Negative Spaces: Postcards Home by Tom Ottway

2 am or so – 2 August 2017 Villa Tancotes, Mallorca

I’m too warm to sleep and go to the kitchen to get water, wrapped in just a towel. Tricked by my mind that it’s time to get up, it’s today I take you back to the airport. I secretly hope you too will be up, and we’ll talk. But you’re not, so I pick up a pen, still full of Hot Milk and Cixous. Who will ”break the old circuits” …

We exist within the 

tiniest of tolerances

the thinnest range of


One minute exalting in 

a certain set of rays

and then moaning moistly

at another

It’s suddenly too much

no fun anymore



I love you, my mother

My favourite irritant

You are my sun

I come to 

and rail against

for warmth

You are my ranges

the strangest and yet

most familiar of heats

I’m from you and to you



It needed saying, acknowledging.


I now speak to you everyday, like the sun, or its absence, on the phone – a line – to the point where I am defined by the rising and waxing, zenith and waning.


Today was strangely, ordinarily special.


A calm day, without kids,

full of us and our happy, joined up absence.


less need to speak,

more to chatter

and natter

drawing and


You showed me again how to mix

to look differently




negative                 spaces

to bring the light out


I’m awoken, worrying.

About you, for you.

I’m mindful I need to express my appreciation

of you, for you.


A precious re-source. It dawns on me – this lazy lump of holiday self, first sleeping well, and now in reverse, increasingly poorly, until I am wide awake now – being ‘housed’

together these last few days, all of us, that my story of home is told in negative spaces, through you….

My numb pain

at my mother’s raw pain has been at the back of my mind for 25… no 26 years.


It’s anybody’s story.

It will be everybody’s story.


I used to have the insulation;

the protective range of heat and cool,

engendering safety to allow me to be brutally, gently honest.


Coming here on holiday has been like repacking


I am making home as I go

Weaving it like a skin,

filtering through it, 

unfurling a skein,

Your story, my story


It was easy to tell my limited, four-walled-intense story of love-sex-bed-death when I was twenty-one.

It is so much harder now at forty-six,

my father’s final age,

to capture and retain


the essence of life and living 

in the liquid experience 

as it falls through my hands


language is liquid, 

life liquid

memory fluid 


You are now a guest in our temporary, borrowed, holiday home.

Still trying to pay you back for lending us some of your death money, which we lost playing at ideal homes.

Now playing host, cooking for you for a token few days – a paltry return for the tens of thousands of yours.

You no longer cook, you say.

Driving you around, avoiding sharp bends and sudden drops, we visit the darkest, deepest cave.

… A drop of water hits my nose. What does that droplet represent? A hundred years? A lifetime?

I snap my family from below

brief palimpsest

ancient walls

ancient skin

where we begin



paint and sing

paint and sing


liquid voice

noughts and ones


All of this is the source of my unease,

of what needs saying,

of the need to acknowledge,

silently negotiate

the negative spaces


You are here,


and there and there



As we fill

we erase


And that is the conundrum 

of home,

of life of living

the giving begets


the taking, forsaking


[[The family accountant looking on from the sidelines, ticking, nightly-unplugging:  Off, off, out, out]]

The dwindling stock

The last ravishes

“Mum, did he really say to me in those last moments…

Paint and sing

Paint and sing

… Or did I just imagine that?”

“I don’t know”, you say, eventually.


It is our story of loss

And needs to be uncovered fully

Fully recovered


listened to, recorded




From many angles, in many forms


brought into life

edere: brought forth, produce, dare

into existence



All images and drawings Tom Ottway 2017

Hélène Cixous et al. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Signs, vol. 1, no. 4, 1976, pp. 875–893. JSTOR,

Deborah Levy Hot Milk (2016) Penguin




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