Creative Work: ‘Weaving Threads’ by Mariella Camilleri

How do we process loss? This week’s non-fiction piece by Kingston MFA Creative Writing student Mariella Camilleri mixes poetry and prose to explore the Creative Worksfeelings that surround the death of a loved one. Snippets of memory, the way present grief mingles with old hurts, and how to make sense of the place someone has occupied in our lives when they are suddenly gone – it’s the most common of human experiences, and Mariella’s piece is a vivid tribute.

 

Weaving Threads

 

It was like a second home. Arms wrapped around us, Maria would proceed to the kitchen to feed us ice creams, biscuits, and other fatty food she stashed in her kitchen.

I don’t remember a time when we didn’t visit. Somehow, her unmarried state made us feel we could drop by invited, lounge in her sugar filled world.

Calm and laid back, she was never perturbed by the noise as we sifted through old clutter; comics, newspapers, old albums and shoes in the top story washroom.

“Look” I’d say parading into the kitchen, on a pair of wee wedges, wondering how Maria’s chubby feet once fit into the shoes. She’d giggle, warn me against breaking a bone.

Most winter days, over a kitchen table covered in newspapers, copybooks, pencil shavings and mugs of tea, she helped us with homework and put her teaching expertise to use. Intrigued by her left handedness, I watched her write letters on coloured flashcards. This image would come to me, when I heard of her death.

I saw her put pen on paper. I heard her vibrant voice. How had we not realised that the end was near? I told myself, that death is nature’s way of making space for another generation. Tears streamed down my face.

She took one last gasp

As a new born took his first,

Unaware of the steps ahead.

A performance without rehearsals;

One chance, one dance.

That day I longed to justify my tears, as I did in the months following my mother’s death. Everyone had agreed, that it must have been unbearable to leave behind two daughters, and wasn’t it sad, that she didn’t see us blossom into womanhood? Others, said that God only picks his best flowers. These words would come to me, whenever I crept into my sister’s bed, and threaded her hand through mine.

The news that Maria was gone seemed surreal. Was it even possible, that she was breathing one minute and gone the next? For the rest of the day, I pottered around the house, trapped in a tunnel between life and death.

I saw her pale and grey on the hospital bed, plagued by a chest infection, spluttering violently when the nebuliser was removed. She was better off dead, but fury still bubbled inside me.

It angered me that doctors failed to restart her heart. It angered me that the family, were called in when it was too late. It angered me that she had to die alone.

In the early hours of the night, I heard her call my name. I yearned to run down, laugh at her scrupulous ideas, and tease her until her face broke into a smile. We joked about men and spinsterhood.

“Marry? Have a man interfere with my life? Never,” she’d say wrinkling her button nose.

And yet, she devoted her retirement years to her brother. Fat fingers kneading dough, a housecoat that made her look short and shapeless. Not that it mattered, there was no husband to contend with – just a brother – eager to devour the stocky pies she baked with enthusiasm.

Her brother was now left with a mug that once contained oodles of tea, spectacles that stood on the bridge of her nose, as she squinted over a crossword, a bedside table full of pills that failed to restore her health.

Lately, she walked in snail-like motion and ate less. She no longer enjoyed the sugared almonds, which she once crushed beneath her teeth with great gusto. Even laughter required effort.

“I’m too drained to move,” she’d say when I went around. She’d been living slow death.

Dreaded wear and tear,

A body failing like a cut-rate appliance,

Then it comes to a sudden halt.

A train of tears merge together

One blink and she’s gone.

It was a damp, January morning when the family huddled on church pews, the rain droning against stained glass windows. Nobody said much. Presumably, they were thinking about their own mortality, questioning the meaning of life.

Maria loved life.

“Bella vita bella Italia” she’d say, when the plane touched down in Fumicino, summer after summer. Now she lay lifeless.

 

A performance without rehearsals;

One chance, one dance.

 

Standing on sodden grounds, icy winds lashed against our faces. “Poor thing, she hated rain and bad weather,” uttered one cousin. “Nothing, would have dragged her out on a day like this.”

Yes, she hated winter, thunderstorms, sullen skies that forced her to retreat to her bedroom, and hide behind closed curtains.

I didn’t go to the cemetery. Maybe because like my Maria, I detest the idea of burials, underground isolation.

The hearse drove away. I conjured images of her draped in a dressing gown, messy hair, tired eyes, reciting the rosary, preparing for this very moment.

A train of tears merge together

One blink and she’s gone

On the way home, I cried for the fifty year old, who marked bundles of plastic covered copybooks, for the gentle aunt, who did not throw a fit when I glued her paycheque together.

“I suppose, the Central Bank will still cash this cheque…” she said, when she heard my mother chastise me.

It was strange how Maria’s death, had unearthed the pangs of my mother’s loss, now the two seemed interlinked. They sat by side, my mother bright and youthful, her legs crossed laughing by Maria’s side.

I wept, because Maria was beside us the morning after my mother’s death, she hid her grief reassured us that things will get better, then sent us off to mass.

I wept, because that morning, my sister and I must have looked like battered pixies, wondering through the streets, red eyes, ashen skin, dwelling on our semi orphaned state.

During the days following Maria’s funeral, my sister and I dissected memories. We dug deep, discovered marvellous moments. Weekly sleepovers, when Maria would stand in a petticoat, covering her ample bosom with a cardigan.

“I don’t want the watchman to see me,” she’d say, slipping beneath the quilt. We reassure her, that the watchman from the neighbouring school, has better things to do on Friday night.

My sister and I rang each other at regular intervals. We smiled through our tears. That week I learnt, that Maria had taught my sister how to lay the bed with hospital corners, how to separate laundry, how to iron clothes. Somehow, I could only see my aunt revise French verbs with my sisters, maybe because unlike my mother, Maria didn’t seem obsessive about tidiness or starched clothing.

My mother, was the one who taught me how to iron; she warned me that I could get burned, then guided my hand, as the hot iron skated over the crisp white cotton of my father’s shirt.

As my sister and I exchanged memories, I longed for Maria and my mother, for mundane chores, uneventful days when they were both around.

These days, when I reach for the iron, I see the women who formed part of my colourful childhood. The creases, a journey into the past, the stitching on the cloth a symbol of the everlasting bond with my sister.

Memories of my mother and Maria live on. The sound of their laughter is clear and comforting; an album of magnificent memories that completes me.

 

Gone

 She took one last gasp,

As a new born took his first,

Unaware of the steps ahead.

A performance without rehearsals;

One chance, one dance.

Inconsistent choreography,

That diminishes with ailments;

Dreaded wear and tear,

A body failing like a cut-rate appliance,

Then it comes to a sudden halt.

A train of tears merge together,

One blink and she’s gone.

 

Weaving Threads is an apt title for this piece, as Mariella has woven together threads of memory, images, and words to create for us a picture of her beloved Aunt Maria. Notable too is the way she conveys a sense of place, her brilliant images showing us what life was like for her unmarried aunt in Malta. It’s enough to make us think of our loved ones, and inspire reflection of our own.

Thanks for reading, check back next Sunday for the next post!

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