I never had a dressing gown or a nightdress. I simply wore a T-shirt in bed. But now that I am old, I’ve acquired a dressing gown and two cotton gowns—the kind that reach to the calf of the leg.
Being old is peculiar. You don’t believe in it. You think exactly as you did when you were nine. The only difference is that you think about death all the time, in all its facets. I am afraid to die.
I don’t stay in bed every day. I go down to the shore and walk along the beach. I walk very carefully so as not to twist my ankle which might prevent me from getting home. I don’t wish to die of hypothermia in a futile manner. So, I pick my way over the rocks until I come to a stretch of sand. Then I stride out with confidence.
I move around a lot. I have to get away, you see. It is the fire I have to get away from.
Did I kill him? Kill the child? It is twenty years ago, now. But not an hour goes by that I don’t re-enact the accident. The fire. The sheet of flame. I escaped, but he didn’t. Oh yes, I burned myself badly trying to get him out. The door jammed. He was in the back and by the time I could reach him over the front seat he was… It was too late. Always too late. Always too late in my mind. So, I move around. I went to Clare, then, lived in a caravan near the Cliffs of Moher. Every day I tried, but I couldn’t. Didn’t have the nerve. I thought I could do it. Just jump. So simple. Just jump, I kept saying. It didn’t happen. I’d imagined it. My mind was gone.
And then? I stayed there a few months, moved on. Conne¬mara, Mayo, Donegal, always moving, walking by the sea. Moving.
Now I try to stay still. Lie in bed. Smoke. Read. But every few pages I look at the far wall. I don’t see it. I see the child, the car. I try to pretend to friends, to neighbours, that I have recovered.
You’ve got over it well, people say. I smile and nod my head.