This story is dedicated to a good friend of mine. They make me feel like traversing time, all the time ;0
The forest was humid and somber, only barely licked by the stretches of sunlight that had broken through thick billows. The air carried a breeze that sent branches rattling within themselves overhead, but down at ground level all it did was bring a crunch of ice and the trickle of droplets of those that melted.
The melting and occasional raining produced that one wet, mildew smell that would fill every room of the household in a way that evoked early memories of spring. The time when we would slowly ease our way from boiling broths to colder meals and pastries, especially during warm noons. The hollows of the flaky pastry was unique in its form and reminiscence. Then, the aroma of sugar and sweetness would overpower everything else and create a steady equilibrium of the past and present.
Our house was neck-deep into the woods. It was a certainty to wake up to misty ripples flooding the trees and all-solid shapes nearby; it was what my mom, Nana, and I would expect to see within our first blink of the day.
The same routine carried the three of us as it always has, but the springtide plunged its weight and entrapped us in an entirely new rhythm.
My mom would leave for work and arrive home late with her knees and toes congealed in mud, although those were outshined by the expanse of a smile that wrinkled her features and made her seem young again. She always seemed to be fond of the change in season, initially I’d thought it was the ice and cold that gave her trouble, but she never seemed to mind laughing and playing in the rain even with the final, lingering signs of winter.
I tried to follow through her sentiments, but the grueling mucky walk to school had convinced me otherwise. I stayed at home most days to wait out the months, like an animal hibernating through the cold.
My Nana, however, becomes a completely different person once the first snow pellet turns water halfway its journey from the clouds. It’s the only time she ever leaves the comfort of her room to haul her rocking chair from the second story upstairs, with her wrinkly, arthritis-rimmed fingers and hips bent over backward, to the gaping window porch by the door.
There, she stares out into the canopy, as she always does whenever the warmth of spring takes over. And she stays that way until the heat intensifies into a summer scorch.
Like my mom, I thought she must have held a liking for the season. Similar to how kids were enamored by the wonders of holiday and presents. Perhaps it was something that might have run in the family?
But through the years, I’ve noticed my Nana’s movements became monotonous, holding a more dazed and far-off guise as she looked and looked beyond the glass windows.
Her reflection shone back from the surface as she pushed herself with bent knees and swung along with the chair. A melody formed from the back of her throat and arrived at the base of her closed lips, where the vibrations remained..
It’s a familiar tune I’ve come to know in my childhood, another one of those distant memories brought to life by the fleeting euphoria of spring. Variations of the same song, often wordless, formed in my head, enlivened by the youthful face of my Nana.
I’ve never learned to stop asking what it meant. I suppose the song was a novelty she wanted to keep to herself. Like a personal belonging that was only for her to use. Or a gift given by someone dear, the things inside would only be for her to know and see.
I keep a wooden doll she had given me back then, she called it ‘Avril’. The doll breaks when its key is rotated clockwise, it shifts from the center where it broke and expands like a caterpillar going through metamorphosis. A pendulum hangs from the arm of the doll and wing-like hands of a clock sprout from its back.
I’ve always kept Avril by my nightstand and never went to sleep without it, or so my mom says. I wonder if Nana kept the song as closely to herself at night as well.
Most recently, I’ve asked my mom about the melody. She directed me into something else, insisting I was too young to understand. She added that I should stop asking about it, and to not bother Nana with these questions. I didn’t respond to her.
As if she had seen my hesitancy to follow through with her cautions, she ended the conversation sternly with a finality to her voice. She handed me my food and Nana’s, and instructed me to deliver it with a kiss to my cheek. Her hair curtained over the side of my face and a feeling of an affectionate warmth surged inside me. I leaned towards her touch and immediately took in the scent of the food and outdoors in her. She then ruffled my hair and said that she’ll follow suit after the dishes are washed.
I headed for the window porch to find Nana rocking in her chair. I placed the plate carefully in her hands and took the seat beside her. The pastry crumbled in my fork with each serving, it created a scratching sound as it broke apart and the utensil hit the plate.
Crumble. Scratch. Crumble. Scratch.
The pattern went in perfect cadence with Nana’s faint humming.
I tried to take a few more bites before the silence became unbearable. I turned to her and went against my mother’s orders. I asked about the song.
What are you singing? The tune eclipsed my mind with unanswered questions and repeated itself in a melancholy loop. I wanted it to end.
She didn’t answer.
Why won’t you tell me? A feeling of hopelessness formed in me. I would never understand if they never tried to make me, not because I was young.
She faced me slightly, but that’s it.
A sigh broke its way from my chest. Despite Nana’s dismissal, the evening accrued a kind of patience for myself. The fireglow illuminated the room and projected a brightness, one that gave the atmosphere a sense of homeliness. The smell of the pastry suffused the air, I picked up where I left off and ignored the tune that rings through.
I’ve blocked everything off aside from my thoughts, I almost missed that Nana had stopped singing. I looked back at her, she was looking at me.
Her expression opened how springtime flowers bloom. The skin by her jaw shook and drew close together as she moved her lips to speak. The smile didn’t break away from her face and five words slipped.
“You’ve grown so big already.”
The words made my lungs feel like they were filled with bouts of fresh air. Resurfacing moments with my Nana made me feel like I was still little otherwise. I sat tight and waited for her to speak, it was as though we were back then and nothing had changed; she tells me a story and I listen.
“The song doesn’t mean anything, darling. I don’t think you would understand yet, but I sing it to remember what it feels to be. Someday, you will know that the different experiences you’ll encounter in your life will make up the kind of person you are, you’ll be a collection of the pieces that make your life worth living. You’ll have moments you’d wish you could go back to and relive with people who've been there for you. Food, weather, and songs, they’re all just experiences.”
I contemplate in silence and think about it. Nana was now staring outside with a wistful look to her eyes. I wondered if those would be the last words I would hear from her in a long time.
“I think, I understand.” My voice sounded loud in the silence. I didn’t understand yet, I hoped to never do. Revisiting moments from the past seemed like a cruel place from how she’d said it. Suddenly, I never wanted the song to end.
“We could never go back to the past, but— Do you remember Avril? Let her take you back to when, your childhood would always be a part of you that way.” Her bony hands found their way to mine and held it tight.
My mom’s footsteps echoed through the room, so did the screeching of a chair as she took the other seat beside Nana. A smile formed in her face as she looked at our interlocked hands. I let myself find solace in the present. The tenderness of spring and new beginnings, the savor of pastries, the understanding between me and my Nana, and the fondness of my mother’s love makes me.