‘I don’t really dream’

Auntie Mo leans in to me, her arms outstretched. Her top lip snarls up into a grimace, but it’s trying to be a smile. A gold tooth flashes in the lamplight. “Daaahlin’,” she shrieks, almost into my ear. I shiver. The television casts grotesque shadows on the wall behind. She’s about to cover me in a suffocating shroud of scent. My lungs fill with the chemical haze of gin, old perfumey necks, and stale hairspray.

When she died, I learned that she was never my real aunt, but I think I always knew that. Why? Because she was the only thing that had remained the same all my life. Anyone with the same blood as me was trying their best to check out of this world, to never see me again, however much the social workers tried. I grew up between ramshackle caravans and living room floors all up the east coast of England. But like some magical magnet, Auntie Mo followed me through those childhood years, occasionally appearing like an angel at the school gates; driving me for hours through rainy black nights; pulling a dumpling-topped hot pot from the oven. She’d cry into a tissue and take sips from a teacup while I ate. “Have some more, sweetie. You’re breaking me heart.” And I would sleep all night in fresh sheets, and never wake up once.

“Ain’t you big sweetie,” she says to me now, tottering backwards from me as her bony hands hold my shoulders with terrifying firmness. Her eyes bulge, her mouth turns to a puckered circle, and for a moment she’s a stick insect personified. “Thanks for coming to see an old girl.”

I don’t really dream these days – only when I drink gin, and that’s only once a year, on this day. Then Auntie Mo is with me all night. My fingers in her fragile gold-ringed hand. The smell of gin sighs in the warm night air. It’s the best sleep I get all year.