After he’d left us, during those final weeks, I’d rush home from school each afternoon to find my mother spread across the sofa cushions, watching the tennis.
At least she appeared to be watching it. The room was so dimmed it was difficult to tell. The French windows often stood wide open, but she kept the curtains closed. The garden’s heat and buzzing drifted in, in small, squeezed pieces, although now and then, the lined hems quivered with a more persistent, fruit-tinged breeze.
And from the television, that very English murmur:
“Fifteen – Love“
Before the furred, steady thud of the ball resumed. On and on, like a heartbeat. Back and forth, like breath.
My mother watched the screen and I watched her. I’d never seen her looking quite so blank, or pale, or still. Not in the flesh, anyway. She looked like an old photograph of herself, perhaps one of the perfume campaign shots, when they had swathed her in silk, behind a misted lens. She looked just as dreamy and beautiful, and as unnervingly unreal . . . When the telephone rang she hardly stirred. She’d glance up, but that was all, or shift to rearrange the cushions at her neck, but she wouldn’t rise. She never answered.
While it trilled though, she sometimes smiled in my general direction and once or twice, she raised her glass to me. She winked.
Or seemed to wink. Through those blowsy shadows, that uncertain light.
And I do remember crossing the room. Not to answer any call either, but to sit on the rug beside her. Beside her glass, filled with gin and tonic and shifting ice. And I remember how meticulous her movements were when she lifted her drink over my head. I remember that hiss and icy tinkle, while the ball-girls ducked and ran in circles, then fell hastily back into place.
(from The Lives of Ghosts)