She adjusted her cloak then pushed open the heavy arched door. Of course, the cloak wasn’t real, but neither was the door, yet when her phone lit up and ‘mum’ flashed on the muted receiver, it was what she did. Her parents were of an age now where L dared not risk ignoring The call. The one she’d imagined all her life. As a child, she’d pictured herself living in a large, echoey house, all timber and marble with generous servings of sweets in crystal bowls and lots of room to pace while having long conversations with friends on the phone, or if she was done pacing, she’d sprawl out on a soft shag pile carpet that would be used solely for late night talks that required the phone to be dragged on its extra long cable, the curly cord draped beside the round of carpet like the tail of a poodle, but longer. It felt cruel to be angry at an old woman. L didn’t have children but imagined it involved responding to the same degree of neediness she saw in her parents, particularly her mother. She’d seen her friend’s children sulkily share news of a scraped elbow or a missing lego piece in the same way her mother told her about a tooth ache or the cold she increasingly felt down to her bones, a cold that no amount of woollen smothering could warm, lest she stop having something to complain about. There was nothing her mother said or did per se that she could complain about, not now at least, but it was never really about the present. Her mother had given her that cloak. L named it ‘cloak’ via the vocabulary of self-help and therapy, worlds and words foreign to her mother even though she featured so heavily in L’s explorations, driving a deeper, thoroughly analysed wedge between them. L was able to pin point with forensic precision the precursors for scripts, exactly when traumas came to be, and the timeline of seemingly benign comments that mutated into sinister, internalised dialogues. In contrast, the recollections of her mother, L opined, were more abstract, with words exchanged and timing of events not holding as much gravity as the conviction of being right, or more importantly, of having been wronged, her go-to cry of ‘it’s all my fault, you all blame me’ serving to block every conversation. But now her mother needed her. After recent bowel surgery had unblocked whatever was blocking the passage of shit, her mother would call twice a day with updates on the consistency of her stool. The cloak fit tightly around L’s shoulders, then draped down to her ankles, covering every part of her in a barely-there sheath of shame that didn’t have a name when she felt she’d seduced her molester, when she realised her mother had feigned ignorance, when she reached puberty but couldn’t speak of what was not spoken of so had to regress from the sex education classes at school and announce to her mother with her best attempt at genuine shock and fear ‘there’s blood on my undies!’- how else to get her to buy the pads that her mother refused to call ‘pads’ instead using a convoluted euphemism in hushed tones? Modess.
‘It’s your father’ she said.
L drew her legs to her chest and leant against the sofa’s arm. She felt the cord of her phone’s charger slacken with her proximity to the wall. She waited, scanning her memory for all the reactions she’d imagined. Her mother finally broke her silence with whimpering that grew to gasps for air as she attempted to talk. L’s eyes welled up and tears streamed silently down her cheeks. Her mother’s sounds grew to a wail. L placed the phone on the cushion beside her and listened. The way she sat made the cloak drape over her toes which were treading familiar waters. It occurred to her that the cloak may have been a hand-me-down.
The Pacifist 9.05.19
‘He died in the war’ was a very honest explanation of her great grandfather’s absence and reason for her great grandmother to seek a better life for her young family by immigrating. I can’t remember what probing led to the qualifier on just how he died, but moments later, she elaborated with details of what he did before his death. He was a dentist. He was also a pacifist. When his number came up, he chose the ultimate sacrifice in war and put to practice the training he’d had on the correct dosage of the drugs at his disposal. He was a dentist and also a pacifist. I laughed at the absurdity of those words but quickly felt the sobering tight squeeze of sorrow in my chest for the loss, the waste, the tragedy. I explained away my laughter by quickly nodding yes, as she’d guessed, it was because of the usual violence and terror associated with his profession, but it wasn’t, and it didn’t matter enough to explain my strange sense of humour.
I lay on my back, needles dotted precisely along various channels by his great grand-daughter. With the faint smell of moxa and the tunes of an anonymous orchestra, I drifted, head turned toward the window to my left. Filtered citrus coloured light made its way in from the slice of sky between the window frame and the bricked wall of the next-door building. I imagined his small children, his wife, his sterile surroundings when he was faced with a difficult choice that he made seem so easy. I’ll write a story, I thought, inspired by the smattering of facts I knew about his life, colouring in the rest with my emotional response to those facts; his wife inconsolable at the news, the weathered suitcase she held onto tightly at the terminal, boot polish hiding scuff marks on shoes that covered the tiny feet of her children who would soon forget him, waves to distant relatives anchored firmly to shore. I cried for the gentle soul whose life ended abruptly, for his children whose laughter he didn’t hear again, for his widow with the eternal broken heart knowing he truly was a good man and she would never see him again because of it. I did that silent prayer I do when touched by a remarkable life only after their death. I thanked him, imagining he was floating in that bit of sky framed by window and brick wall as it faded to night again as it had done for the decades that may as well have been light years since his final act.