(1920--1957) Russell, Marilyn
My mother was the second wife of my father, eight years younger than him.
Wystan's mother had left my father: no one ever heard from her again.
It must balance out somehow.
Many times my mother would---I can hardly remember her---would lie me on
her lap and stroke my hair. I would lie limp. The human touch leaves me
utterly calm and still. I try not to move or breath deeply; I try to focus
on the contact, the whorls of the thumb against my forehead, the fingers
untangling my hair. The tug. Anything could dislodge her hand. A phone call.
A forgotten errand. I remember her room. It had pale blue walls scattered
with white clusters of forget-me-nots. A broken radiator that sounded like
an underground stream during the night. It was so loud I felt it would sweep
me away. Or was the wall paper mustard with white flowers? It doesn't matter.
All that is important is that, lying on the large bed was like lying beneath
a blue sky near a stream. In the dark, she would tell me a story:
There was a girl who sat in the sun, in a rocking chair, rocking the sun
across the sky from one end to the other. She was unhappy. She had lost
something, was continuously losing it. But she could not name it. She could
only describe it as warm, tender and indescribably precious. It was so precious
to her. So she came down at night into the forest beneath. Here she spoke
to the animals, to enlist their help. She needed to find something. She
did not know what it was called. It was warm, beautiful and indescribably
precious, running away from her always. The animals dug and scoured the
forest floor. One night they brought up an old coin. Another night they
found part of a pearl necklace. A month later they brought up a tin spoon.
In all these things she saw herself reflected dully. These were not what
she was looking for. Finally the animals told her that she should wait until
day. She did not know if the sun would be able to cross the sky without
her help. Nevertheless, she stayed on the ground. Morning rose and she saw
the sun for the first time, slowly finding its own path in the sky. Sunlight
came streaming down. Sunlight, like arrows, continuously streamed outwards,
downwards. The center of the sun itself was cold with the sunlight forever
running away. It was warm, beautiful and indescribably precious. She felt
the heat of her being warming like a piece of metal, glowing. She was warm
for the first time. She began laughing as bits of her sparked and shooted
off. The laughter, rippling, continued long after she had dissolved, paused
and then continued, quietly, as if it found traces of its earlier existence
years after it had passed by a certain point.
My mother would smile at me and say nothing. I would try not to move so
that she would have no excuse to dislodge me. I wanted her to continue speaking,
her voice to be within me, pervade me. Tell me another story. And always
she was running away from me. It was like a revolving door, whirling, crushing
She and my father were always busy: so many functions. She and Wystan were
very close despite the fact that she was not his real mother: when I told
her that she was my real mother, she grew angry.
Once she saw me drawing and commented:
You'll never be a first-rate artist.
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