Grief is a Story I Was Told on Rosary Beads

by Electra Rhodes

Mam was laid out cotton-starched on the bed. The stillest I’d ever seen her. She’d not like to be known this way so I made a bit of busy noise at the door. As if I’d only just arrived. She struggled and gained no real purchase against the slip of the sheets, so she glared at me instead. Her life was eking round the tubes Sister Mary-Joseph had tucked discreetly under the blankets. I perched on the edge of a clumsy chair. Me never as twittering as she liked, Mam always angry at me for something root-rotted but unsaid. Father Patrick had texted me she was prayerful but her old rosary sat on her bedside table. Good for strangling me, she’d once laughed. Only half a joke. Living out one sorrowful decade at a time. Mam coughed, so I offered her the sippy cup with a straw. She ignored me, and I set it back down on the thin, wet halo that had already leeched the varnish off the wood. I supposed I was there so that I could tell myself I’d been. I supposed she knew it too. Her eyes shifted to the painting of the Madonna on the wall. I flicked between the two faces. Mary looked heavenwards. Mam just looked done in. It wasn’t a relief for either of us, me being there. My brother had hinted at death-bed reconciliations and forgivenesses. But where did you start when it was what you both knew you were owed?

Originally published in Janus Literary Review. Click here to read Electra’s reflection on writing about caregiving.

Electra Rhodes is an archaeologist who rushes between Cardiff, Wiltshire and her very elderly pa in Hertfordshire. Her prose has been widely published, most recently in the Parthian Press anthology, ‘An Open Door – Travel Writing For A Precarious Century’. She’s currently writing an intersectional biography of the British Landscape as one of The London Library’s Emerging Writers for 2022-23.

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