Alone in the dark hours of morning, I computer-track my son’s progress in the Kona Ironman, a thin blue line edging across a screen. Checking emails, I learn my nephew will drive me later to the hospital of his rural boyhood. His aged mother, my only sister, is gravely ill. A long-legged champion schoolgirl hurdler once, she doesn’t know her Ironman nephew, two generations younger than her in years, doesn’t know much anymore, her ghosts of memory adrift.
She lies curled in a ward named for a lovely, small river burbling below their long-ago home. A steep grassy slope led to where her boys would romp in the water, innocent of drama ahead. I try feeding her the meal she would be responsible for if time-travel transported us back to when she directed this hospital’s kitchen, but, coughing in pneumonia’s clutches, she sags back into her pillow, irritated by the oxygen feed, a pterodactyl fossil the weight of a child. I realise the last time I visited her in hospital was after the birth of the saddened middle-aged guy standing alongside me. Fourteen then, a proud uncle, I needed positives when the colour of my life was grey.
When I arrived, bending to kiss my sister, she seemed to recognise me, gripping me to her with surprising strength, cheek-to-cheek, and then again, as if I were the one cherished. Grudges are cherished in my tribe, learning love like a difficult foreign language. A misfit beset by shards of memory, I was unsure of my blood-kin’s reception after separation. Her granddaughter again reassures her she is feeding her cat. Helplessness reigns. I reason that when we embraced, my sister, who was still sharp when my age, might have believed me to be our long-dead father, learn later my son crashed his bike, got up, helmet cracked, straightened his wheels, completed the gruelling course.