I like your skirt, says Granny to grand-child, soon after our arrival.
It's my turkey skirt! Anna-m says proudly.
Esme looks at me for translation.
Yes, it's your turquoise skirt, isn't it darling, I say.
We are in Esme's bedroom. It is bright, light and breezy. The view, good even on bad days, is positively zinging with Spring. The greens are new-minted, the sky balloon-blue. Anna-mouse is disappointed that we have arrived too late for Granny's ritual make-up application, which happens at the dressing-table in front of this view, after her shower each morning. When she can manage it, that is. Yesterday was a bad day; I don't think there was any make-up, though I didn't ask. She passed it alone, too weak to move anywhere but round the flat, and got dressed at 6pm. This is how I know it was bad.
This morning, though, she is frail but beautiful, and her energy is up again, ready for dispersal in short bursts. I have been experiencing bouts of doubt and confusion about chemotherapy treatment - not just Esme's but generally, for everyone, anywhere - and feel uncomfortably guilty and disloyal for feeling so. I admit to the Bim before Anna-mouse and I leave for London that I am not looking forward to the day. So it is a relief to find solace almost immediately after arriving in the ever-deepening, gentle and good relationship between Anna-mouse and her grandmother. I love watching them together. I love it when Anna-m, several days after a visit, will suddenly wail I want my Granny!
To mitigate the make-up disappointment, Esme finds Anna-m a little cloth bag, into which she allows her to put an old compact, a mirror, a tiny freebie bottle of moisturiser, and a lip pencil. I make a little shrug to myself: an actress mother, an actress grandmother with greasepaint stirred into the genes and I want to keep her away from the stage? Who do I think I'm kidding?
We move into the sitting-room, where Anna-m spends some time massaging moisturiser into her already unimaginably soft, peachy cheeks, then takes the lip pencil and gives herself something nearer to whiskers than red lips. She's delighted with herself: I have a painfully clear vision of me and the Bim attending one of her First Nights.
I make lunch for all, field telephone calls to Esme and generally run the show. After lunch, I make Esme a hot water bottle, and she wraps herself up in a blanket on the sofa - the same old woollen blanket I remember being wrapped in as a child. While she takes her nap, Anna-mouse lounges on my lap and I read her The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher . There is something poignant about the post-prandial lull, something about the three of us, three generations of female in the one room. I am especially aware of the handing down of memory and experience today: in the Beatrix Potter, which I knew so well myself, and in the moment I lift the lid of the cake tin I have brought with me, revealing a mound of fairy cakes, half with raisins, half with glace cherries.
But they're exactly like the ones I used to make! exclaims Esme, almost surprised.
Of course, I say. That's the idea.
The afternoon sees us in Waterlow Park, a small Victorian marvel of a place, with hilly paths and benches marked with the names of erstwhile park lovers. Esme has to rest on one such bench the moment we arrive. She is 'rather appalled' by her extreme weakness, and asks if it has surprised me, too. I say no, I thought it would be like this, from what people say about chemo. What I don't say is that I expected it to be even worse, and dread it becoming so. The effect is cumulative, they say, and toxicity builds. Esme knows all this - we all went over the info with fine toothcombs when we first got it: I try to tell her how amazingly well I think she is coping.
As I drove towards London this morning there was an item on Radio 4's Woman's Hour about Ann Oakley, feminist, sociologist and writer, who has written a work entitled Fracture, about her response to a very bad bonebreak to her right arm. She discusses how incredibly strong the link is between our bodies and our sense of identity, which can be unhelpful and difficult at times of illness or bodily change. This is something I have thought much about since Anna-m's birth, when my body changed in numerous, unwanted ways - and changes still, in response to the different life I am living. I think of it again, talking to Esme; how more than ever she has a body, but is not her body. Which of course begs the question, Then who or what are we? I could go on. I will, as the thoughts which have eddied all day settle, and make some sense of themselves.
Today, I can answer tangentially: today, Esme's footprint appears to be light upon the world. Her slight, elegant frame barely disturbs the air as it passes. But the impact of her spirit is immense. I see it in the act of will that got her to the park in the first place; in the act of will that makes Anna-mouse cling, wailing, to the park railings when I say it is time to go; and in my own will, now, way past midnight, which makes me pick my head up once again from the keyboard and tell myself Write, damn you! It's what you want to do. Find the words. Make it make sense. Tell the story of the day. You're not going to bed until you do.