Its like knitting, she said looking over my shoulder at my drawing. She had suggested we drew with coloured crayons, two at once, strapped together like splints with masking tape. After that she had encouraged us to take another two, two in each hand. I was the only one who took up the challenge. Yes, she said, just like knitting.

He says it makes him feels cosy watching me knit. I do it every night when we watch our films. It reminds of the women who came before – his mother, Auntie Edna, Mrs Lloyd, they all did it, though I think he said Edna was best. Nanny did it, did it well. She taught me ages ago though I have forgotten much of it. I remember my hands would get hot. They don’t now. And the wool would be too tight. Not now.

Crayons. You have to work them hard, she said. Yes, I remember. They were always unforgiving. I coveted them nevertheless. That tin box of Caran D’ache coloured pencils. Beautifully laid out in perfect order. The smell of wood and a very distinctive mustiness of lead emanating whenever I opened the lid. The crayons you got in a pencil case (the zipped up kind with elastic hooks – I had a much-cherished one in the shape of a guitar) were never as good quality as Caran D’ache but they fitted, they belonged. And I needed that neat order of things. Sharpened ready for school.

He said he had to collect his prescription from the doctors. Would I wait? Of course. Sitting in the front seat I watched as a middle-aged woman, probably not much older than I, began emptying her car parked immediately in front of me. It was an estate car, a silver Audi. She looked bright, intelligent. Her greying hair was shoulder length and pulled away from her face by an Alice band. She had a round figure, though not fat. Her jeans were tucked in her boots. The colours of her clothes blended well together, soft greens and blues. Who was she doing this for? This wasn’t her life, I knew that. It was too truncated, too small. I imagined her kitchen with its shabby chic – a big table in the centre, a Labrador, an Aga, potted herbs in the window. No, a ground floor flat in that terraced house wasn’t for her. Her child perhaps? A daughter. And she was doing all the donkey work. Was the child at lectures? On a gap year? She seemed content enough, even when it began to rain. Back and forth. She’s used to it. Likes to be useful, involved in her children’s lives. I felt a longing as I always do when observing such mothering. It was never so, through no fault of hers, for she hadn’t had it either. Such mothers. Beautiful mothers. Involved, interested, creating a homeliness that is both all-embracing and stultifying. Of course I may have got it all wrong, I thought, as I watched her drive away, the narrative is mine not hers.

Walking along the promenade in the afternoon sunshine we passed a man photographing three crows who were perched perfectly equidistant from each other on the railing. What title will you give it? he asked the man. Yes, he said, titles are crucial. His accent was broad Welsh. Swansea? I asked him afterwards. No, he said. The crows were unconcerned by the attention. The breeze flapped at their feathers, one of them swayed. They are such big birds but singularly unaggressive, unlike the seagulls who worry away at the parked cars, touting for scraps, screeching out their frustration when none is forthcoming. The light was exquisite. Pure. Clean. A Blue blue and a red red. No greys.

We began watching The Madness of King George. A glorious production. Who is that then? We kept asking. Oh, its the one who played so and so in you know that film. Nigel Hawthorne was magnificent, one moment sane the next reeling. Such poignancy. The king crapping himself on the ground. Shades of King Lear. Power corrupts, yet without it what are you? Even Mrs King was prevented from seeing him. Is it harder to fall from such a height? Should we feel compassion for all in their falling? I think so. Yes. Always.

Voices on the radio. A woman holding the hand of her husband dying of Motor Neurone disease. She writes to say that they have both agreed to switch off the ventilator. He will die. She asks for strength. She asks us to pray for her. Yes. Always.

A good day yesterday. The drawing felt good. I even brought home my drawings. No mother now to tape them to the fridge. Did she ever do that? No, not then. They didn’t then. I remember buying her a mustard pot at Chester Zoo. I was so proud. Bought with my saved up pocket money. I thought it beautiful. Magical. She never used it. I never saw it again. I understand. I was buying it for another kind of mother. It wasn’t her fault. Her gifts to her mother would’ve no doubt been rejected too. It’s OK, you know. She kept my pictures. That’s nice. She valued them, more than I did. That’s good. A good thing. Yes.


By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.