a cuckoo.” Everybody smiled. I smiled at her and she smiled back, over her shoulder, with that smile that was relatively new – because the situation too was new – but that I was beginning to recognise. The smile said, “I know, I know. These days I sometimes say the silliest things.”
Her smile stayed with me as I awoke to the ringing of the phone and knew without needing to register the thought what the news would be. It was broad June day, though only six twenty-three. “Anthony, your mother died,” the Asian nursing sister said.
Dream the third came one day after the funeral – which had been an afternoon of friendship and sunshine and the music of Beethoven and Bach. I was visiting my mother in a room she occupied, sharing a landing with a room that was lived in by other friends of mine – it was like the way you visit friends at university. In her room she was all alone, and as soon as I decently could, I left her and went to join my younger and noisier friends next door. There I found quite a party going on. More and more people joined, till there were no more chairs and we sat on cushions on the floor in a Babel of happy conversation. My mother would love this, I said to myself. The company, the atmosphere, the fun. I’ll go and get her. Make her day. Better than sitting alone next door and hearing laughter through the wall. So I went back out to bring her. Opened the door to her room… But you already know how this one ends. The room was empty. She was gone.
For the last one I waited two more weeks. .Now again I visit her at her temporary home. She wants to go to a lecture at Imperial College. I remind her she’s a musician, not a scientist. She’s set her heart on it. I tell her it’s three miles. (In reality it would have been more like fifty-five.) She wants to walk. She’ll take her stick. Glumly I acquiesce. We set off. Her stick and her not-made-for-walking shoes slide alarmingly on wet grassy slopes. We find buildings. Not Imperial College, of course. We enter a derelict courtyard. Filthy water is trickling down the walls. There is no way forward. My heart sinks lower than my boots. I’m ready to cry. She studies the dirty trickling water. Then she turns to me a radiant smile. “There are fountains,” she says, and I know that she is seeing the gardens of the Generalife, where I took her once, in the palace of the Alhambra in southern Spain. “Let’s dance,” she says. She places her arms around me and we start to dance together. “I love you,” I say to her. She doesn’t waste her breath with answering, but smiles again and holds me firmly, and I know that everything now will be just fine.