Memoir: "The Gecko"

Anxiety in the house is starting to raise like the marsh around our boots as we stomp through the woods that run from our garden to the meadow. It is seeping over the top, and subtly threatening to pull us all under. It is always a tricky time, when the days become darker, the doors to the garden are closed more and my son finds it hard to create the space he needs for movement to regulate his nervous system, his emotions and sense of self in space.

2020 bought turmoil and anxiety for most, for us it was a continuation of a journey we had already begun, a turning inwards, focusing on the smaller details not the bigger pictures. But now anxiety has crept in, anxiety about leaving the safety of our farm. So, we turn to our lane. Our lane runs up the back of the farm between two fields, it is really a cow walkway but it gives us space to let the dog run free safely fenced from livestock. Over the year we have returned daily and each time we see more detail, and register the small changes. It grounds me in this fast-paced world.

We walk, Jack cycles and we talk. While he talks about all thing’s computer based I watch the grasses fold and lower to the ground, warming the soil underneath which already is starting to nurture and grow new shoots. I see holes emerging in the grasses where the voles are nestled, trying to outlast the cold and avoid the buzzard. I saw it swooping off towards the trees in a whirl of power and death.

The lane itself has turned from red dust into sticky mud that acts as a recording device for animal tracks. Here we see your bike, my boots, a deer print, birds and further alone the tell tail sign of a badger. It captures our world in miniature detail, the reality of us changing and shaping this earth together.

Christmas is looming. We have taken it right back to basics, with few visits and fewer trips but somehow the pressure to be the same every year, to be as good as last year seems to increase. A pressure that builds in my son and we try and release by striding the fields, watching the Nuthatch flit across the trees and breathing in the air slowly and purposefully.

Yesterday Jack’s gecko died. I had no idea what he would do with the grief. I was worried it would come tumbling out, like the winter wind shaking and screaming around the house. But he had a softer grief. We built the Gecko a box and Jack dug a hole near a tree in the garden we planted when he was born. Then he used his hands to put all the soil back on the grave scoop by scoop. I stood and watched the earth help heal my son one handful at a time, and I was proud of the world we had created for our family among these hills.

Jack’s name has been changed.

Elisabeth Kelly is a teacher who lives on a Scottish hill farm with her young family and too many animals. She recently began writing and has been published in or is due to be in numerous print anthologies from Hedgehog Poetry Press and HybridPress, and in an anthology by Forest Publishing and Eyeflash Poetry. She has also had work published in The Honest Ulsterman, Dodging the Rain, Fragmented Voice, Dreich Magazine and Green Ink Poetry. She was Shortlisted in the Antony Cronin Poetry Award 2020 and has her debut pamphlet due out in May 2021 with Hedgehog Poetry Press.