26,000 days.

It was your birthday last week . You would have been 73 years old. l forgot it was your birthday, at least on the day. I think – I hope – that’s a healthy sign. I mean, how long can I worry about you? You are dead and the world keeps turning regardless.

73 years is a little over 26,000 days, which was an eternity to a little boy. He saw the way people in their seventies lurched around as though their bones were made of glass. Saw how they gazed at the world through rheumy eyes surrounded by tissue paper skin. he noted the eternity that it took them to climb the two steps into the bus, and how long the three additional paces to the reserved seating at the front took, and it made his own movements seem like teleportation by contrast. He couldn’t imagine how anyone ever got as old as 75, which was the life expectancy in those days. He noted all this with a detached interest, because five year old boys don’t grow up.

Two weeks before your birthday I turned 39 – that’s 14,200 days – give or take. 73 doesn’t seem nearly that distant now – and where a 5 year old me would rush headlong into the world, now I feel like as I sit still, time rushes past me like a storm, battering me, pushing me around. I suppose if my life ends up like yours, and the apple really doesn’t fall that far from the tree, then I am more than halfway through my own journey now anyway, and that soon I will join you – where ever it is that you may be.

You had wanted to donate your body to a scientific endeavour of some sort – which as it happens, is harder than it first appears. You were interested in becoming a donor to Gunther von Hagen’s plastinate projects – and the thought of knowing that your preserved corpse would roam the world as a sort of carnival attraction filled me with a sense of unease. I suppose the ruin of your body was no good for the MediUni in Vienna – because they politely declined the offer of your remains – so you were cremated.

We discussed what to do with your ashes – I was of the mind that we sprinkle a little in a variety of places that had held significance to you; the Tasman Sea, the Blue mountains, the forest around Dreistetten, Heiligenkreuz, Klagenfurt, Table Mountain, St Petersburg… I could travel the world with you and leave a little part of you there, to reflect the little of you left in my heart.

In the end it didn’t matter anyway- as my mother had you interred in the Vienna cemetery – somewhere. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I wanted to say goodbye somehow- but no funeral or wake, no access to the burial site has so far denied that desire. It took me nearly 15 years to farewell your mother, and I suppose I may have to wait as long before I can afford the extravagance of flying to see a plaque in a wall inscribed with your name. I suppose I can wait 5000 days.

Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” 

Margaret Atwood


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