She was described as a fragile woman. Her rose perfume trailed her footsteps, but she was scarred by the memories of lost life 70 years before. I guess that’s why she chose to keep them alive. Needle points covered decaying sheetrock, each one grasping a lost soul. A Polish farm town, a wounded child, a crippled horse. I was too young to understand.
It was 9:03 on a Sunday night when I felt my great aunt wash over me. Pale eyes watching over numb skin. Her spell of darkness was a tapestry, spun by the goodwill of her heart, and her poisonous death. Only cold sweat and terror kept me from leaving my bed, the fear of peering out into the unknown. “Open your eyes”, I heard a soft voice whisper. “Just open them.”
When I first told my mother of her presence, she pulled me close, gently brushing my bedwridden hair and whispered that she was guarding me. Now I know my mother as a liar. My great aunt passed away 18 years ago. Two years later, the fluorescent light that she last saw was my first light in my mother’s hospital bed.
She softly titters in the corner, as pink umbrellas from rotting album pages consume my attention. Her eyes stare back into my stiffened smile and the old man beside me. She peers from the static white into the shadows of life below.
Crimson leaves burn through the fallen snow on my great uncle’s front steps. All that remains of Etta are the fragments of her heart, encased by silver picture frames that my great uncle keeps scattered around his room. The house reels me into its hollow corridors, as I am baited by my great uncle’s fantasies. We sit over cold toast and Italian chocolate wrappers. “So, tell me things!” he demands with a toothy yellowed grin. “I don’t know Semco, same as they were yesterday.” My eyes look to his, trying to detect whether it is the right time to ask. But it never is, so we ramble on about the politics of the world moving without us.
Since my great aunt had moved on, the hands of my great uncle’s gold Seiko watch kept moving, but their function had lost meaning. No longer was there a moment, only memories, that he keeps in the weathered leather binding of his photo-albums. “Mammazees”, have you seen these before” my great uncle asks, clutching the albums in cold translucent hands. “No, I haven’t”, I always lie…
My Grandfather’s Tear
His voice stutters as the words crack into a blue inkblot of a ghetto. Chest tightens, as the past suffocates his conscience: A young boy ran, leather soles clapping against the cobblestone towards a crack in a wall. “I saw a girl looking down at me from the balcony. She held a basket of apples.” The old man takes a moment to stare at the light fixture above us.
Machine gun fire rattles through the young boy’s ears, as he runs faster, suddenly, he stops. “I turned back for my older brother, passing the girl on the balcony once more.” The young boy races past screams of terror, as lines of men stand facing red brick. “Semco was instructed to carry the dead.” The boy sneaks past men carrying stretchers, walking in line with their footsteps. “I found him” his voice drops. “Before I could ask where mother was, he told me to run through the crack and meet him on the other side.”
Gunshots follow in his footsteps as he runs feverishly towards the wall. He stops to glance up to where the girl was once before. The old man’s eyes shatter, he breathes heavily and mumbles, “When I looked up, the apples had fallen to the ground.”
The lifeless body of a young girl reflects in my grandfather’s dull grey eyes. A teardrop splatters onto the white tile floor.
My finger presses against the porcelain doorbell, heart racing as a crooked shadow moves behind the pane towards the door. Squinting through the clouded glass of a peephole, his eyes open wide at the sight of my body shivering on his front doorstep. “Mammazees, where’s your jacket!” a heavy Polish accent exclaimes. “It’s not that cold out.” I reply stepping into the stuffy warm air of my great uncle’s living room.
She whispers through the cemetery trees, feet crushing the embers of fallen leaves at the foot of an unfinished tombstone. I know he hears it. The crack in his heart pleads with the wind to let him sink into the earth, to meet her fragile corpse at the bottom of a grave. With each step back to his 1980 Lincoln Continental, he hides a tear for her. “She would have loved you.”