Mapping the Past

by Shirley de Assaf

Warm and damp I stand wrapped in a towel, towelling my hair dry. I drop my bath towel then, fascinated by the universe contained in my reflection, I ask, ‘Where do my past, my present, and my future live? Is it only in my head or in every nerve, sinew, muscle, cell, bone or flake of skin?’

Marrow – Grandparents

I bend down to dry my feet. Their soles are dry and harsh, my toes now thin, flattened like my Victorian born grandparents who were moulded and made rigid by other times and other ways. Their words and cuddles were horded and restrained. They stamped on bad manners and shuffled with impatience to be away from our childish needs. Stiff and in pain with undigested memories of loss, wars, hardship, hunger and cold water. The marrow in my bones and the soles of my feet are rooted in their long gone presence.


I caress my stomach; it holds the memories of deep emotions. The agony of loss, the sick pangs of fear, the sour bile of hate received and returned; the terrfying vortex of love. The flutters and ripples of anticipation when eyes met, the heat of lust. The secret rustling of a child forming; my finger traces the long puckered scar of their arrival. Pain, fear, hate and love, it feeds on each of them; they have all have found a home there.


I smooth cream onto my legs, up and down, round knees that have knelt joyously on summer sand, devoutly on marble floors in incense filled churches. They knelt in anticipation on empty autumn earth while I planted spring and summer. They agonisingly knelt on soil that slept six foot deep and now is turned over, a shivering, naked cover on the grave of someone who decided to leave early.

Thighs and spine

Ah, poor thighs how sad, they look, like Stilton cheese, pale and run through with blue veins. Soft and a little crumbled. I soothe them with cream and I remember them trembling, holding, striving, taking, spine arching. Together we share the arcane knowledge that both taking and submitting is power.

Arms, shoulders, hands

I pour a little more cream; each unselfish hand now caresses the opposite arm. I smile for as my hands move I can feel the weight of children in my shoulders, hands and arms. Held in love, held to soothe a scrape or graze, to dry frantic, tired tears. Held to protect and to stroke them to sleep with hands made soft by love. Held in farewell.


I turn to the small mirror still clouded with a faint haze of steam. For a minute my eyes deceive me and a young face looks back. I wipe off the haze and we look at each other. When did I become old and where did the young me go? Puzzled we both shake our heads sadly. I pat a little cream in, together my face and I remember the casual beauty of youth. The unlined taut skin that life crumpled when I wasn’t looking. The deep lines cut into my skin and heart each time I mourned. I smile and my eyes peep out from their nest of wrinkles. ‘Still here old girl,’ I say and I blow a kiss to my reflection.

Shirley de Assaf lives in Berkshire writing, studying and remembering other days and other ways.

  1. #1 by Jennifer walmsley on February 15, 2011 - 8:25 am

    What a lovely way to map a person’s past. Beautiful reflections on what has gone. Brought a lump to my throat but what an uplifting ending.

    Best I’ve read in a long time.

  2. #2 by Nathalie on February 15, 2011 - 10:06 am

    amazing as always – brought a tear to my eye xxxx

  3. #3 by Sandra on February 15, 2011 - 10:07 am

    Excellent read. I agree – the ending struck just the right note.

  4. #4 by Sandra Davies on February 15, 2011 - 11:52 am

    Yes … sadly. An interesting viewpoint on this less than welcome topic.

  5. #5 by John Ritchie on February 15, 2011 - 12:00 pm

    An intriguing way of cataloguing the past and its effects on the present and the future. As a Hypnotherapist who has visited both the Past and the Future and found some interesting things there I am quite taken with this. Thanks for the read. John

  6. #6 by KCo on February 15, 2011 - 6:21 pm

    Truly wonderful brought a tear to my eye. So moving xoxo

  7. #7 by leah on February 16, 2011 - 5:22 pm

    Brilliant! An exquisite piece of writing.

  8. #8 by S de Assaf on March 6, 2011 - 4:46 pm

    Such lovely comments – many thx so much appreciated.

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