I’ve just had a late lunch of Yamba prawns, which, as anyone who is knowledgeable about prawns will tell you are the best in the country, and we get them fresh from the trawler.
But what was more important than the Yamba prawns were the limes I squeezed over them. I can’t smell, let alone taste a lime, without experiencing a powerfully sensual evocation of Mexico, where I encountered more limes than ever in my life before or since, in a variety of situations from beach cafes on Isla Mujeres where we scuffed our feet in the white sand as we ate fresh grilled fish (with limes) and drank beer (with sliced limes) to the mountainous country of the Zapatistas, where we sat snacking on tortillas (with limes) in the zocalos watching shamen pore over the entrails of dead armadillos. Limes, their scent and their flavour, became Mexico to me, along with the odour of the Lismore sewage plant. Ah, I think every time I drive past it. Mexico.
It is just over twelve months since my husband died. He wasn’t in Mexico with me, much to his chagrin. He cried at the airport when he saw me off and for some reason I can see as clearly as if it was yesterday not his face, but his bare feet in his Teva sandals. The recollection of those sandaled feet brings me completely undone: who would have thought?
Twelve months down the goat track of widowhood, his body is as vivid in my memory as it was when we first fell in love, and it is incomprehensible to me how that body can no longer exist in this material world.
I don’t know what is this animal thing in us that can make us weep and howl for the loss of the sensation of the flesh of a beloved against our own.
In Mexico people prepare feasts, take picnics to the graves of loved ones, believing their spirits are present and engaging with the living. Día de Muertos. There are times when I imagine I can hear his voice. There are moments when I think a man I’ve caught a glimpse of must be him. Is this what they mean, the people who believe the dead are always amongst us?
If I return to Mexico as I’ve long wanted, he won’t be there in his Teva sandals to weep into his handkerchief at the airport, and remonstrate with me for leaving him behind. He’s left me behind, as he always said he would, because he didn’t want to live in this world without me.
There are many reasons why Mexico would inevitably be different next time, but the fact that he will not be waiting for me to come home is the at the heart of them. There is absence, and there is terminal absence. There is a temporary separation, and there is the ungraspable concept of infinite finality.
We never fully live, Freud claimed, unless we acknowledge the inevitability of our mortality. In denying our mortality, we live in rooms untouched by death, wrote Walter Benjamin, dry dwellers of eternity.
I had no idea that when I sliced the lunchtime limes I would be overwhelmed by memories of my dead husband’s slender feet and his gait, lopsided owing to one leg being slightly shorter than the other, and his hand on my shoulder as we waited for a train. Such is the nature of memory: inexplicable as life itself. The scent of a lime. The make of a shoe. A whole country. And the one who no longer waits for me to come home. Vale, beloved.