I imagined a heaven for my father, when he died. In my father’s heaven there would be cycling, lots of cycling. There would not be us, or even Mum. There would be narrow country lanes – the kind with hedges you can see over the top as you pedal past. There would be hills to freewheel down – great, twisty down-hills with splashy bits at the bottom like the one in Goodnight Mister Tom. The sort of hill you could cry out joyously “Yaaaaaaaay!” all the way down.
I imagined no cars in my father’s heaven – cars only got in the way of the cyclist. I imagined mostly sunshine because it is most pleasant to cycle in the sunshine, but the occasional downpour so that he got to to wear his yellow cape. He liked the yellow cape. He’d arrive home and drip all over the kitchen in it.
I imagined a heaven with no conscription, no draughty barracks in Lincolnshire with a single pot-bellied stove to keep out the winter chill. I imagined no such place as the India he had experienced, with its dead dogs and beggars. No being forced to drive trucks across it, the steering-wheel so hot it burned your hands. No such place as Burma, either. No malaria; no “top brass” to come by and insist that you stand by your bed and salute when burning up with fever.
Now, as Mum passes the age at which Dad died, I’ve moved on to a new project. I am starting to conjure a personal heaven for her. She hasn’t gone yet, of course, but when she does it will be all nice and ready for her to move into.
Mum’s heaven will be a garden, I think, with a lot of lawn to be mowed in precisely the right pattern and then raked. It will have no rose bushes but probably a peony bush to shed bright pink petals and a lot of those pretty, droopy things that seed themselves everywhere – aquilegias. There will be trees, mature trees, all different, and she will be fighting fit again so she can prune them with one of those long-handled whatsits.
I will be sure to include a massive, ancient chestnut tree, as without all those spikey green seed-cases getting stuck in the long grass and those sacks and sacks of dead leaves to rake up and take to the tip there would be nothing to grumble about. I am sure the tips in heaven will be much sweeter-smelling than the ones on earth, and the attendant angels will be more helpful when it comes to dragging stuff up all those steps to the skip labelled ‘Garden Waste’.
There will be no beds to make, no soot-filled grate to clean out, no potatoes to peel, but there will probably be a lot of ironing. Ironing was therapy.
There will be paperback books – those really thick ones that you get your money’s worth from – seagoing adventures and historical blockbusters, and always the complete set; never a stray hardback to pollute a line of paperbacks. And jigsaw puzzles, great stacks of them, giant and complex, and she will be able to do them with ease.
This morning Betty and I watched her playing with a ten-piece ‘Active Mind’ puzzle they had given her. She picked up first one piece and then another. She tried to fit the biggest piece in the smallest space. She’d forgotten about the sky being blue, trains being shiny and red with brass bits and edge-pieces always being straight. She moved her plastic beaker of cranberry juice into the middle of the puzzle. Just another piece.
I thought of those two-thousand piece puzzles she used to do in winter. How methodical she was, huddled over the dining-room table evening after evening, sorting different patterns or colours into separate little pots; how patient, trying the same piece first here, then there…
It was Susie Salmon’s heaven in The Lovely Bones that set me off on this track. In this Alice Sebold novel a young girl, having been raped and murdered by a neighbour, finds herself in a place that contains everything she wants it to contain, even her old dog. Occasionally the edges of other people’s heavens will intersect with hers so that she has company for a while. The Being with the long white beard seems absent. Must read that novel again to check the details.
If you could design a personal heaven for yourself, or someone close to you, what would it be like?