Music teacher Louise is “at the age of unwelcome surprises” and, throughout the story, must navigate a new world in which her father struggles to recover from a stroke. A football coach, he has always directed things, yet cannot now find his way to the end of a sentence, “She waited for him to expound on the problem, unsure whether she should ignore the loose end of the sentence or attempt to tie it for him.” Resilience and helplessness are tangled together, like the map of blood vessels Louise looks at to picture her father’s surgery.
“Parenthood was a series of codas,” Louise thinks. While parents are familiar with the pinpricks that accompany a child’s shift into a new stage, Bray uses the idea of a coda [the concluding passage of a piece of music, connected to but often quite different to what has gone before] to draw delicate sketches of the reversal that sees ageing children make wishes for their parents. There is a dizzying circularity in the endless shifting of need: who will care for our parents, for us, for our children? The best Louise can do – the best any of us can do – is to hope that here will be someone kind to do it when the time comes.
‘Codas’ is the bittersweet standout in a powerful little collection on seven different kinds of love.
First published in How Much the Heart Can Hold, Sceptre, 2016