When I was seventeen I played a Fury in a play loosely based on The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus at a summer theatre camp in Cheltenham, England. It was my first introduction to Greek tragedy. The play tells the story of Orestes who kills his mother, Clytemnestra, and avenges his father, Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae.
This act of matricide inflames the wrath of the Furies —a group of subterranean female deities with their own ideas about retribution. In some versions of the story Orestes is driven mad by the Furies, in others he seeks refuge in his favourite God’s temple. I can’t remember what happened in our version. But I liked being a Fury which, for the most part, consisted of slithering about on the floor and howling at the actor playing Orestes.
Here in Penticton, my townhouse backs onto a tidy mobile home community. Beyond that are a rugged range of hills that I imagine are a lot like those that surround Mycenae. Late at night, when I sit outside having a beer and a cigarette, I can hear my neighbour’s music. It’s like clockwork. Every night at ten the songs begin. For the most parts, he plays lamenting tunes about love lost and bad women. I don’t know how long he plays his music but on the nights I sit out there, endlessly revisiting the past, it’s still playing as I stumble inside to bed.
I talked to him once. Though I can’t remember his name. I have no idea how old he is but he came to Canada in the sixties from England. He was standing on his roof shirtless and sweating under the unyielding sun. His stomach muscles tight as an Anchor’s Hitch. He told me when he got divorced about ten years ago, he considered selling his trailer.
Often I try to imagine what he’s doing as he listens to his music. Mark likes to joke that he’s a communist spy or making a bomb. I picture him drinking Scotch and reliving his years with his wife, wishing over and over he could make her love him again. Of course, that might not be it at all. But I’m certain the music soothes the torment of his Furies whatever shape they take.
For nine months I worked at a quilting shop. Every corner of the shop was filled with thread, buttons, felt and fabric. The fabrics told stories. I used to like to wander through the shop and entertain myself with them. It reminded me of when I was a girl and I’d sit on the floor at the library, flipping through picture books.
My favourite fabric line is by Sarah Watts of Cotton and Steel. Watts created the designs after visiting Japan. The retro-inspired prints are like taking a tour of Japanese popular culture. They are both whimsical and dark. It’s as if the director of Godzilla, Ishiro Honda, and Utagawa Hiroshige, the renowned print maker, illustrated a book together. I’m particularly fond of Tokyo Train Ride. This print depicts the journey from Tokyo to Kyoto. When I look at it I can’t help but remember what it was like to be on that train. I can see the teenage school girl sitting next to me, drinking her green Frappaccinio, hear the whizz of the train—remember what it was like to spot Mount Fuji. If I’d never known India I would not have gone to Japan. She taught me how to appreciate this country’s subtle beauty and its quirky sense of humor.
During my first week at the shop, I met a customer who’d just retired from nursing. The owner of the shop told the customer that her daughter was a nurse and wanted to go into pediatrics. “Oh,” the customer replied, “But it’s so awful when they die.” I smiled and let the moment pass—silently pretending to be one of the untouched. Later I thought about the nurse from Newfoundland I’d met the night India was dying at Roger’s House, how she’d cuddled up to India and told her that she was so beautiful that her teenage son would’ve instantly fallen in love with her if he’d met her.
My Furies are not the ugly creatures of Greek mythology. They arrive in beautiful disguises and always without warning: the five year old girl in the mint green tutu who sits in the café at the table next to mine, singing to herself the way India used to, the fifty-year-old grandmother-to-be, who asks for my help planning a baby quilt—a subtle reminder of the future I have lost. The two mothers in my sewing class talking about their daughters impending graduations from high school, the ten-year-old girl in the Paris T-shirt that I meet at the quilt shop, who tells me she dreams of being a fashion designer in Paris. Through her, I see my own ten-year-old daughter, walking the Marais district of Paris, wide-eyed as she peers into the windows of the boutiques.
Recently it would’ve been India’s nineteenth birthday. I find her birthday more difficult to endure than the anniversary of her death. The ancient Egyptians mourned their newly dead by caking their heads and faces with mud. In the days leading up to India’s birthday, my grief is invisible. I go to work, chat, try to steady my hands as I cut cloth for the expectant mother anxious to finish her baby’s quilt. Yet the insides of my body are plastered with hot tar. A blackness that sticks to my organs. To survive, I imagine myself as empty as embalmed Egyptian corpse. My organs and memories stored in canopic jars.
It has become our custom to mark India’s birthday with a pilgrimage of sorts. This year we drove through the West Kootenay region of British Colombia. For the mother of a living child, birthdays are a celebration of their child’s accomplishment and future. A time to remember the day they first met. Instead of future possibilities, I see a string of might have’s. If she were alive today she might have gone dancing, might have flown to Japan, might be falling in love.
As we drove I kept my eye on the clock waiting for it to turn to the time of her birth. When finally the clock turned I found myself thinking back to the day of her birth, remembering the weight of her head against my skin, the shape of her hands, tiny replicas of my own.
Earlier in the day we stopped in Kaslo to fill up the car. As Mark went into the gas station to pay, a large crow appeared. It’s wing was broken so it couldn’t fly but it didn’t seem to be in pain, just busy snacking on something on the ground. The bird made me think of India. An art teacher of hers had told me that India had once said if she was a bird she’d be a crow. The comparison made sense to me. Both creatures were known for their cleverness and curiosity. But it was this crow’s brokenness that set it apart from the other crows I’d seen on our trip. It made me think of how India used to tell me when she was old enough she was going to get a tattoo of a broken wing. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
Eventually the crow finished it’s food and hopped across the busy street, oblivious to it’s impediment and the traffic. I watched another crow flying above him towards a garden, struck by the contrast of their two lives. Before and after, I thought to myself, thinking of my own past and future.