I remember, sometimes. Events that happen days ago blur into events that happen weeks ago. The names of people you’ve met recently, still meet day to day, forever out of reach; a group of children from a class at school, or your first workplace, clearly recalled. The boy in the yellow top and green trousers in the school photo, while everyone else is in sombre black or grey uniforms. Some of these things remain vivid. Bright colours. Distinct odours. Voices and sirens echoing through time.
Does the telling of things help memory? Or distort it? And when what you remember has its own media life, and media afterlife, do you remember what happened, or what you watched happening, and rewatched happening, and rewatched again?
It was some months after when I first talked about what had happened. Years before I wrote directly, although my stories in English were about it. Were they always really about it? Seems like that now, sometimes. But I think they were more about loss. Loss of trust. Loss of a close relative. Loss of innocence. Lots of things were lost in the time before it happened, impacting on that time after in the class. In the stories.
In my head there is a park. A roundabout. Swings. A long rocking horse. We played there on Saturdays. We played there in school holidays. I remember spinning on the roundabout watching the sandstone houses merge like smudged pastels before the judder of the old cheese factory once each revolution. The trips to our grandparents were fun. Things in the park changed. No rocking horse. A new roundabout. I can’t remember if that was before or after the large patch of grass where we ran and chased, playing tig or football, was filled with items of luggage.
And when I remember the park my grandfather is in my head. A tall man. A giant (shorter than I am now, it turns out). Dark haired. Swarthy. A gentle voice. A white Aran jumper. His welcoming arms. His goodness. His love.
But he was dead when it happened. Over months had become fragile, thin; his sonorous voice a croak. The last time I saw him the biggest man I ever knew cried after a farewell handshake, before driving me home.
Yes. He was dead when it happened, when the plane exploded over the town, when it rained fire.
And so in the run up to Christmas my siblings were with my grandmother keeping her company.
We got a phone call just after seven. Something had happened. A bang. We laughed. My grandmother didn’t. A plane. There’s a plane crashed into a house at the end of the street. Unbelievable. Television on. Nothing. Channel 4 to Border to BBC to Channel 4 again and a story. A plane missing. A jumbo. A big plane. Vanished. And the thoughts. That can’t be right. A plane that size would destroy the street.
Well it destroyed a street, just not the street my grandmother and siblings were in. The house was undamaged. Not even a broken window. The house a few doors away was gone. And her phone worked. How did her phone work? Chunks of the town were out of communication. But her phone worked – a last gift from my grandfather, the telephone engineer.
And then the call for medical staff on the local news. And my mother went. But was not needed. None of them were needed.
And I watched the television looking for news. To try to find out what was going on. And I watched television the day after. Recorded programmes. Watched programmes. Could not understand what was going on. Still cannot comprehend what was going on.
Going there a couple of days after was unreal. Journalists hanging around asking stupid questions until they got the message to go and harass someone else. Areas cordoned off. The stench. A thick stench in the air. A thick stench still in the nostrils in the day after – every breath for hours reminding you. But you needed no reminding. You walked along the familiar streets. And the park? Not like the park you remember. It was full. Row upon row upon row of luggage. Look over your shoulder and see the hill, bright plastic sheets there covering things. Get to the door and you walk in. And in the kitchen your grandmother has shut curtains. She never shuts curtains. And you look out. And you look out.
And you look out.
And there is a chair in a window. An aeroplane chair you assume. You’ve never been on an aeroplane. There is a chair in a window, and something is in the chair. Someone is in the chair.
You still see that.
I still see that.
And the tree at the bottom of the garden which appeared a week later in Time Magazine with the body still in it.
It’s hard to sleep sometimes.
And the van pulling up outside the former house in the corner, the house where economy class landed. And a van, the same van? A different van? I don’t know. Just item after item removed from that area.
I don’t remember leaving that day.
But going back was never the same.
Even the later years in my grandmother’s house during University vacations when I visited and we’d chat, and watch old films, and share jokes.
I don’t go back now. The last time I was in Lockerbie was this year for a funeral.
We drove past the park.
My grandmother died this year.
I miss her.
But I remember.