I woke up to the sound of long sleeves of grass swishing in the grand field outside the bedroom window. Dawn was filled with a damp, dewy atmosphere of fresh beginnings, haloed rays poured directly into my eyelids as I pushed the calico sheets covering me and lifted my torso, giving up on slumber.
As I walked, trying to minimize the cracking noises evoked by my steps, I opened the door to the living room and saw, from the little archway that divided the room, grandma swiftly juggling metal pans from the daffodil cupboards directly onto the stove. I loosened my body, understanding I was permitted to make as much noise as required to wade through the house and noticed that even then she didn’t pick up on my presence. I shouted ‘morning on my way to the kitchen and was welcomed by the earthly aroma of freshly brewed coffee.
She had a crisp crème robe neatly tied to her waist, a long silk nightgown showing underneath it and almost covering the sole of her slippers as she swayed back and forth adding ingredients to the porridge she had started making. I kissed her chilly cheek, rubbing the side of her right arm, as I asked how come she didn’t feel cold.
I was born here, sweetheart, she reminded me as she stopped her hushing for a moment and pierced her crystalline blue eyes into mine. Now go set the table, will you.
She pointed towards the clay pots and plates until I drained them slowly from the kitchen, at the only rhythm acceptable for such premature hour, placing each one carefully at the squared pinewood board that served as the dining table. I was acclimatising myself to that picturesque scenery, still getting used to seeing grandma bear such a rustic lifestyle, in lieu of her being the dynastic like figure I grew up with, always covered in gold and rambunctious regalia. Yet, she moved so naturally around that place that I wondered if this alternative vision of mine had been nothing other than a frothy fever dream.
The little words on the left corner of my cellphone screen had read OUT OF SERVICE for over a week. The neighbouring sounds were those of mosquitos and a weirdly rectangular insect that I never came to identify. When grandma invited me to come with her, I imagined days of horseback riding through magical fields and perhaps even milking cows for the first time in my life. But reality proved to, once again, melt my dreamscape mind and pierce through a solidly uncomfortable awareness.
My copy of The Mill on The Floss had been partly torn by the gang of bickering chickens grandma insisted on letting roam free. One of them had, a Sunday afternoon, jolted it’s way across the living room as I opened the front door and darted towards my bedroom. I, unrationally, jogged after it, trying to catch the animal in such a way as to capture its frantic wings, whilst grandma laughed, amusingly looking over the episode from the top of her reading glasses. It was as furthest away possible from what I thought romanticism could have been and ‘seizing the day’ became a rather lively metaphor. In truth, days could drown me if I paid too close attention, as minutes passed at the rate of hours and the cuckoo clock seemed to cuckoo at a monthly speed.
Grandma wrapped a cloth on both handles of the metal pan and floated towards the table I had just set. She rested the pan on the cloth and grabbed a wide wooden spoon to serve me and then her. I stared at the white mushy substance before me, pieces of chopped apples and tiny splashes of cinnamon carefully placed on brownish earthenware. I told her I hadn’t eaten this since my childhood and she responded with nothing but a wistful smirk. I used the steam from the porridge to heat my hands and felt a sudden sense of anticipation.
I wanted to ask what the matter was that had made her bring me to that place. As per usual, our days were spent in silent company, with me giving out too much of my insecurities and grandma giving out none. When she spoke, her tone was firm, never peaking nor diving during the simplest or most complicated pronouncements. Yes, pronouncements. That’s what the sequencing of words ejected from her mouth sounded like.
Having finished our serving of breakfast, grandma untied her ashen hair, a few strands of hairs curling up around her neck. She fidgeted on the chair, stretching her back in a perfect angle and clearing her throat before addressing me.
Regret is a rabbit hole, my dear. She said nodding her head a few times, eyes drifting down towards her unsettled hands. I apologize for not having found a gentler way to talk to you, but the circumstances are demanding urgent actions.
I tried to look appeased, like independent of what she was about to say, I was supported by the integrity of those who had learned how to operate resilience.
There comes a time in our family, when women are asked to choose a pathway. It poses the most impossible of conundrums, one where we are forced to surrender our individuality and perpetuate heritage, or abdicate completely of the privileges of kinship and set off on one’s own into the wild world. Grandma spoke huskily, like some sort of internal battle was happening in order for the words to come out. I squinted my eyes, in the effort that they could somehow augment my hearing capacities and tried absorbing the totality of what was being presented to me, but I still wasn’t sure I had it right.
All I can tell you sweetheart, is that although I enjoyed my life, loved having your father, marrying the husband that was chosen for me, I now know I made my choice out of fear. Grandma stood up from her chair, collecting our plates. She gazed out the window, fixing her sight at the clouds gathering outside, announcing a likely change in forecast. At the time, I thought I didn’t really have a choice. It’s cruel how young we are made to decide. So disconnected with our power that we cling to the traditions that were thrust upon us, she added as she walked away from the table into the kitchen.
I sat with the taste of her words, killing them eventually with a sip of coffee. My thoughts scorched my uneventful life, spent mostly hiding in books and journals; remembering all the times I had had my heart broken and amended through the stories of helpless heroines; all the moments I had experienced hope for a change or been engulfed by despair, only to confirm these had happened only in the realm of fiction.
My eyes closed at their own will, my attention directed towards a place I often identified as somewhere between my spleen and my stomach. There, lay pulsing the knowledge of all of the mechanisms I built in order to never be at risk, to never fully commit, to avoid, at all costs, the vulnerability that comes with being truly present. How was I ever to make the decision that was asked of me?
The long sleeves of grass swayed intensely in the background, the wind pushing them around and against each other. The gunmetal sky announced heavy rain. I took a deep breath and stood immobilised, staring at the beauty and power of the storm that was forming.