Brittany, France, 2020
Once upon a time there was a woman, a hundred years old.
Once upon a time there was a baby, her tenth great-grandchild.
In the time of COVID they were lucky enough to meet, though not to touch.
There were two more of us between, mother and grandmother, but that hundred-year gap mesmerises me, because it’s not just fleeting and precious, it’s a thing of awe, shimmering on some frontier between the real and the mythical.
Dear Hazel, you have everything to discover, and we have everything to learn about you. All our promises, all our hope, all our wonder find focus in your small, needy, contrary, fascinating person.
Dear Torla, you have given and received so much love. Wellsprings, cascades, storm-surges of love. You endured the War, and saw your man come home. You made gardens. You made homes, and children. You lost a father, a brother, a daughter, all long before their time. You’ve read books, and wondered, and travelled, and learned. You’ve visited the weak, befriended the unlovable. In this weird year, you’ve kept talking and reading and loving, you’ve drunk wine with your friends in the garden when summer allowed, and over the phone when it didn’t.
Do you have anything at all to regret? It’s hard to think so. You closed a circle by completing your degree at nearly ninety, having left Oxford in 1940 to join the ATS. You once said you’d dreamed of being a mariner, but this life of yours has been a magnificent voyage. On your hundredth birthday, at your Zoom party, we called you Flagship of the line.
Dear Hazel, the twenty-first century is yours. Take it in your arms, flawed and fragile, beautiful and scary as it is. Take it in your arms, as your great-grandmother took the twentieth century. Take it with all of our strength, all of our love, and all of hers.
Patience Mackarness lives partly in a cottage in Brittany, partly in an elderly VW camper van, having moved to France with her husband Eric in 2015. Her stories, mainly flash fiction, have been published by Flash Frontier, Lunch Ticket, Spelk, Fiction Kitchen Berlin, Citron Review and elsewhere.