My mother sits by the window, her head bowed, her breathing low and steady, her face relaxed and soft with peaceful sleep. The cool salt wind blows in from the sea, playing with her hair and worrying the candle on the sill. But it burns on.
I try to lift her from her chair. Her eyes blink open slowly, meet mine and, once again, she cannot conceal her disappointment. I am a poor substitute.
“Oh Liz,” she says, speech still muddy, “I thought -”
“I know, mama. Let’s get you to bed.”
I lay her down, cover her. She quietly moans; horrible wet little sobs. I hold her hand. Her skin is thin and light as paper.
“Let it burn,” she whispers to me. Then she is asleep again.
My mother wasn’t always soft. She was taught. He taught her.
I sit by the window now, the candle still blazing in the window. My mother believes the light will see him home.
“Let it burn,” she says to me. “Please, Liz. Let it burn.”
My father is out there, somewhere in the dark. My mother believes he is on the waves, that he is being kept from us by elements he cannot control. She believes that he struggles to return, that the ocean will reward his struggles one day, and show him the candlelight.
I know different. His bones, his teeth, his broken hands were washed away. He fell from the cliff and dashed himself apart on the rocks. The water came to meet him, turned briefly pink and then he was gone, into the churn of the sea. He is spread out amongst the vastness of the black water, blood, body and soul. I am glad.
I do not hate my mother for loving him, or for waiting. Life is a very hard thing, and we give ourselves away, the vital pieces, to make it bearable.
I sit by the window, lick the tips of my thumb and forefinger, then snuff out the candle.