Friday, 6 January 2012

Abandoned Bookends

Abandoned introduction/ending 2011

My mother was in her mid forties by the time she had me - I was that baby who showed up years after she and my father had made peace with the fact that they would never be parents. 

We lived in a decent sized farmhouse, kept some chickens and a goat and had all the other accessories financially comfortable people tend to have whilst living with the mistaken belief that they are indeed country folk who choose to work in the city.

My parents were both accountants but my mother did not go back to work after I was born.  I think she had waited so long to have a child she didn’t want to miss a second of motherhood by spending ten hours per day commuting to and from work.

After years of sitting in a desk my mother discovered the great outdoors and we spent as much time between rain showers as humanly possible in our back garden.  There were many failed harvests but we eventually created our own little vegetable garden which produced edible greens.  

Our garden was surrounded on either side with a small wooden fence with the bottom of the garden cordoned off by a river which ran adjacent to the house.  There was a large oak tree on the bank of the river from which my father hung a rope swing.  The swing would have failed even the most liberal of health and safety tests however this part of my childhood did not encounter any trips to A&E.

As well as the rope swing my father also hung a huge hammock style chair which the three of us used to squeeze into on the warmer evenings.  This simple creation was an important part of my childhood as whenever we sat in the chair as a family my mother would tell us her stories.

At the risk of bragging my mother told the best stories.  These yarns weren’t just kept for me - on many occasions a friend would call over to play whilst she was in the middle of another epic tale and we would sit hanging on her every word until the adventure had ended.

The older I became the less frequent her stories were told as hearing about magic and warring tribes in a make believe land, no matter how vividly they were told, began to seem childish.  My mother was aware that I was growing up and never pushed them upon me. 

The stories did make a brief return when I was about fourteen and my mother was struck down with pneumonia.  It became my turn to be the career and the telling of her stories was attached to this responsibility although I could never make them seem as real as my mother could.  I always felt this disappointed her but we never spoke of it and once she was on the mend my storytelling duties disappeared.

Life ran smoothly until just before my tenth birthday when for the first time my bubble of happiness was burst by cruel Fate as my father was killed in a car crash.  I can still remember the day at the hospital when the doctor came and told us.  I think all doctors are taught the procedure of giving bad news to family members at medical school to the extent that they are probably functioning on autopilot when they perform it - the walk down the corridor, the small smile, the long look down at their shoes, the slow exhale then BOOM!  They look up and everything changes.

I loved my father with all my heart but I have to shamefully confess that on the day of his passing I sat on my mothers lap in the relatives room of the hospital and I cried not only for the death of my father but tears of relief also flowed as I had not lost my mother.

My mother always was my best friend but the sudden loss of my father made our bond even stronger.  I of course had friends and was fairly popular at school.  I attended the usual sleepovers and camping trips that most children do.  I think I surprised a lot of people by leaving home and moving to the city to attend university and I know I surprised the same people again by deciding to remain there after I graduated.

The relationship with my mother never waned and we chatted on the phone regularly.  My mother, in keeping with that sacred tradition of women well into their sixties, had taken to knitting me scarves and hats which never fitted and also seemed to enjoy sending me pots of jam through the mail much to the amusement of my room-mate.

For as long as I can remember our household had only one rule - no secrets.  This contributed significantly to the close bond between my mother and I although in true parental fashion she manipulated it to her advantage - her investigation into a mysteriously broken vase was quickly solved on the uttering of the family mantra.

The openness of our relationship coupled with the family motto meant that on the rare occasion when we may have preferred to keep troubling information to ourselves it was impossible to do so as we became terrible at concealing our feelings from one another.

This inability to hide from each other did lead to several rows over choices of clothing and potential boyfriends during my teenage years although these moments were few and far between and went as quickly as they arrived.

It was about three months ago during a short weekend break home after a relationship with an approved boyfriend came to a abrupt end that I discovered that my mother was more skilled at keeping secrets than I realised.

If it wasn’t for the fact that she received a letter from the hospital on the Saturday I arrived I believe she would never have told me that she had been diagnosed with cancer several weeks before and had now received a date for her long term prognosis consultation.

I scolded her from keeping this from me and we cried together for a short while before she went back outside to potter around in her garden and I busied myself by pretending to tidy an already spotless kitchen. 

The news of my mother’s illness didn’t dominate our weekend but I found myself very aware that she was a lot slower on her feet that I remembered and when I gave her a long hug goodbye her weight loss became glaringly obvious. 

The day of the appointment arrived and although we were both nervous I honestly didn’t believe that my mother could be seriously ill.  We entered the doctor’s room and as he motioned for us to sit down in the chairs he gave me a small smile.  This was the second time in my life a doctor offered this type of smile.  I knew before he looked down at his notes what he was going to say.  I don’t remember anything else about the consultation apart from my mother patting me on the shoulder and saying “Don’t worry, there is still time”.

My mother wasn’t the type of woman to let things get her down but from that day forth her age, illness and acceptance of her fate shone through.  She was remarkably calm whenever her hospital bed took an extra three days to arrive and she was not perturbed when her ability to climb the stairs failed her and she had to be relocated to the small study beside the kitchen.   If my mother was the silent tower of strength I was the one of who wore emotions on my sleeve, much to the shock of the receptionist who had the misfortune to listen to my rant over the bed drama. 

Time seemed to move slowly although it felt like my mothers degeneration was moving at breakneck speed - her appetite went from small to practically non existent, her inability to walk unaided rendered her bedridden and you will never believe the pain an individual with cancer endures before they ask you for pain relief. 

There were days at a time my mother would do nothing but sleep and on those days I would sit in the armchair beside her bed with a book.  I would never read but would spend the vast majority of her slumber watching her breathe and tensing up at every change in her rhythm.

After several days of surviving on nothing more than sips of water and pain medication my mother woke up brighter and more alert than usual.  It was a particularly nice day and she asked if she could sit outside.  Despite my protestations against the impracticalities of this request my mother insisted.  In a moment of desperation to keep my mother indoors I uttered the phrase “you will catch your death out there”.  My mother found this hilarious therefore it was due to my unfortunate choice of words that she won this particular battle.

It took longer than I imagined getting my mother wheeled out into the garden.  If she realised just how uncomfortable the short commute to our oak tree would make her feel she may not have been so smug about getting her own way.  I made her aware of this fact but she just rolled her eyes - a trait of hers that never failed to irritate me.

Several swear words and many scolding’s later my mother in her immovable yet supposedly portable bed was sitting in the shade under the tree.  I lay in the old hammock chair and begrudgingly acknowledged that during the height of summer the weather was indeed warm.

My mother pre-empted another set of my illogical worries about parasols and sunhats and insisted that she was perfectly comfortable.  For the first time in several months I looked at my mother and saw her before me and I felt emotionally comforted yet devastated by what I saw.

We sat in silence for a while soaking up the sun and listening to the river flowing past. 

I felt myself beginning to doze off when I heard my mother pipe up “tell me our story”.

I argued that those stories of my childhood had long since been forgotten and began to update her on the status of the failing vegetable crop.

My mother interrupted and said in her firm voice that even at the age of twenty-five I was unable to argue against “You can remember.  I need to know that you can tell our story.”

It is only with looking back I can see the slight oddness in my mothers choice of language but at the time my mind was desperately trying to recall the characters and events I had spent so much time with in my childhood.

I told my mother her story with as much gusto and detail as I could muster and if you will permit me, I would like to share this part of our lives with you too…….


After I had finished the story we sat in silence for several minutes before my mother simply said “thank you”.

Despite not particularly embellishing in the task, telling the tale had taken much longer than anticipated.  The day had progressed from mid afternoon to early evening and the air was starting to cool.

Although she would never admit it I could tell that my mother was starting to feel a chill so I decided that it was time to relive the earlier ordeal and move her bed back into the house.  This did not prove any easier second time around and there was a lot more swearing and scolding.

Once the bed was returned to its rightful place I vowed to my mother that I would never again attempt to move it although we both knew that this was a lie.

I sat down on the sofa beside her bed and reached for the book that I had been reading since the beginning of my tenure as my mother’s career.  I read for a few moments until I could feel two eyes staring at me. 

I looked up, she smiled at me and in her soft spoken voice said “Thank you for showing me that you can tell our story.”

I told her she was very welcome and as it didn’t appear that this was the beginning of any particular conversation I went back to my book.  My mother quickly fell asleep and after the exertion of our bed moving antics it wasn’t long before I joined her. 

I fell into a deep sleep and woke up feeling refreshed and ready to face the day.  This feeling did not last as I soon realised that I would be facing the day alone as my mother had passed on during the night.

The next few days went by in a blur of visitors, sympathy and never ending cups of tea. 

The revolving door of mourners finally began to subside the day after the funeral and I was finally able to catch my breath and let the tears, which I had been storing for the past five months, flow – and they flowed hard.

Several weeks later I put my training as an office professional to good use and I started to sort out my mothers affairs.  It was a job I was putting off as it made everything feel so final but I received a letter from Swann & Sons Solicitors inviting me to call at their offices to discuss my mothers Will.

We had always lived comfortably but I worked in a corner shop in the village a year before it was legal for me to do so and I maintained a job in a call centre in order to support myself through my studies.  My mother did help financially and I the cheque which accompanied her hats or occasional pots of jam was much more generous than I appreciated.

I knew my mother owned her house and had no significant debts to speak of but that was the extent of my knowledge of her financial affairs therefore I arrived at the offices of Swann & Sons not quite knowing what to expect.

I entered the room and went through the usual “handshaking, sorry for your loss, how are you keeping” formalities with the Son of Swann & Sons Solicitors.  We went through the Will point by point and everything was as expected.  I conceded that the paperwork should be left in the hands of professionals and I turned over the documentation that I had in my possession and left it in Mr Swann Juniors capable hands.

Assuming the consultation was over I stood up to leave but Mr Swann added that there was one more thing.  He got up from his desk and picked up a large dusty package which was sitting on his bookshelf.

The package was quite large, looked heavy and was wrapped in old and faded brown paper.    He told me that my mother had stored this with her Will for safekeeping and that it had been in their safe for many years.

I reached out to take the package from him but he looked down at my heavily pregnant belly, a parting gift from my last pre-approved boyfriend, and insisted that he would carry it to my car.

The package was much heavier than it looked and it was unfortunate that Mr Swann’s chivalry did not extend to carrying it from my car to the kitchen table.  I stood there staring at the package for several minutes until I became aware that my back was beginning to ache from a combination of the stresses of the day and the latter stages of pregnancy.

I sat down and pulled off the paper to discover an old wooden box.  I opened the box to find a velvet cloth with a note addressed to me attached to it.  I apprehensively and curiously opened and read the note which was written in my mother’s handwriting:

“If you are ever in doubt as to who you are remember our story”.

I set the note on the table and started to unravel the velvet cloth.  My heart stopped when I saw what the cloth had been hiding and it took several seconds for my brain to register what I was holding.  It looked how I imagined would throughout my childhood although the blade was longer and more curved.  The hilt was heavy and carved at the top was a wolf with two jet black eyes.

I held it up to the light and I caught my reflection in the jagged metal and saw my large blue eyes staring back at me – the eyes of my mother and of her ancestors.

In that moment I knew why my mother’s story had played such an important part of my childhood and why it was so important to her that I be able to tell it after she had gone.

My name is Ella Wolfenden. I am the daughter of Amelia Wolfenden and a direct descendant of Den of Wolves.  I have shared with you my family’s story and when the time I right – I will tell it to my son.


  1. Great read, couldn't get the middle to work out? Mine still stuck in mud as well, might just sit there forever, hate it when that happens.

  2. I've given up on using these as bookends but I am still scribblings notes for something fantasy based although I haven't gotten very far.

    The only part of this I will keep and can see in my minds eye is the bloody house and river!

    We both need to keep plugging away :-)

    Thanks for reading us usual!!