Recently, a friend wrote on Facebook about her beloved partner, whom she’d lost to leukemia: “It’s fun remembering Caroline now. Not torture.”
Next Saturday will be the first anniversary of Rosalind’s death. Yet, while it is becoming fun to remember, I’m still tortured by images of her on that last quiet afternoon, curled into me, forehead to forehead, in her room at St Vincent’s. On her wall was an A4 print of a photo of the poppies I’d brought her when she was first admitted. To jolly-up the room once the poppies finished, I’d attached the orange ribbon the flowers had been wrapped with to the photo with sticky tape, creating a weird 3D trompe l’oeil. Occasionally we’d laugh at the madness of it, but she refused to let me take it down, even when it became a little too weird combined with the hallucinogenic effect of her medications.
Flowers are a trigger: the luminous wall of star jasmine that fills our house with scent conjures her posing against it in the first of her mad (but highly feted) Melbourne Cup hats; tough green tendrils of it winding through the railings outside her hospital window; the scent of gardenias in a plastic cup by her bed. From their first flush, I’d take her in a couple of blooms each day. Now I’m picking them for myself and burying my face in their velvety sweetness. It seems slightly less crazy than kissing goodnight the smooth knotted wood of her walking stick still hanging in my wardrobe.
Gardens bonded us: “Mass-plant in odd numbers – threes, fives, sevens,” she’d intone, bee-lining for the flowering annuals and irritating the crap out of me on our garden-centre sorties. Now, she’s part of ours, her ashes scattered in a new bed where a giant she-oak once stood (another loss grieved), and in a vintage jardinière in my courtyard. The plant in the jardinière is one of hers, as spiky as she was, which I rescued from her flat. It’s fringed by silvery succulents, of which she was extremely fond. The olive-green of the pot wouldn’t have been much to her liking. Still, she’d have liked that it stands in pride of place, and that I can see it from my kitchen window.
So, one year on, in a characteristically inaccurate rendition of two Jewish traditions – a hybrid stone setting and unveiling – a few of us will gather in the courtyard. Each of us will place a shell – some of which I collected for her on my travels – in the jardinière. We’ll toast Rosalind with French champagne and feast on barbecued lamb, two of her favourite things. Then, in a couple of weeks’ time, the electric-blue spears of salvia will usurp the gardenias, and I’ll get back to weeding and feeding, and maybe even writing about something other than her. Thanks for bearing with me until then.