backhand stories the creative writing blog

At the cold end of Spring, young shoots pierce the hearts of autumn flowers.

You’ll be sitting out in T-shirts by the end of the month, you say, and we all pretend not to believe you, telling each other how, surely, this winter has an Arctic tenacity that surpasses any previous years.

You have punctuated our time with your sayings. I could set the calendar by you, marking the seasons as surely as the virgin notes of “Once In Royal David’s City” mark the lighting of the candles on Christmas Eve.

It might be the last nice day of the year, you say, admonishing those who fester indoors on glorious days. In our climate, there’s always the chance that you’re right. You still recall the triumphant time you said it on the last day of December. One milestone year, the children didn’t laugh and clamour at this memory, but rolled their eyes up to the ceiling. You said wasn’t it great to see them growing up, but we knew that Great-Granddads’ joke had somehow become a way that they were leaving you behind.

Now you sit, left, wrapped in a blue throw that Steven and I bought to protect the sofa when the children were babies. Despite our planning, four childhoods almost over are told in stains on the sofa’s pale fabric, so badly chosen. Milk, vomit and blood are succeeded by ink, Ribena and the seeped bodily fluids of a hamster, mourned in state for an afternoon on an all too porous square of tissue. Adult stains as well: my red wine, your spilled medicine.

It’s an odd setup, but it worked for us, for years. Steven dead, you alive but struggling. Right and fitting, said those who wanted to avoid the burden of you. The same people who avoided the burden of me, years before, when you were the one taking me in.

The old make way for the young, you say, as I help you into your coat. It’s meant to comfort me, but neither of us believe in that one. We’ve both seen too much of the young making way for the old.

So many things happened the wrong way round. They shall not grow old… While we repeat our wordless phrases, meaning everything and nothing.

They arrive in a square car, daffodil yellow, with the hospice logo in green.

The days are on the turn, we all agree.

Spring forward, fall back, you say.

The children form a guard of honour at the door. They hand you your stick and hat as if girding you for battle, and you straighten visibly as you grasp them.

“If you’ll just turn round this way, Mr Hannon…”, says the nurse.

Like a tap, you smile. Righty tighty. Lefty Lucy.

Your hand guiding the back of my bike, at the warm end of Spring, a dappling spin of wheels past swathes of daffodils. Loosening your grip, as I grew steadier. Teaching me the difference between left and right.

Mandy Taggart is a new writer from the North Coast of Ireland