Sarah’s mother had died. It hadn’t been a bad death, as deaths go. She had slipped gentle into that good night. What troubled Sarah was what happened to her mother in the years before. Her body had become incapable of anything, walking least of all. She sat in her chair, made judgments, and demanded love. That was her metier.
Afterwards, Sarah felt like a husk. It was as though she had been in traction for years: the tension had kept her together somehow, and she was worried that she might now fall apart, limbs clattering separately onto the concrete floor.
Then one night she had an amazing dream. She and her mother were walking along a beach. It was a bright cold day, and a brisk wind brought roses to their cheeks. Her mother strode on with a vigour she had rarely shown in life, such that Sarah could barely keep up with her. She pointed to the horizon and said: “look, Sarah! There’s a hill over there with people on top. Let’s climb it!” Sarah replied: “you can’t. You’re 92 years old.” And her mother replied “Not any more, I’m not. Let’s go!”
It was a hard pull up the slope: one more footstep, then one more. The hill seemed endless, and Sarah thought it might defeat her, while her mother pranced on ahead. It was so high that there were clouds at the top. As they got to the summit, the mist cleared. Her mother was socially at her ease, chatting to the people she had glimpsed from far off, passing round mulled wine (where had that come from?) and laughing out loud. She gave Sarah her quittance: “you can go down now”.
So she did. Stumbling a little, she slid down the scree, leaving a little trail of dust. The pebbles bounced down past her. Finally she was at sea level again, and when she looked back up, the mists had rolled in again and covered the hill.
Sarah never forgot the dream. It could not be read literally, as some sentimental parable about the life beyond. Rather, it must have meant this: that the dead need no-one, and that the living need themselves. There can be no commerce, no traffic between them. The living need the stubbed toe, the wind-blown cheeks, the joy that comes from being free. Sarah’s mother had now forgotten her, in her cocktail party on the summit: and Sarah should forget her in return, on the scudding sands where she now stood. The waves broke with a hushing sound. The sandhills, held together by Marram grass, were soft. There could be no doubt about it. This was an earthly paradise.