My step-sister died on Good Friday. Mine was a family of secrets and lies, secrets about names, especially of those who had died. There were lies about where people had come from and the actually very historically evident members of the family whose existence I’ve had to deduce online. I appreciate that in some ways a dead wife or girlfriend has the most massive advantage over a living one; you can’t have an absolutely massive row about the bins or the particularly idiotic choice of nail varnish colour that might suit a shop-girl 40 years younger but will hardly do for this dinner party, will it? And all the other can’t-speak-ill-of-the-dead stuff that applies. Being dead means never getting older, never putting on weight, never being called that fat cow/stupid bitch/totally mad woman ever again, by absolutely anyone who doesn’t want the entire room freezing them out for the next half hour as an absolute minimum. They’re literally beyond criticism.
None of this, I have to say, applies to my step-sister. It certainly did to her mother, who died over fifty years ago. Until this week, I didn’t know her name, nor when she died. There were two photos in the house in Trowbridge, both showing my step-sister and her brother and the mystery woman whose name was never to be spoken. If it wasn’t actually that then it certainly never was spoken in my hearing. It certainly did to a friend’s Dead French Girlfriend, who he’d talk about when he had drink taken, as it’s sometimes put. He told me once he thought and had reason to think that she’d died carrying his baby, but by then she was engaged to someone French, the past is another country, and besides, the wench is dead. His wife hated Dead French Girlfriend’s name even being mentioned. But omissions are no better than lies. Discuss.
My step-sister didn’t do lies, nor so far as I know, omissions. I hadn’t seen her for a couple of years, but then again, thanks to Covid, who has? And just like Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, you don’t know what you had till it’s gone.
She was ten years older than me. I wrote about her once. When I was 18 she seemed like looking at a still from a film I hadn’t seen. I knew I would, whether or not it was quite the same, as it turned out not quite to be.
My partner Elisabetta and I dreamed last night, two sides of the same dream. We dreamed about cats and teddy bears. We don’t have a cat. In her dream as she said, “They weren’t real. They were like jelly babies.”
The cat in my dream died seventeen years ago. Even as I write that I think it can’t be true, but it is. My big teddy bear was exactly himself in the dream. So was my lovely cat, except that they were walking to the top of a sunny hill, hand in hand, like Piglet and Pooh, as I followed close behind them.
They had captions in my dream, probably because I speak only a bit of get-you-by Cat and even less fluent Teddy Bear. Hardly any, in fact.
One said, “What should we do?”
The other replied, “Help each other, until we go back into the dark.”
Elisabetta was crying out in her sleep. I woke having to bite my lip really quite hard , then find my big teddy bear and pat his foot, to make sure he wasn’t moving. He was still there, where I knew he was. My step-sister not so.
Christmas 1980 Carl Bennett and Celia Scholes 1949 – 2022