Posted by Tania Kindersley.
The sun shines, like a crazy shining thing. It is as hot as midsummer. My cousin calls and makes me laugh. An old friend I have not seen for years touches me by sending a message all the way from the West Coast of California.
I put in the death notice.
I speak to a very professional woman called Amy, at The Telegraph. When she reads the words back to me she spells them in pilot-spelling; that's Alpha Lima Bravo, she says, very very fast. I think: my God, she really knows that special alphabet.
It is hundreds of pounds. I try very hard to be dignified. I am representing the family, after all. I must be proper and correct. It feels like a very important and definitive thing to be doing, and I am glad that I have the responsibility. But I cannot help a most unworthy thought crossing my head: quite naughty of the old Torygraph to profit so mightily from the death of people. Not very family values of it; oh your dad died, that will be two hundred and ninety quid. Don't say anything out loud, I tell myself. To poor Amy I say, really without meaning to: 'It's not given away, is it?'
Not good with the dignity and gravitas. Not good at all. It's only a bit of cash. And it's really not Amy's fault. She just has to do that special alphabet, very very fast. She does not set the rates.
My back hurts all over. The Older Niece comes. She does very high-end Thai massage; she has many certificates from Bangkok. I lie flat on the lovely soft travel rug I bought in the Lake District, on my lawn, in the sunshine, while she rolls up her sleeves and gets to work.
'Yes,' she says, wisely. 'Very, very tense. Your back is locked. I think you are holding your grief in your shoulder blades.'
'They bloody hurt,' I shout.
The massage is quite full-on. You do it with all your clothes on and it involves a lot of rocking and pressing and pummelling. It's brilliant, but it makes me yell. Usually, for some reason, it makes me laugh belly-laughs, which surprises the Niece. Apparently most of her other clients do not make that noise. Today it does not make me laugh. It makes me shout and groan.
The Pigeon, who is very protective, loves the Niece but is clearly unsure whether she is using her powers for good or evil. She cannot bark or growl at this person she loves, so she chooses the excellent compromise. She runs over and lies down on my legs, putting her whole body between me and possible harm. She will not be moved, but stares balefully into the middle distance.
Eventually, with much coaxing, she goes and sits next to the Sister, who is also with us, and anxiously licks my hand to let me know she has not abandoned me.
'That dog,' says my sister, 'will never let anything happen to you.'
The Duchess, true to her years of achieving ultimate grandeur, does not move from her place in the sun, but merely gives the Niece a tremendous de haut en bas stare from her steely yellow eyes.
Apparently the physical aching is a thing. People have told my sister that it does happen. The Niece says it is because I am trying to be good and brave and calm and not startle the horses. She thinks that anything complicated and messy is getting stuck in my muscles. (She is a bit new age sometimes, and I am a strict child of the Enlightenment, so when she says things like this I sometimes josh and tease her. Now I wonder if she is not right, on account of mind and body being so intimately connected. That's not just hippie talk; that's empirical fact.)
I am quite cross about this. It seems that even when faced with death my competitive streak still surfaced without my knowing it. I was going to damn well do the best grieving ever. It was going to be pure and clean and true. I would remember my old dad at his most majestic and best and cry for him and that would be that. That's what I thought I was doing. Turns out my shoulder blades know something I did not. Something is trapped in there, and it's not going to be all as lovely and limpid and straightforward as I thought.
Bugger, bugger, bugger, I say, out loud. The Pigeon walks over, stares me straight in the eye, and gives me a great big lick on the nose.
The quince is flowering:
And the tulips continue quite unreal:
I love that apple tree:
Under it, nestles the acer:
Beside the little blue flowers:
I love the light on all the green things:
The hellebores are very elegant today:
The dozing yellow eyes of The Duchess:
The watchful face of The Pigeon:
PS. Such a sweet thing happened just now. I was taking the dogs through the woods, thinking that perhaps a bit of walking would be good for loosening the knots. We were going past a rather lovely house that we sometimes walk by when we ran into a quartet of people from the South, touring the area. They were so nice: staunch, smiling Yorkshire people. (I know I should not generalise, but I have a deep love for the people of Yorkshire.)
'Do you know this area?' I said. No, it turned out, they did not. So I gave them a little history of the house, with specific reference to the local vernacular, which is very lovely and very particular to this part of Scotland. We commented of course on the fine weather, with the air of surprise that British people always have when it turns out sunny. I wished them a lovely stay, and we walked on, in our different directions.
I don't know why it was such a delightful interlude, but it was. I think it was because they were such nice people, so friendly and beaming with good nature. They were obviously having a marvellous trip. They were taking that most simple of pleasures: a walk in the country. The whole thing was very polite, very proper, and very good.
Will they remember, I thought, when they get home, the slightly distrait woman (my hair has gone to pot and I am dressing in a frankly peculiar way just now) with the very charming dogs whom they found in the woods?
For some reason, a line runs through my mind. It is of Karen Blixen. It goes something like: if I sing a song of Africa, will Africa sing a song of me?