The Dressing Gown
Updated: Jan 16
This is a story about Grief. We have all experienced it, its personal and it has its own timeline. I hope it touches your heart.
The Dressing Gown @2022NickyJPage
The movements and sounds bounce off the street below as I draw on my cigarette. I languish over it, as though it were a lover, savouring every draw as though my life depended on it, but of course my life doesn’t depend on it. It’s my gift to myself. I’d gotten through the previous day. Another night has passed and a new day has dawned. The shadows have crept back into the walls and the tricks of the night can no longer play games in my head. A shaft of light catches the mirror on the wall, a beam catches my face, it disturbs me so I push the bed clothes away and arise from the pit. The air carries a sense of optimism and I feel a lift, for a moment. A glimmer of hope, I’d gotten out of bed.
I wonder if I should give myself two cigarettes today, a prize to reward myself . I managed to put on my linen trousers and vest t-shirt that I’d carefully chosen, laid out on the armchair beside my bed the night before. I went to the wardrobe, its mahogany heart opulently displayed by the master craftsman, its ancestral glory etched with such delicate intricacy. I trace the delicately carved out ridges with my finger and imagine it in its original state, living breathing, connected to the earth, drawing its life blood from the ground, its majesty for all to see. I imagine the bark cutting into my flesh as I wrap my arms around its trunk, breath in the musty earthy fragrance and the moss brushes my cheek as I press myself to it. I turn the wrought iron key and have a great sense of satisfaction as I hear the click of the lock open and the door creak with age as Narnia tempts me, I don’t go in, instead I grab the dressing gown from the hanger and carefully remove it, its dancing with oriental birds, turquoise and orange, pink and blues leap from its cloth, its luxurious texture rich in tapestry, I inwardly purr to myself as I slip it around my shoulders. I feel the silk flowing down my skin as I put it on. It feels rich, it feels glamourous, and it feels civilised and acceptable.
I imagine the doorbell ringing and I float to answer it in my silk, coloured dressing gown. The postman doesn’t flinch at all when he sees me this time, all made up and in my nice neat linen. There is an air of maturity, I’m relaxed and demure, the good looking postman returns my angelic smile with a greeting and goes away so much better for having laid eyes on me. No pity portrayed in his eyes today. Wearing this dressing gown during the day, I shall call it my smoking Jacket.
I make my way downstairs to my living room; its bohemian decor comforts me as I sit myself down upon a velvet chaise lounge, the most opulent piece of furniture in the room. I lean back against the soft velvet cushions, and push the lighting mechanism on my grandfather’s lighter an heirloom disapproved of by my mother, its onyx décor so very distasteful in her opinion, beautifying such a foul habit was an atrocity to her and she would never advocate smoking, whichever class in society you came from. It had taken her father from her and she insisted that I was on borrowed time, but it never really sunk in. I exhale slowly, the breath seems to go on forever, I wonder how such a delicate frame can hold so much power, so much life.
I turn my head to look out across the street. Its Edwardian window frames embellished with glossy black paint, its glass panes held together with simple lead squares, reflecting the sun back to me so bright it stings my eyes, I turn my head away to avoid the burning sensation, liquid falls from my tear ducts, weeping involuntarily for a moment. I wipe the water from my cheeks with my silk sleeve leaving a dark patch, tainting its perfection, its vibrant colour, turns into a muddy brown, the edge of the patch dries out and leaves a ring stain permanently on the sleeve. It bothers me for a moment, whereas it wouldn’t have done so before. It’s tainted it slightly; I twist the fabric round my wrist and fold my fingers over the cuff holding on tightly so it doesn’t move, the sleeve twisted round so the dark patch cannot be seen, the blemish hidden between the folds wrapped around my wrist so I can no longer see it.
My eyes return to the kaleidoscopic hues imprinted on the fabric, I inwardly congratulate myself on my progress in wearing my silk dressing gown again, It is better than the towelling one really, that’s too big. I can't wear it anymore. The arms are too long and it hangs like a sack over my stick like frame. Its looks sad and thread bare and lifeless, it had been so full when we had first bought it, fluffy and light, now there’s a hole under the left armpit where I would nag at it sometimes making it bigger. Conscious that he made the hole first, I was just adding to it. Sharing the hole, keeping the connection, the dressing gown was his but now it’s mine. It had once wrapped itself around someone else, now it wraps around me. It lives on. It was a present, for him. We had laughed at how it was big enough to wrap it around me as well. As we stood and watched the sunset in our little bit of heaven at the bottom of the garden, together, huge fluffy batwings enveloping me, cocooned as I pressed my cheek against his neck in a long embrace. The smell of him intoxicates my senses until I would sway with the intensity of it.
Now it was mine. I used to spill my supper on it, I would hate to make it dirty, It felt like I didn’t know how to look after it, that somehow I didn’t care, it means everything to me of course, but somehow I think it thinks I took it for granted. It hangs in the wardrobe now, alone, crunched up against the rest of the clothes that never see the light of day anymore - the clothes of her, the has been, the faded recollections of a vibrant, vivacious woman. A shadow of the youth she once was. Full of hopes and dreams, anticipation, passion, and expectation. She had given life her every breath, these days it was an effort to wake up in the mornings and get dressed. I scold myself slightly, I am getting better, I think. As the months draw on the ache becomes fainter, it dissipates and becomes muffled. It’s as though it isn’t significant anymore, yet I know it is, there is betrayal in the knowledge that the less I hurt, the more distant the memory. He is past, no longer present, undeniably not future.
I take my ashtray from the coffee table and walk through to the kitchen, the bottoms of my naked feet slap gently on the parquet flooring. I place my foot on the flip top bin mechanism, the lid refuses to open. I sustain this movement a couple of more times until I give in and lift the lid with my hand and throw the contents of the ashtray in the bin. The stench hits my nostrils instantly and I lament the bittersweet relationship I have with my addiction, I have slowly been weaning my 40 a day, my old faithful, my lean too. I wouldn’t enjoy 40 anymore. I recoil at the smell and slam the lid of the bin down firmly.
I reach up and grab a vintage mayfair fine bone china cup from the display shelf above the Tassimo I’d acquired from the charity shop, It gave me a sense of misplaced superiority, a woman of style, drinking proper coffee, I don’t drink instant, it’s as though somehow I’ve come so far and I’m in a different league now. I use demerara sugar and if there are guests, they get the full show, milk in a jug, sugar in a pot, all served in china cups that don’t match (makes for individualism) and I think it’s quite arty, all very civilised, people wouldn’t dream I’d smashed all the matching ones in a fit of rage, if you look behind the cupboard shards of china still lay there dormant gathering dust. . No my ruse works rather well. They wouldn’t have a clue. I am quite smug about it really. I potter about the kitchen moving things but never really achieving anything until the Tassimo finishes its magic. I treat myself to a bone dry croissant I rescue from the bread bin, no idea how long it’s been there for and grab a copy of last year’s independent Adam hadn’t managed to read, I refuse to get rid of it, of him. Despite his absence I am loathed to pack him up, box his possessions and chuck them in the attic where they can hide in the dark, alone with only the mice to take interest. No, he's still here, his glasses still perched on the arm of the chair in the back room - our reading room, the fire still full of ashes from the last time we were there. Ashes! quite appropriate really. I remember we'd had a random conversation so many years before about the history of the famous Medici family. I of course gained most of my knowledge by binge watching tacky tv programmes, Adam would correct me and praise me at the same time, telling me how endearing I was to believe in such romance depicted in the stories on the screen, and that of course they were just that, stories. I would capture glimmers of truth and embellish my knowledge. I was enraptured by Adams instinctive wisdom and his learned academics. He was impressive in all things, he told such wonderful stories of history, and he bought such light into his tales. I was enamoured with every word uttered from his breath. I would sit and watch him, his animated gestures and glints of excitement etched in his face as he wooed me with his amazing capacity to retain such intricate details of history, fact and figures and names, none of which I would remember. I only remember thinking how attractive he always was and how lucky I was to have been loved by him. I would swoon, in the early years he would eventually stop talking and sweep me up in his arms, and he would hold me until I would fall into a light slumber. He would stay awake into the small hours of the morning whispering sweet words into my ear; he had told me when he spoke those words to my subconscious they would be imprinted in my mind forever.
I feel the cold slate bite at my delicate feet on the pantry floor on my way out to the garden. Adams wellingtons sit where they always did, next to the back door. The rubber smell fills my nostrils and I place my feet in them and make my way out into the garden. The rims of the boots flap against my legs as I trudge through the overgrown grass. Where once this blanket of green was tended to season after season, it now looks like a field full of wild flowers, he'd be anxious to get the garden as it should be if he were here, I like to think of it more as a memorial for him. There is a line etched in the grass from the door to the decking we had built ourselves, the bright yellow roses trailing around the pillars of wood around and above. Honey suckle intertwined, such a beautiful scent. He'd bought them for me for our wedding, he told me that every year’s growth would symbolise our love for each other, our happiness and joy. It transported me to another time, the long hot summers; we had so many great moments there in our little haven down the bottom of the garden.
The afternoon sun tickles my face and I close my eyes. I see him, his once powerful frame standing above me, a hazy image, I cannot see his features, I know he's smiling at me, he stands in front of me to block out the sun, he leans down and kisses my forehead as he so often did and whispers ' our love is like the promise of heaven' a tear flows down my cheek and I capture its salty taste on my lips. As I open my eyes I see a white feathered bird on the trestle table in the corner of my eye; it had no markings and was a white as a dove, it perched motionless, its tiny head lent to one side. I held my breath so as not to make a sound. Its tiny eyes fixated on me. Then, suddenly it fluttered its wings and flew the very short distance to the arm of my chair. I was astounded, such a delicate creature. I didn’t move or make a sound. It rustled it feathers and settled itself down on the arm. Never had I encountered such closeness before. We had often heard the songbirds tweeting their calls to each other, but I had yet to witness a dove, let alone one so close. It stayed there for a few minutes, and in those moments I thought I heard the 'la pache sia con te' in my ear. not from the bird, that wasn’t possible, it was a voice, I did not know it, it was a beautiful voice. A ray of sun broke through a lonely cloud and I flinched, I heard the flutter of wings and the bird had flown as suddenly as it had arrived. It had gone. I felt such sadness that tears cascaded down my cheeks as I fumbled my way back to the house, clomping through the tall grass, staggering blindly as I went. I kicked off Adam's boots and rushed into the reading room and threw myself onto the armchair lost for breath, La pace sia con te going over and over in my mind. What could it mean? Did I imagine it?. Did my grief consume me that much?
When we’d moved in all those years before we put in a book shelf that stretched to the four corners of the room from floor to ceiling, full of our favourite collections, the musty smell of old Hardbacks snuck in with modern encylopdeia’s and travel guides of all the countries we had visited together, the house was full of books. When we’d first married i’d taken great pleasure in my idea of placing my collection of readers digest on the low box shelving I’d created in the downstairs bathroom, Adam had laughed hard when I told him they would be interesting to read for any of our guests who happened to be spending any length of time in there. I would often recite snippets of jokes from the laughter section or challenge Adam to include an interesting or unusual word listed in the dictionary in our conversations at the dinner table. We would howl at the silliness of slipping extravagant words into our sentences, our guests being none the wiser. Whoever mentioned the chosen word most often would get to stay in bed on a Sunday morning whilst the loser would make breakfast, hot croissants and jam was a regular in our house, I never managed to beat him.
I carefully stood myself up on the leather chair next to the grand piano I’d inherited from my dear mother, my feet sticking to the squeaky smooth arms as I tentatively stretched up to the top shelf, our treasured collection of foreign verse and dictionaries that hadn’t been touched in an age. A thick layer of dust had gathered from months of neglect. The need to know what these words were pressed upon me. I skimmed over the spines squinting as my eyes finally rested on a old Antiquated spanish to English book Adam had picked up in Arundel on one of his many jaunts in his younger years. The leather binding was perfect; it was in wonderful condition. Excited I pulled it out with my finger and as I did so it fell off the shelf and landed on the floor. I carefully stepped down onto the seat; I could feel the dip in the cushion underfoot and imagined Adam sitting there with his glasses perched on his head, deep in thought as so often he was.
I sat down in front of the fireplace and began to search the translation. As I read out the words I could feel tears running down my face, 'Peace be with you' the book dropped out of my hand and landed on the floor. The ache of loss, the agony and despair, engulfed me and I gave in to its ferocity, I sobbed for what felt like hours until there were no tears left, racked with months and months of loss that had grown and multiplied with each passing day, its sweet release that was too much to bare. Finally after my grief was spent I looked down at my silk dressing gown and saw little blotches where my tears had fallen, in that moment my body quietened, my breathing softened and I stopped crying. It’s as though the tears had all gone, there was no water left in my eyes to fall, there was just silence. There was nothing. . The storm had ended and now the waves where quietly lapping on the shore .Those endless months of grief gone, All I felt was a calm acceptance. I let out a laugh and thought myself mad for a moment. I went to get up from the floor and saw the book had flipped open to the front page when it had fallen out of my hand. There were some words written in italics, an inscription, as I read them they took my breath away. It read To my dearest daughter ' Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid. your ever loving Father'. How odd to see such an intimate message in such a curious little book. How could this be.
I turned to the chair and saw Adams glasses still resting on the arm. I lifted them up and placed them on my head, the arms tucked over my ears and wiped my face with the arm of my tear stained dressing gown. I padded through to the living room holding the little book against my chest and again rested against the soft velvet cushions. The nights shadows where dancing through the windows, flickering against the walls. I was tired then, so very very tired, my insides felt empty but I could no longer feel the knot that had been gnarling at my stomach for such a long time. I looked outside and saw something white moving through the window, I strained my eyes to focus properly and saw what could only be a profile of a tiny white bird resting on top of the street lamp. I acknowledged it in my mind and i knew. I exhaled a sigh of contentment and closed my eyes. A faint smile formed on my lips as I leant back against the soft velvet cushions once again for the last time.
It was sunny, so sunny there was light all around me, I could smell the freshness of the grass hit my senses and could feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. The swish of the wind, its light breeze flowing through the leaves of the willow tree danced in my ears and i felt so full of life, everything was so clear, so bright, i could hear the faint cry of tiny white birds in flight in the distance, roses and honey suckle filled my nostrils and laughter escaped my lips as I danced barefoot in the softness of the green carpeted earth beneath my feet. He came to me then and lifted out his hand to take mine, I knew him instantly even though I’d never seen his face . You got my message he said, as I put my hand in his. I leant against his shoulder as we walked toward the horizon. There in the distance was a figure of a man i once knew, . I stopped for a moment unsure of where i was, Come with me my companion said, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. I turned to look at him, his eyes where shining, and as I looked into his eyes I saw myself ...... I was smiling back at him.