I don’t think that Aunt Jen planned to tell. It was an accident. Our family is prone to accidents, as you know. We were on our way back from ‘Your Lamp Post’. It was our twenty first monthly visit. Twenty one times we had been there since the council put the new post in place. Twenty times we had removed the grey remains of a weathered bunch of flowers and twenty times we had refreshed the scene and refreshed our memories of you. As we made our way back along the pavement, I was contemplating what the speeding motorists thought, when they saw that the memorial had been renewed again.
Do they give it a passing thought? Or do they pass without a thought?
Today, when we were going back, I was lost in my thoughts about how different things used to be. I was working out how many people had been affected by those few seconds, when you lost control. I then realised that Aunt Jen was talking to me. This was unusual. Our journeys are usually a time of private reflection and a time to clear the tears before we reach home.
‘It was my fault,’ she was saying.
I looked round at her to try to see if I could make more sense of what she was meaning. Now she seemed to be losing control.
‘I knew she was developing a drink problem – what with your dad and all that.’
A drink problem? What was she on about?
We stopped moving and she leant over and grabbed my hand and started to kiss it.
I wasn’t sure how to react, so I stared at the van driver who was going past. What was he thinking? A sobbing woman kissing a child’s hand. Would he make more sense of the scene than I could?
‘She needed her sister and I wasn’t there for her’.
She moved her face to mine and kissed my forehead.
‘And I ruined everything for you. I should have done something’.
Her sobbing drowned the noise of the cars.
‘Aunt Jen, stop it, please stop it. You’re scaring me.’
Then she just blurted it out. Her words were loud, unrestrained and riddled with guilt.
She told me mam, that she had spoken to you only minutes before you set off to pick me up from school. She informed me how she knew you’d had a few drinks and how she’d told you not to drive.
And then Aunt Jen said: ‘When she had put the phone down, I forgot all about it’. She’d obviously been trying to forget about it ever since.
‘Sorry, sorry. I should never have said anything’.
She pressed her lips against my forehead again. She left them there for several seconds and then stepped behind me. We were moving again.
So mum, you were a drink driver. How could you drink and then drive to school to pick up your only daughter? You were the one who made me wear a cycle helmet, kept the medicines in the locked cupboard and tested the smoke alarm every Sunday. But you drank then drove.
How could you?
How could you?
Would I have shed so many tears if I had known before?
Would I have visited our crash site twenty one times?
Will I ever go there again?
I looked back at Aunt Jen. ‘I think I’m glad you told me’,’ I mumbled.
As we turned into our street, we speeded up. It is slightly downhill Mum, as you may remember. We stopped outside the front of the house. It still has the hanging basket that you were so proud of, the one I used to help you water. Some things haven’t changed.
Aunt Jen opened the door.
‘Home,’ she said.
She carefully pushed me up the ramp into the hallway.
I sat there as Aunty Jen closed the door and took her coat off. I sat and I wondered.
‘Will I ever be able to forgive you mam?’
Aunty Jen carefully helped me out of the chair.
Originally published: The Guardian