In that far, far away time
there were no trauma counsellors.
So when the woman drowned on the beach, we had to deal with it as best we could.
It wasn't a dramatic drowning;
she appeared to have fallen forward
and gone on breathing water
until the end.
Her companions hastened
to reassure us, or themselves:
she was just out of hospital,
heart trouble, had been filled
with delight at the day's outing,
drowning could well have been
her favoured choice of death.
I don't know how my brother
received this bromide. After all,
he was the one who brought her in,
laid her face down on the stones,
turned her head to the left
and knelt beside her
unavailingly pushing down
on her rigid torso,
listening for the first gasp of breath.
I remember standing beside her
but not her body
being moved from the beach,
nor our walk up the hill to lunch,
nor even whether we told our mother.
But I do recall waking in the night
to my sister's silent sleeping
and having to stand by her bed
until I could actually hear her gentle
in and out breath.
I do not know how my brother
coped with his futile contact
with dead flesh.
We never talked about it again,
didn't go in for “do you remember
the time when the woman drowned?”,
any more than we discussed our
shared distress at the cramped
quarters given to the big cats
at the visiting circus.
Emotions were not to be displayed.
For all that, a few years later
when I first encountered Shakespeare's
Mutability sonnets, I responded totally:
his fear that time would come
and take his love away; the fragility
of “summer's honey breath”.
I felt them on my pulse.
Would counseling have smoothed
such awareness away so
I would no longer have acknowledged
that life was transient, that death
could come unbidden even
while I was swimming in
a calm sea, under a summer sky.