Circles for so long
After the wake, after the last drunken mourner has left, I make my way to my grandmother’s room. Candle wicks burn in wax puddles at her bedside, the rose petals that were scattered on her bed at the beginning of the week, have dried, stabilizing the stale scent of her last cigarette with the fragrance of fresh pot pouri.
A box of her ashes rests at the centre of the bed, I curl around it, bury my nose deep into her pillow, inhaling her freshly shampooed hair (Colgate Apple). The mattress has in it, an impression of her cumbersome body .On either side, shallow curves where her baggy arms had hung. I sink into her cushioned negative, the shadow of a life that is no longer. The vacancy of the room, the radio turned off (in all her life the radio was never turned off) makes me cry.
The silver linings of empty cigarette boxes catch the candle light. Cigarette boxes with morphine induced scribbling’s across the backs of them. In her last weeks she had quite fancied herself to be an answering machine for the dead. Uncles and relatives long past had appeared to her, sat on the edge of her bed, some had sipped wine, others had massaged her aching legs with arnica. The ghost’s, always left with the confidence that their greetings would be conveyed to the living, and sure enough they were.
“What’s the matter Neilo?” I sit up, follow the familiar voice to my grandfather’s old blue chair in the corner of the room. The last of the candles has extinguished itself making the figure hard to discern. Only the orange glow of a freshly lit cigarette offers some assistance, revealing, with each steady pull, the distinctive lines of my grandmother’s face-younger, calmer, unembroidered by the anguished creases of the past months.
This is the reunion, she had promised me before her departure. Jill believed firmly in the mystical, the supernatural, swore she would employ it as a means for our ongoing communication. She never made promises lightly
‘That was a hell of a party’ she chuckles, lifting a glass of white wine to her lips.
‘Yip’ I nod, my clothes still sopping from the funeral parties final frenzied dance into the swimming pool. I wipe the tears from my cheeks; brush my fingers over the inscribed gold plaque, following the gentle cursive brail of her name- Jill Rosalind Koll.
‘Why do you look so sad Neilo?’ she asks
‘I was just thinking how strange it is to see someone so big, fitting into such a small little box’ I reply
She draws deep on the cigarette, heaves a gentle sigh that sends smoke rushing in alternate streams from her nostrils. ‘You think after all those years, I’d rest easy in that little tin box, not me Neilo! That clunky old contraption of a body maybe, a prison of blood and bone that’s all it was, but me, I’m free now, I have years of dancing to catch up on’
‘Do you remember the last time we danced?’ I ask , half expecting her to have forgotten
‘Your eighteenth birthday’ she quips, both of us taken aback by the speed and accuracy of her recollection.
‘On the patio, to Billy Holiday, we had had a lot of wine, you played our song. That night, I expended the last dance I had left in those useless old legs ’
I remember it well, the wine and music had managed to inspire in them a final courageous shuffle. She had discarded her walking stick, clung to my shoulders and shifted uncomfortably side to side, rasping the words into my ear ……
‘Ill be seeing you, In every lovely summers day, In everything that’s light and gay, Ill always think of you that way, Ill find you in the morning sun and when the night is done, Ill be looking at the moon, But ill be seeing you’……
I curl, fetal to face the empty fish bowl beside her bed- it’s pebble’s green with neglect. ‘Agatha Christy’ novels and the ‘History channel’ had failed to distract her from the excruciating pain of the final months and so I had brought her a Chinese fighter fish in the hope that it might provide a novel diversion. It seemed to work for a while. After witnessing the ‘fighters’ infatuation with his more ‘magnificent and magnified’ reflection in her bedside shaving mirror, Jill had named him Narcissus. Apt, for there had never had there been a more self- absorbed fish, consistently rapt in the fawning over and flaring out of his fiery crimson tail.
Sadly ‘Narcissus’ took a week to turn belly up, and in a spectacle, true to all dying kabuki Warriors (who enact their deaths in flailing red silk) sunk to the bottom of his bowl. I found Jill crying that day, convinced the fish had suffocated from a lack of oxygen, oxygen she blamed herself for having plundered from the air through her incessant chain smoking. I tried to excuse Narcissus’s untimely demise as a ‘kamikaze’ tendency typical to all fighter fishes of an Eastern origin, then reverted the blame to Thandi, (her gargantuan arsed nurse) for over feeding him. Jill was less convinced. ‘It was boredom’ she had finally remarked …. ‘A beautiful fish like that can only swim circles for so long’
I turn to her ghost, nestled in the shadows of the room, screwing the remains of her ciggie into the ‘Dunlop tyre’ ash tray.
‘I thought I’d find you in you in this bed, that’s why I been lying here the past few evenings, to be closer to you’
She smiles again, shaking her head ‘ Oh believe me, there’s no love lost between me and that old bed’ I spent enough years in it, staring up at the ceiling, watching the geckos stalk moths till the early hours of the morning. ‘But look now’ she says whispering excitedly ‘Look Neilo!’
With perfect grace and steadiness, she rises out of the chair, knees pulling tight, thighs sturdy and strong. She hikes up her skirt up to reveal silky stockings nursing plump calves. Gone are the withered twigs she departed with, shins gnawed by time and pain. She smiles, a familiar twinkle in her o’l misty blue eye, ‘I changed them for a dancing pair… A fish can only swim circles for so long’.