The Ship

Mum tells me today that she thinks she lives on a ship. She sounds unsure.

“Rob, is that his name? Rob who I live with”, yes, I assure her, Rob, “well Rob tells me we don’t. Live on a a ship.  But sometimes I think I do.”

Presently Mum lives in a bungalow in the west of Ireland.

‘If you’re ever unsure, Ma,’ I advise, ’next time, go outside and feel the earth beneath your feet – that’ll help ground you.”

Yes, she laughs, “I’ll do that.”


The ship theme is not new. Not new to her. Once, in Zambia, a couple of years ago with my sister, she dreamt of ships and climbing to escape. The dream morphed as her reality and she began to try to climb out of her ship in the middle of the night.

Once with me, a little over a year ago, the same thing: she dreamt she was in a ship and that I had locked her in a cabin. I only knew of her dream when I let her out of the bathroom where she had locked herself in at some point in the night when I heard her calling. She was furious with me.

“Why did you lock me in?”

“But I didn’t, Mum. I swear, I didn’t. Why would I?”

I see realisation begin to flicker in her eyes and with it a look of bewilderment and devastation dawns.

“I tried to escape,” she tells me, “but I gave up in the end and made myself a bed on the floor” and I notice a nest of towels in the corner of the room, “I must have been dreaming.”

“I am so sorry, Mum; I’m so sorry, that sounds like a horrible, frightening dream.  Let me bring you tea on the verandah.”

She settles into a chair outside and collects herself slowly. 

It is only when I bring her a mug of tea that I notice the back of her head; her white hair is coated pink with blood.

“Mum! Your head,” and I rush to examine it.

“Oh”, she says, “I must have fallen when I was trying to escape my ship,” and she smiles broadly at me.

And I hear my heart crack.  

Does she know she’s slipping out of our lives?  Away from us? Does she?


When my mother was little, she travelled a lot by ship – from India to Europe, from Africa to Europe and back again. My grandmother loved those adventures and related them often to us often. It sounded impossibly exciting to travel anywhere by the ‘Boat’ my grandmother described. Mum remembered little of those trips. Except the wine at supper time on an Italian ship. She and her siblings ate early dinner with the other children aboard.

“There was always a small carafe of red wine on the table, and a carafe of water; I watched the Italian children drinking half-half. We never did though as my dad, who accompanied us to dinner, to keep an eye on us, drank the lot!”

And she laughs.

I found old ships’ menus in a scrapbook that had belonged to my grandmother recently – August 1952, on the Boat to Trieste.  They feel like treasure. Perhaps I’ll frame them for keeps.


Today as I wrote, before I spoke to Mum, ships swam into my cerebral view.  I wonder if there is still some psychic link between Mum and I. We always used to exclaim as we thought alike often, ‘we must be telepathic’, it seemed like a magical closeness.  

Today I wrote:

Our anchor had come loose, slipped a knot and mum is disappearing over some far away horizon that I can’t see, because the darkening sky has slid into a black sea and blurred all my outlines. There are no sharp shapes anymore. Only shifting ones. I imagine Mum on a ship, sailing to someplace I will never reach. I rush to gather her up, to hold her fast against a rising tide so that we can both find our way back to where we were.  

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