Olwen’s Room

Address: Olwen’s room, Treoes, Vale of Glamorgan
Words: Clê Morse-Privett
Photography/image: Anonymous

Olwen sits in her room and weeps; her tears fifty-years deep. He’d just had a biscuit and a cup of tea. The ambulance went to the wrong address. And that was that.

Then 10 days later, I arrive. Olwen’s wails of grief my wails of life. Substitute husband am I. Curly-haired hope in tiny pink clothes.

Now Olwen’s room is where we stomp. Hand in small hand, we climb the stairs to the back of the house and count each step in Welsh. Her tongue, not mine. But mine for numbers.

And Olwen’s room is where we lay; summer-blushed and breathless on the bed, cycling our legs in the air, fresh from picking redcurrants, toddling through the asparagus fronds. We giggle. We do our ablutions.

Olwen’s room is where I hide, tearful and breathing panic. She is tall as a tower to me. Her legs my battlements, her room my fortress. I wrap around them all.

Olwen’s room is where Olwen sits at the dressing table, virginal in white cotton slip. She unravels the victory rolls from her hair. I finger the brass tacks in the upholstery. And she tells me that 100 strokes before bed will make you shine.

Olwen’s room is where I, on the cusp of my womanhood, see Olwen pull a towel from the white vinyl drawers. She sticks it to her ear and laughs. I drop my gaze and burn with shame.

Olwen’s room is where the wardrobe is. Four plywood doors, sick with outfits – nipped waist wiggle dresses, regal kilts, egg-blue blazers and hats like meringues – round and well-baked, fit for delicate heads. Olwen! Classier than her class and pungent with lavender. And I, pungent with smoke, and too big in trainers, wonder: if you are my bones, and I am yours, how did we grow to be this unalike?

Olwen’s room is where dark turns light, where Olwen wanders every night – not knowing if night is day, or day is night. Where velour divan turns childhood bed. Where what is said, is made unsaid.

Olwen’s room is where Olwen, chin-tucked tight in floral cottons, rages in an ancient tongue, of brothers lost at the roadside, and sisters choked in plastic bags. Of the baby boy, cutting teeth in the bread basket. Of the guilt. Hot and acrid, and unspoken for eighty years.

Olwen’s room is where Olwen grows as young as that baby boy. She sings her nursery rhymes. ‘Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do. I’m half crazy, oh for the love of you’. And I was half crazy, oh for the love of her. But she, with hollow cheeks and blackened limpet eyes, is half gone.

Olwen’s room is where I grow big, and she grows small. Where horsehair brush stays on dresser top. Where victory goes unrolled. Where hats go unworn. Where Olwen glazes, and looks away.

And soon, Olwen’s room is where Olwen is not. Where time ticked backwards. Where bold woman turned unborn child, turned nothing.

And now, Olwen’s room is empty. The walls are blue. And I am blue, for the absence of her.