Milk and Cookies

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Milk with cookies is a personality. The milk – hot, cold, or sugared – and the choice of biscuits – are personal and meaningful choices. How soggy you like the cookies, the number of times you dunk them in the milk – these are little signs that make us. 

Back at home, everyone in my family had a different method. 

Mother liked sugary milk, and ate two biscuits at a time, dipping them all the way in. Dey, my young sister, only had salty biscuits with tea. And aunt Ella preferred plain milk with a single, decadent chocolate cookie. They’d eat these at their own times, in their personal favourite corners –  nudged on a chair late at night under the white tube-light, curled up on the swing when lonely, hunched before the television in the afternoon. 

You made milk and cookies something people did together. 

One summer, as we were crouched on the teapoy doing math sums, you brought in biscuits with two glasses of milk and put them between us, no questions asked. And here we are, years later watching a movie, hands sticky with softened biscuit flour and mouths covered in cream-staches.  

This is simple, and quite nice. 

Death, A To Do List

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No one talks about the meticulous chores that follow death, the seemingly vestigial arrangements that one must make without complaint, and without recollecting memories. How after one’s loved ones are gone, buried or burnt and prayed for, one must unsubscribe to the list of magazines and newsletters that keep making their way in through the letterbox. 

Someone must make calls or write letters to close family, and without losing their composure recite the date and time of the funeral. Those around you suddenly seem to look older than their age, wrinkled, sleep-deprived, and soap-smelling. An anonymous guest finds their feet in your kitchen and makes everyone tea, bereavers must eat. 

Often, the place where they once lived, laughed, moved with life in, comes to be settled with dust before someone remembers to clean and mop, contact a broker and sell the property. Things need to be given away, medical bills filed, insurances claimed and bank accounts closed. A police officer might visit to create a certificate of passing. An appropriate photograph is added to the mantlepiece, not one where they look too old, or too young, just right. What do you do with their coin collections and unopened box of assortment biscuits?    

Between the questions, the taxes, the law and the prayers, sometimes you forget that they are, after all, dead. Still made of skin and bones, but lesser in ways you cannot explain, even though all that is missing is breath. O2, Only Oxygen. It’s almost as if they left behind their papers and their home, unorganised and in need of caring, so that you can grieve without pain, live each day more easily than the last, and slowly heal yourself as you fall asleep tired and spent by dinnertime.  

Postcode

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I wrote a lifetime of letters to you
in days of sickness and in health 

When the soup wasn’t salty enough,
and when little Rob was blue, red and other colours 

I invited you to my sister’s wedding
bought flowers, and sent grieving notes on your mother’s death

Wrote my food-in-a-jar recipes
on old postcards,
and stacked them by the fridge 

Papermessages like papyrus breaths
lay piled atop each other, smudged somewhere

The address on the postcards
had a missing house number,
and a postcode few numbers less.

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