I lie to my daughters. There's no daily exercise regime, though my smug boy of a doctor in Harry Potter specs advised it. You're putting yourself at risk by not shedding the excess, Mrs K. In God’s holy name, what would he know about strain on the heart? Do you advise all your seventy-six year old patients to do aerobics, I asked him. He sniffed, mumbled something I didn't catch, and scribbled a few, no doubt illegible, notes in my file. It's probably stamped 'Burden' or 'Hypochondriac'.
I walk once a week but only because of the swans. They say swans mate for life. I don’t buy it. I tried that three times myself and know it’s impossible. The yeasty, almost stale smell of the ducks’ bread reminds me of Mahon’s Bakery half a century ago. Soda farls, wheaten loaves, gravy rings, Viennese Whirls and Ma’s favourite, Pineapple Creams. Every Saturday, she’d light the fire, heave on her only coat and knot a head square under her chin. Off to town she'd go, to Mahon’s for our weekend treat, leaving me in our lumpy bed to recuperate from the Friday night dance. The kettle’s reedy screech signalled Ma was back and ready for her airbrushed version of my hope-filled evening in The Ballroom of Romance.
At the weekend, Ma sparkled, gossiped with the neighbours, swept up snotty-nosed toddlers and jiggled them on her well-padded hip. But come Sunday bedtime, the far-reaching shadow of Walker’s Mill invaded her sanctuary, crept maliciously over her brow. Never speak to me on a Monday morning. A fortnight after I turned fourteen the stocking factory took me on. Still wearing ankle socks I was. I rushed straight to Walker's Mill to tell Ma my good news. All those years and I’d never asked what she did there, couldn’t ask, because even one mention of the place enraged her. The chemical stench of the dyeing room was a shock, but Ma, skirt hitched up and ankle deep in water the exact hue of Da’s deathbed skin, was soul crushing.
It rained the day they lowered Ma into her grave. A shallow, peat brown puddle had settled on the base of the pit, and the muffled slop of the coffin displacing it was what made me wail, reminded me of that day at the mill.
At the lakeshore, I toss mouldy crusts to the Mallards. I squint to locate the swans, and watch their effortless, stately approach. They are twin wedding cakes on a glass trolley. Swans stay together forever, Ma. Did I read that aloud to her once from the Encyclopaedia set she bought on tick for my tenth birthday? I tighten my grip on the paper bag in my fist and something crystallises, something it's impossible to say, only see. Ma, on an early morning Saturday street in 1957. She is marching home, her old pinny fluttering under the hem of her second hand coat. She is smiling, her spirit soaring, because it’s the weekend, and she has me, and a box from Mahon's with two swans printed on the lid, their necks and heads forming the shape of a heart. And inside, like trophies for surviving another week, two Viennese Whirls and two Pineapple Creams.