The Grieving & The Rubble of Longing


Dettra Rose


I followed my ruin and wept under her purple sheets. Neighbours left soup on our doorstep, but never knocked. My husband drank Red Stripe till his belly swelled and shirt buttons popped. He was raging, I was crying. I was guilting, he was denying. The revolving door of grief. We never met.
I followed my ruin to the youth centre. On a wall crowned with barbed wire, my daughter had painted PEACE OUT and a dove. I kissed the cold brick feathers of her bird. I followed my ruin to Tesco, bought Jaffa cakes and ate them as she used to, pulling out the orange glob.
Friends chatted about everything, but not about my daughter. Others crossed streets to avoid me – mice, scuttling from a cat. But Corinne dashed over the zebra to greet me, asked how I was and if we could talk about Sharee.
‘I remember when Sharee dyed everything purple, including her shoelaces,’ she said.
‘And the dog’s tail, remember?’ I replied.
I held Corinne, vice-like. Grieving in, grieving out.
She had a donkey-grey coat and pilling pink bobble hat. I followed her to the art space she was setting up in the church hall, swept out ghosts of prayers and boy scouts, chased spider colonies from cupboards.
Classes began. I helped: mixing paint, making tea. In breaks I ached in the churchyard, pressed my spine into trees – great-grandmothers wearing faces of time, branches bending open-armed, hosting magpies and crows. My sorrow twined around their roots.
Corinne gave me paper and a palette and suggested I paint the trees. I slashed sharp lines of trunks and stick people; bones and empty inside.
Months slogged by, I worked on painting Sharee cradled under a tree canopy of creamy blossoms, dotted purple plums and blackberries on their labyrinth of boughs. My bird in her tree-home joined the gallery of stories on the walls. I talked about Sharee in paint and pencil, charcoal and ink. As the art space grew, I helped people paint out their pain in dark watercolours, muted shades and squares of bright.
Mixing paint, making tea, I followed my ruin to a shard of meaning.


A Jamaican nurse stops you entering the ward.
‘I think he’s gone,’ she says.
He’s still warm. Daily Mirror and flat cap on the chair. The machines are silent. You hold his wrist.
A smiley Filipino nurse swishes back the lilac curtain. ‘Breakfast?’
You shake your head.
‘Sorry!’ She tugs up her face mask.
The funeral director is swan-like. Elegant, pale, distant. You listen to her practised empathy, her suggestions. Manage your tears, lapping. Tie them up tightly in water bombs. Later, you turn your father’s door key. Smell him as you go in. Don’t open the windows to let him out. Slide down the hallway wall and stroke the worn blue carpet. Sit there till your legs go numb. You pull the battered stainless teapot from the sink and boil the red whistling kettle. Press your fingerprints on his in dust. Break into his oak writing bureau with a kitchen knife. Rifle through photos, stamps, receipts, documents … Examine the faces and broken cabins of your ancestors. Haunted looks and happiness are handed-down stories. Recall tales of both told in your father’s Geordie voice. Hug a velvet cushion … Read love letters from the ladies in his life, Pamela and June! Fill the room with question marks. Fling out his cupboards. Linen, blankets, shirts. Undo his sock balls. Drink his precious Jameson’s. You curl up on the butter-coloured rug. Feel his footprints. The ghostly ones. The silent ones that made no imprint, or so you thought. Let grief capsize you twice. Once for a father. Once for a stranger. Dawn arrives on your face in cold peach shades. You find coffee and Coffee-mate. Google: How to write a eulogy? Read: ‘Traditional eulogy for Dad.’
Laugh like you’re crying. You write down.
‘My father. Alan Dean Fox. Al. Foxy. Dad. In his twenties, Dad was at Wembley cheering for England. In his thirties, he became a master carpenter. Last month, age seventy-eight, he bought Nike trainers to play table tennis.’ You feel the five-minute chasm the eulogy must fill. Count on your fingertips the years you didn’t speak. Ask the rubble of your longing if another past was ever possible.

These pieces have been previously published in Reflex Fiction.

Dettra Rose

Dettra Rose is an award-winning flash fiction author in both the UK and Australia.Her pieces have won and been shortlisted/longlisted in a number of esteemed competitions, including: Bath Flash Fiction Award, Reflex Fiction, Retreat West, the Australian Writers’ Centre and TSS Publishing. Her work is also included in the 100 Words of Solitude anthology published by Literati Magazine’s own Rare Swan Press. She is working on a novel and trying hard to finish it despite her addiction to flash. A born-and-bred Londoner Dettra now lives in Australia; she calls both places home.

Find her at

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