Mindful Eye Practice & Photography

Thaw – short story

‘Do you know,’ nana began gently in her nicotine-scratchy voice, “what it feels like when a drop of freshly boiled water hits your hand?’

            She lifted a cigarette and inhaled solemnly. She used her left hand, the movement was a bit shaky. After a while she puffed the smoke out. Chrissy, her granddaughter, who was sitting on the floor, didn’t even look up. She just tried not to breathe. They were sitting in Chrissy’s parents’ storeroom adjacent to their two storey flat and there was no ventilation. Chrissy remembered an anti-smoking campaign poster her parents gave nana a couple of years back. It said: “Stick it up your jacksie” and she wished her grandma had listened and quit.

Nana continued,  ‘it feels cold at first and then its hundred degrees bites your skin leaving a small red dot. If you spill more, an army of bloodthirsty molecules will swarm over your hand and sting until you cry for cold water to extinguish the fire burning under your skin.’

She flicked the cigarette ash on a pile of boxes filled with Chrissy’s secondary school exam materials. Chrissy put them there three days earlier. They were no longer needed.

‘… and I didn’t even notice. I was walking out of the kitchen with a cup of tea in one hand and a saucer with apple pie in the other. I pushed the door open. Then, I heard a splash and saw the tea forming a tiny puddle on the floor. My reflection stared back at me. The cup followed the tea to the ground and I gave the face on the floor a smashing kiss. It tasted sweet.

I froze. Imagine that. My body is an alien being, a reflex of what it used to be. It’s distant and irresponsive now. The left side put up a fight,’ she waved her left hand faintly, flicking the ash everywhere, ‘I spend days of motionlessness listening to my right side.

I can still feel your mother’s concerned looks at least. She watches me, but her eyes slide past me, as if I were a looking glass. I wonder…’ she stopped, she was short of breath. Then she inhaled and puffed out once again. Chrissy’s eyes went watery.

‘I can only afford a painful twitch instead of a smile. But I listen, I can hear and I would reply.’

Chrissy was sobbing so hard she couldn’t speak. There was no escaping from the storeroom.

‘My voice is lost. I like to think it’s like having toffee or fudge,’ Chrissy produced a feeble smile. ‘My lower lip is fast cleaved to the upper lip, my tongue glued to the jaw.’

Nana bent slightly towards Chrissy, her neatly braided black hair slid from her shoulder and hung a couple of inches above Chrissy’s head. She was listening with her eyes closed. With each word and with each puff she pressed her eyelids tighter. Strange objects began to take shape against the black background, but the words wouldn’t stop flowing. She was cornered between her brother’s flat-tyred mountain bike and a cardboard box with a strip of  duct tape protruding from the right top corner. It was put to motion by a draft coming from under the shut door, swinging gently back and forth. Chrissy shivered and pulled her feet closer to her thighs. She picked up a used tissue from the dusty floor and blew her nose.

The cardboard box was just one of many that were piled up in the storeroom. Eventually, all things that were no longer needed but impossible to be cast away into the oblivion of a trash bin were moved to the storeroom. Most of them were antiques chosen carefully by nana, her husband or their daughter at flea markets. A brown gueridon with scratched legs found its way there, just like a bergere with straw stuffing lurking out of a flowery armrest and a silver candelabrum with a twisted crown.  There was one that stood out from the common folk of the long forgotten – an antique credenzia.

‘Look at that photograph, Chrissy,’ nana said, casting sidelong glances at her granddaughter. With her left hand she pointed to the photograph of her and Chrissy standing on their family’s summer house porch. The picture was clipped behind one of the credenzia’s glass panes.

‘I was thinking about the two of us the other day.’

Chrissy’s head sank deeper between her knees. Her eyes refused to be shut any tighter. The tissue was soaking wet.

‘Do you remember our summers together? Our house, our trees, the lulling sound of the  typewriter… Click, click, click bouncing off the tree trunks, echoing between the house and your grandfather’s workshop. How I watched you play in the sun! When I close my eyes I can see you hide away these plasticine titmice on the lower branches of your favourite hazel tree. And then you will come to the house and say that there is a titmouse sitting on a tree and I simply have to see it.

You fooled us every time.’

Nana dropped the cigarette. There wasn’t much of it left anyway.

‘I am fooling myself that I can still hear your voice. Unfortunately, all I hear now,’ she looked down at her chest, ‘is that horrible wheezing sound my lungs are making.’

Chrissy was breathing heavily in her sleep. The dawn was breaking and the first rays of sunshine were creeping through the window blinds. The blinds lit up in bright yellow. It was an unusually warm spring morning. It was the 21st of April and the hot air of its early hours hampered Chrissy’s breathing. It lay on her chest like a thick winter blanket. Her breath quickened and grew shallow in a futile attempt to suck some air into the desperately toiling lungs.

Chrissy woke up with a jerk and sat up in her bed with her eyes wide open staring into the hot dusty air. Pleasant coolness of the storeroom faded along with the dream. Chrissy touched her cheek, it was wet.

In the same split of a second, on the other side of the town, nana died. The sun exposed her thin and paralysis-worn out body to light: shallow cheeks, a sunken chest and hands disfigured by arthritis. The cascade of her neatly combed hair fell on her right shoulder, resting in the cavity of the collar bone. Her frame was finally unified; the entirety of her body lay motionless on the bed. Dead silence hung in the air like the particles of dust blown into the bedroom by a warm April breeze.

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