Each day, there is the death of something once treasured. Each day, a life or function expires; a value or attachment is lost. Each day continues the constant unveiling and passing of all number of ephemeral pleasures.
There are things which we hold onto with no idea of how tightly we should be grasping, which only once they’re gone and against the scale of the mourning that ensues do we come to realise how special they were. There are words which are read, and words which are spoken; things which are heard, and things which are seen: and all of these can one moment shock with their efficacy, but can then never repeat that same sensual assault. They can only be diluted. They can only be the gradual degeneration of that singular original instance of beauty.
There is a goodbye kiss that always used to connect mouth with mouth but which now is almost always the meeting of lips upon cheek. Skin acquiescently finding skin. There is a puddle on a flagstone which has been evaporating slowly throughout the day. There is a phone call where words unspoken will never have the chance to be spoken again: the time for sharing them now gone.
There are memories of each small death, which themselves feel all too mortal and prone to one day disappearing forever.
A diary note tells me it was two hundred and ninety days ago that I walked with my wife and daughters along the canal and on that day, during that walk, my youngest daughter lost her mitten. A hand-me-down from her sister, its fit on her hand was loose. It came away in the same motion that she cast forward a torn crust of bread, towards the ducks who were no longer interested in the ends of a stale loaf: blobs of swollen white bobbing on the water. It would be a loss which would ripple to create other sadnesses. What one daughter acknowledged with a mere ‘Oh-oh’, her older sister responded to with screams and a tearful plea that I retrieve the garment immediately. The mitten had already been carried far from reach and would soon be on the blind side of the nearby barge. A couple of bare fingers poked out from under the right sleeve of Bessie’s oversized coat, and a refrain of ‘Oh dear’ chimed in empathy with her sister’s tears. I promised Tilly that I would return to try and recover the mitten and eventually she accepted that promise and we trekked back towards home, across the field; long and dallying, and that end-of-winter afternoon was cold and prematurely dark.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to retrieve it. I now mourned its loss almost as keenly as she did: not because of the possession lost to us, but because of the hollowness of a pledge made to my daughter. Promises can so easily evaporate, like water on the surface of the pavement. The concrete dimples become defined once more and a grey gloss becomes a colour less dark and a finish less shiny. And something else dies.
I went back to the canal, headed towards the barge where I had last seen the mitten, licking at its edge, nearly hidden, nearly not there. I knew it would be gone, but I had made my promise. On the way, I pulled a fallen branch from the undergrowth beside the towpath. I could barely carry it let alone angle it towards the water and hook something already vanished from the water’s grasp. I threw the branch back, only to pause, curse my indecision and then haul it from the tangled vegetation once more. But on arriving at the towpath, with the barge and that long narrow channel of water in front of me, I threw the branch back towards the edge one final time and stood there and felt the full betrayal of my daughter’s trust. Only bloated white carcasses of bread bobbed on the water now. A promise honoured but a young girl’s hopes in her father’s ability to make good were now cracked. The beginning of the erosion of one more thing. Death stubbornly rubbing and erasing once more.