50 Grams


Roald Dahl wrote his mother a letter once a week until the week she died. One of his late father’s wishes was that he go to boarding school, so at the age of seven, he did. At the end of each week they wrote home. When he left school he never stopped writing on Sundays.

When my mum turned eighty I was living fourteen thousand, one hundred and forty-three kilometres across the ocean and I wanted to carry on the tradition of Mr Dahl. For two dollars and sixty cents you can mail up to fifty grams from Australia to Canada. I began my search for items that weighed less than fifty grams: a feather from a finch or, if lucky, a rosella; a robin’s egg, dried in the sun; the bloated body of a blue-bottle I found at the beach; three peanuts; ribbons; dried roses; eight pages; a package of sesame snaps; fifty grams of organic quinoa. If Duncan MacDougall is correct I could put in two human souls. I picked out which items my mother would like best.

My daughter used to love hunting for the fifty-gram treasures. One evening at the end of a holiday we went to the forest that bordered the beach. The sun was coming down in hazy colors like blended peaches. She was four and asked me whether it was okay to marry your mother, if you loved her. She looked at me with her big grey eyes, then picked up a handful of dry cypress pine needles. We stuck our noses in and breathed in the hot earth smell.

I remembered my mother telling me how her grandmother had burned my mother’s books – the ones she was awarded for academic prizes at school – in fear that she was getting too good for the family.

Now my daughter is grown up and she in turn has moved to London, the birthplace of my book-burning great-grandmother. When my mother died, my father asked me how he should send my portion of Mum’s ashes.

‘Is it less than fifty grams?’ I asked.

‘I suppose,’ he shrugged into Skype.

‘A regular manila envelope then.’

They came in one of my old card envelopes, the front covered over with a neat square of white, bordered in sticky tape, with my name and address in Dad’s perfect handwriting. I took them to the beach and held her out to the ocean and they drifted in the breeze and I wondered how the postal service had known that love weighed fifty grams.