The Diary

When Alan Bennet wrote about his mother in his Untold Stories, he described her hanging onto her handbag – clutching it even as an inpatient in hospital, stuffing it under her pillow for safekeeping ‘as if she were in a strange and dangerous hotel’.

Her bag is an anchor. It tethers her to her old self. Something pitiful and patent grounding her.

I think of this every morning when I see my mother, her diary firmly in hand.

Since the beginning of the year, when the diary was new, an optimistic gift from my brother, she has announced, ‘I must write in my diary today’. She says it every day. Sometimes she checks the date with me. Or the day of the week. Even the month.

“Gosh. Are you sure? April already?”

We identify the right date and mum smoothes the pages with a flattened palm so that a pale hopefulness looks up at us, ready to be filled with words.

“I’ll write in it today.”

There is a single entry in the diary. Scored through.

In it, beneath the lines, I read this: I am in Ireland, with Anthea.

We are in Africa.

Mum used to keep a diary. Long ago she shared entries with me, entries that described her collapse into melancholy, her soaring flights from the depths of depression. Her sickness. Her wellness. The advice of doctors, the encouragement of Catholic nuns. Lists of resolutions.

Get up early
Walk every day
Learn to say No

If only she had.

Her diary now, the one she never writes in despite telling me – and herself – every morning at breakfast time that she is going to do just that, is neither a place of wellness or sickness.

It is simply a marker of time.

A place to count off the days.

There are no memories; not even a religiously written diary would catch what is in free fall now.

All of the pages are virtually empty.

All I can see written in their blankness is my mother.

I write this in my own diary. And then I pin it here. As if to stuff all the space I can with my own memories. In case they desert me.

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