Sour Dough Bread


Once upon a quiet summers evening  - a car drops  me at the glass doors with the tinkling chimes.
I carry freshly plucked Marguerite from  furze yellow hedges around  ridged chocolate fields. I'm balancing  ice-cream wrapped in a deli-foil bag to keep cold so I open the door to my Mother’s room with my chin.
A  pretty blonde woman in a blue tabard is kneeling on the floor,   both of my Mother’s hands in hers, craning upwards to see the face under the flopping fringe.
-          Kin you tell me if there is anythink I can do for you?
She speaks with an accent that I've become familiar with, although one is never sure if it is Croatian, Polish, or Lithuanian.
I am at pains to mark my territory, and inform this stranger that my Mother does not, cannot speak.
I throw the flowers onto the patchwork quilt and make a production about getting a vase, a saucer and spoon.
How very dare she -  I wonder and stalk  up the miles of carpeted hallway  saluting and calling into the various open doors at the residents beyond.
It is a nursery for forgotten dolls.
Some lie sideways in railed beds with bolsters at their backs.
Some slump awkwardly in wheelchairs staring out the window, or at the Rte Soaps, all 50 rooms simultaneously playing the opening theme of Eastenders.
DOOM doom de de deh de de
A drumkit falling down a stairs.
Surely a carer should know that someone with late stage Alzheimers cannot speak  - I think, as I pull the huge green crystal vase out from the very back of the  hairdressing press,  where it has been shoved  away behind the rollers and the hairsprays as it is too massive to balance on a window ledge. I am nothing if not controversial. I fill it with icy water in the double sink of the hospitality room, where brown bread and scones  and cheese and ham , are laid out with a  checkered cloth over them, while a family are waiting for a death.
 I know this as I have been coming here for years.
I also know the bed gets pulled out from the wall to make space for people to get in at the doll.
On the way back to my Mothers room I hear her soft Eastern European voice in a soothing sequence of rhetorical questions.
-Dass  ZO mush bitter now eh?  she whispers as I walk back in the room and see she is massaging my Mothers temples.
The small blonde woman and the smaller blonde woman in the gigantic padded chair have connected on a deeper level than language.
I recognise the movements of Reiki and Shiatsu and the gentle way she has of rubbing the scalp, the tension in the cords at the base of the bent neck, released under her loving touch.
Her name badge says Anna.
We talk for 20 minutes about care of the elderly, about connection and family, about holistic treatments, movement and manipulation, about people and place, about love and language and loss.
 I thought she would be the type of woman I would like to go drinking with. Or call friend.
I never saw her again.
On the last day of Winter, the brown bread and scones, the cheese and ham, were laid out under the checkered cloth for Us.
The bed was pulled out from the wall for Us.
And the Banshee gale that had been shrieking for 4 days around the long low house nestled in the frosty fields,and blew my Mother out of the massive chair, carried her off on a gentle breeze, and  it grew calmer, then silent and a full moon rose in a lilac sky.

Last week I went shopping, trying to coerce and convince myself to engage, to re-stock the empty kitchen, to tempt myself with something delicious.
I want sour dough bread  -  toasted with cold butter.
Or maybe  a beautiful pot of strawberry jam.
I wander the aisles of the over bright supermarket  listening to the tannoy paging staff , customer service, the tinny muzak of the advertising jingles. I have almost forgotten what I have come in for about ten times and there is a wealth of nonsensical  fruit  that will be trashed when it softens and washing powder bulging out of my basket. Twice, I walk the length of the bread aisle, feeling only that I have no top layer of skin on, that my grief crawls around me like a rash and that if anyone looks at my black ringed eyes they will think I am insane.
I hope I’m not on CCTV and there is not a security man watching holding his sides.
I throw caution to the wind and head down the bread lane for a third time.
Fuck the begrudgers.
There is brown and white bread.
 There is real white and half white and half brown and half white mixed together.
There is low fat, gluten free, handmade, homemade,
There is bread that costs a King’s Ransom and bread that is so cheap that the large sliced pan  is probably made from  re-cycled foam .
There is bread with nuts in it,or seeds on it, there are rolls and Ciabatta and Panini, there are French sticks,  Tiger loaves, cobs, turnovers, barrel pans, soup rolls, salad rolls, crispbreads and croutons.
Breadsticks and Breadcrumbs.
Sticks and stones will break your bones.
There is not a screed of a sour dough loaf.
I begin to softly cry reading a packet of bread sauce. 
I look around for some help and see a Deli Assistant loosely plopping egg mayonnaise into the salad bar with a giant spoon.
Whose  leg do you have to hump to find the sour dough bread around here?” I ask the back of her.
She turns and smiles in recognition.
-          Oh, Halloooooo she says brightly
I smile quickly but am more concerned with the business at hand, namely finding the  curse of Jasus bread and leaving the supermarket as fast as my small aching legs can carry me. 
 I am worn out.
-          How is Siobhán? She asks reaching out to touch me on the elbow.
                                   -           She died -  I answer baldly, making no attempt to colour the statement as this is not the first, and assuredly not the last time that someone will enquire how my Mother is.
She looks off into the middle distance and squints and I notice her blinking, and then the tears that quickly form in her pretty blue eyed face.
-          Oh Gott, I’m zo surry
And I wonder at her reaction, the grasp of her hand on mine, and take a moment to scan the supermarket badge on her left  breast.
Her name badge says  Anna.

May 19th 2015 - 4 months after my Mothers death




(During my Mothers 7 month hospital stay I met a carer who exclusively worked on that ward. She attended my 45th birthday party as we had bonded over Siobháns gentle head. I met her on the street yesterday for the first time in years. 
"How's Mum?" she enquired brightly. 
She got the same reply. )

December 1st 2019 - 4 years after my Mothers death. 


*A forgotten doll is the star of "The Scourge" - the stage play adapted from the critically acclaimed memoir "Scourged" written about Siobhán which has its International Premiere at the Origins 1st Irish Theatre Festival at The Irish Repertory Theatre in New York in January 2020 



www.shellshock.ie 

Siobhán 




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