I nearly forgot this morning what day it was. Valentine’s day, a day for lovers, for cupid, and for a million chocolate and saccharine wonders. Years ago I would have received poems, flowers, pictures, chocolates and blinding sex. Simon would have enveloped his arms around me and made me feel like a woman for the last couple of hours of a day he’d spent treating me like a lady. I would have eaten at a nice restaurant, or had one of Simon’s more experimental home cooked dishes, drank a nice wine, gorged myself on ice cream and lain down to love my Man. Neither of us really believed in Valentine’s day, we just enjoyed the excuse to honour each other. I would get him a new checked shirt, CD and earrings, allow him to rub my feet, scrub my back and treat me like a princess. Once I told him I felt guilty about his honouring me each year, and me not having the chance to do so. That year I burnt dinner, accidentally smashed a champagne flute as he came whistling and bounding into our kitchen barefoot. Although we laughed the entire way to the hospital, Simon made me promise that next year we’d resume our old routine. Guiltily I agreed.
Fifteen years ago, this very day, where we honoured love, cherished the flesh, and ate rich sugary foods, we lost Nikki. Simon’s sister didn’t have a boyfriend, husband, nor anyone that she could cling to as she gave out her last breath. Simon couldn’t get to her in time, and when he saw the last remaining free member of his family lying stiff, and staring glassily forward, he lost his temper and threw the small orchid he always bought her at a passing policeman. Since then the valentine’s celebrations were marred by her memory, and although Simon continued to buy flowers and treat me like a lady, his eyes and thoughts were always with someone else. As his memory began to fade, our tradition became completely absent, until I even forgot what day I was supposed to be honoured and treasured by the love of my life. I remember the last gift he got me, about the time his ‘brain-malfunction’ was diagnosed. He had found a picture of us back in 2013, probably at a gig somewhere. I was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘Forever Young’ in gold writing over black cotton. Simon was wearing a buttoned up white shirt with a grey vest underneath, and had short hair. His natural ginger was showing through, and he had a nice tidy little goatee. He had the picture blown up to an A3 size, framed it had Grace inscribe:
Remember me this way,
If I forget to remember you.
I’ll love you this way,
Even if I forget to tell you.
Remember these days
For they were truly ours.
These words were Simon’s not copied, and grace beautifully transferred them onto the photo for him. I hang this on the opposite wall to Grace’s angel, so I see it every morning. But even when he gave me this Valentine’s day was already lost, as Nikki was lost. A part of Simon was lost. Last year Simon couldn’t even remember his sister at first. Then I had to watch him recognise the name, and mourn the loss of her all over again. Perhaps that was the last day he remembered to say “I love you,” to me without being prompted. I would have to do that all over again, take him to the Crematorium and watch him look dumbly at a plaque until he rejoices memory and drowns again in his loss. Days like today, I wish I were dead. I wish he had passed so that he would have peace. Oh my god that sounds horrible, I don’t wish Simon dead. Not even remotely close. But days like today, I just wish I didn’t have to put him through the pain of reliving his sister’s memory.
We exited the taxi and walked steadily down the cobbled path, winding past the many memorials set in the grass that littered the crematorium. Years ago we would have been able to stride forward, not totter in this infantile fashion. Slowly we wormed forward, laden down with many layers; duffel coats, home-knitted woolly jumpers, thick black trousers slowing our harrowingly laborious journey. The sand coloured stone of the Crematorium building was perhaps the brightest thing in the scene before us. The surrounding grass was strewn with compost and dirt of all descriptions; the path and sky were as grey as each other. At least today the rain stayed tight inside the clouds, and the air itself was mild, scentless and calm. Since we had last been here, a few tombs had been destroyed, the unmistakable scorch marks of Exploding Jenny’s upon the grass and stone around it. My wrinkled hand held Simon’s hand as we traversed towards the east wall of the building, stepping underneath sandy arches out of the wind we came to the plaques.
Simon took the black hat from his head, revealing his meagre shock of white hair as he gazed at the plaques before him. I searched his face for flickers of recognition, strands of remembrance, or threads of recall. Nothing, not even when I pointed Nikki’s plaque out to him. Simon had written the epitaph for her. I remember him poring for an age over the perfect words. In the end he simply wrote: ‘The best Auntie a Brother could wish for.’ It may not sound powerful and loving to you, but they were so innately proud of each other. Nikki was unable to have children of her own. Cameron, Grace and Joey meant the world to her and her to them. By design, Henry, Alex and Aaron all referred to her as Auntie Nikki, this she loved. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t miss her. She had become a sister to me too.
“Who is she?” Simon broke the bated silence with a cracking croak.
“Nikki babe. She was your sister. Your twin sister. Do you remember?” I knew the answer.
“I’m trying to remember. My sister, how can I not remember my sister?” I could feel the upset rising in his voice.
“It’s OK honey.”
“No it’s not OK. It is not OH FUCKING KAY. What was she like? Did we get on? What did she look like? How can I not remember this girl?” His hands were violently shaking; a harrowing palsy of anger and regret racked his body.
“Baby, she loved you. You loved her. You were twins.”
“Nikki, I hope you don’t hate me for forgetting you. I’m so lost. I hoped I told you often enough that I loved you when I still knew how I felt about people. I hope you had a happy life. You’re better off where you are. Being down here fucking sucks, I know it sucks, but I can’t remember exactly why it sucks.” Simon was crying hot tears, all spilling over his lids. He scrunched his wrinkled face up and fought hard for a memory. His knuckles were going white as his fingers curled up in a crazy little fist.
“Simon honey, Simon stop. Nikki loved you, you were close. She was close to us, and to your kids. You wrote those words for her up on that plaque.” I lifted his hand to the cold metal plate.
“Fucking stupid words, they don’t even make fucking sense.” Simon grumbled under his breath. I ignored him, his tempers flared sporadically and uncontrollably. I never held his anger against him, he was like a child. He may be angry now, but he would be sorry later. If he remembered to be sorry later. I fought back the tears, as he shook his free hand by his side into a fist and stamped a foot. Such regression back to infancy, without the gift of youth, is a damnable curse. One born of a godless world, one born of cold souls and hearts without care.
“Auntie Nikki?” A light of recognition lit his face. “This is Auntie Nikki, Joey. She will love you almost as much Daddy does.” Simon stroked the cheek of an imaginary baby in his arms. “Cameron don’t you speak to Nikki like that.” He waggled his finger at an imaginary figure standing at his midriff. “Grace, go to Nikki, I’ll be back in a moment.” He put his open hand on the head of an invisible small child. “Butt out Nikki, this is my problem and I will deal with it.” He stared forcefully at nobody in front of him. “I don’t give a fuck who you are trying to protect; he’s not getting away with it.” He continued to glare angrily forward. “Babe, you want me to kick his ass or just want a brotherly hug?” He opened his arms to embrace nothingness. “Nikki, look at me. Look at me Nikki. Please look at me.” He fell to his knees and spoke to the floor. “The best Auntie a brother could wish for.” His entire body began to fit with sobs. Simon screamed into the air, a demonic sound that could boil the blood within your body. “Why is it like this? Why is it I have to say goodbye to everyone over and over again Toni? What did I do to deserve all this?” Simon squawked through his tears.
“I don’t know honey, I don’t know.” I knelt with him and gathered him awkwardly into my arms. My thin and creased hands gripped him as hard as they could. My own hot tears spilling onto the back of his neck shuddering whilst I held him.
“Sometimes not remembering is the most comfortable thing in the world you know. When I remember my life, it is rarely anything good. It’s people dead, people in jail, people I hate. I rarely remember the music anymore.” Simon spoke through heavy sobs, punctuating every breath with an horrific gasp. “Why am I so old, when everyone else remains so young? Why can’t things just stop? Doesn’t fate realise I have had enough?” I responded with shh-ing noises trying to clutch him closer.
He stayed silent for a few minutes, allowing his tears to roll off the hook of his large geriatric nose, the still air holding its breath ready for the final gasp of pain. I didn’t realise until Simon articulated it, how much music had been a big part of our lives. Every memory had a song, every moment had a beat, every thought was harmonised, strung out, strummed, played and hummed. Memories are just symphonic interpretations of many many songs within our lives, and here we are remembering and writing from the overture. Eventually all other musician’s and their instruments taking their bows and leaving the stage until only a few remain. Who will write the epitaph for my plaque? Who will write Simon’s? Robs? How much more pain could Simon’s tortured mind take? How much more could mine? When will the curtain fall upon our little opera? I rarely remember the music anymore. Simon and I stood up together eventually. I looked at him as he smiled at me, a watery unknowing smile.
“Where are we? Is there a restaurant near? I am hungry!”