0035 | the mitten

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.

Reader Comments

  1. I always wonder why what ever your write goes straight to my heart. Maybe because it takes me to the scene or thought or memory and I feel that I live in it along with you. It is so nice when I check your link on laporterouge & discover a new fragments.

  2. absolutely beautiful and incredibly sad. i understand that moment so well the very nano second from something being whole to it as you say beginning to evaporate. i don’t like that feeling matt when it is associated to humans & feelings yet in nature i look at fallen leaves that slowly become skeletons and lace like – there evaporation beautiful. it is the promises i can never seem to grasp when they begin to be come undone.

  3. Beautifully written Matt, as always.

    Children tend to see their parents as heroes. As we grow up we find out that our parents are only humans, they are not perfect and they make mistakes, just as everyone else. But that doesn’t make us love them less…

  4. this does strike a deep chord. the tiny, seemingly meaningless failures and disappointments, some that only we notice, and some that our children remember and we forget. I always love what I find here when I visit. thank you….

  5. These singular moments of loss, noticed and unnoticed, in a given day. There is death, erosion, evaporation, but also renewal. We are all transients struggling to hold fast to life, love, and yes, mittens. The sibling dynamic is complex especially between sisters. The mitten, of course, was far more than a mitten to Tilly, I am certain. It had been hers, a familiar and comforting possession, perhaps her favorite, perhaps conjuring memories of first snowfalls, first snow angels, first snowmen or first winter walks with daddy. Bessie, the second, had yet to acquire her firsts with the mittens, her sentiment measured by her sister’s attachment — her sister’s mittens. The burden of loss heavy on Bessie’s shoulders, as well as, dad’s with the promise of rescue, of making things right in Tilly’s world. To a father it is an unfulfilled promise, a failing. To Bessie it is the “unspoken” knowing she had caused her sister’s tears. But all is not so dire, as I would venture to guess, easily remedied with brand new mittens for both? Loss and renewal, the simple turnings of life. If only all things could be so, well, simple.

    As always, wonderfully written and thought provoking, taking the mundane and turning it on its head.

    Again well-done, Matt. Thank you.

  6. – 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.-

    Many fathers this day in Connecticut must feel this profoundly. My State is reeling, the loss beyond words. Our hearts are broken.

  7. I fear it is within that ‘gradual degeneration of the original beauty’ that my hope skitters for something to grasp, nails raking desperately over slick rocks. Some things die so slowly…the mere lack of notice painting their death more a murder of inattention.

    I am strangely grateful for the moments I see the cracks begin. That I might clutch tighter or merely look longer, plan differently, alter my course….just please let me notice.

  8. dia El Shafie:
    Thank you, and now I discover you have a wonderful daughter too!

    Nadia:
    So glad you liked this one, Nadia. And, yes, those things disappearing in nature always seem rather wonderful.

    Urvashi:
    Thank you for taking the time to comment, and I rather feared I had much more of this to come in the years ahead.

    Tamara:
    Thank you. Rest assured I’m very confident of the very deep love of them both.

    Rebecca:
    Thank you for such a lovely comment.

    Kimberly:
    Thank you, and new mittens always seem to work. Kimberly: I hope you can all start to heal soon; such a terrible tragedy and my heart goes out to you.

    Shea:
    Thank you.

    Chantel:
    I think in your own writing you notice and observe all those cracks every bit as convincingly as I might here.

    Jane:
    So glad you liked, Jane.

  9. I read this before last Friday and was floored by the beauty of the language, of the melancholy, of the acute pain of this experience that each parent must finally face at one point. I understood exactly what you are saying here because I’ve been there myself.

    I always have to wait a bit before responding to your writing because there’s so much to ponder. Now, I’ve read it again a week later and it brings tears to my eyes and a catch in the throat that were under the surface before.

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