I can see the threads of you resting their dismembered polymers on the raintrees outside this room; the remaining fibers being spun into these fairy lights that haven’t been lit up for Christmas yet. I came round last Friday and the week before, but you’re always absent. Well, I can’t be wrong, can I? The schedule on the door states that your piano lessons are always marked Fridays, 4 to 5 pm for the intermediates. It’s more like your presence in my life has been defined much more suitably by your constant absence.
The sunsets are so pretty when the sunshine comes in. Do you see how the sunlight bends its lithe body and presses its fingers – curious little fingers they are – into the black, glossy surface, outlining that hard edge of gold? Don’t they look like a toddler’s snub fingers? I know decadent verses like this draw the most derisive snorts from you. But please allow me the indulgence today, for it recalls a memory, at once familiar and soothing.
I remember how the remaining unharvested strawberries used to rot in the golden fields outside your house and how your mum would swear at you for forgetting this simple task. She would stand on the porch, shaking her fist, her plump face flushed in the sweltering heat. But your face would split into this odd grin that reminded me of the consequences of the Cheshire cat put on a liquid diet. And I would have cycled by your house on one of these seemingly normal days, my hair doing a Superman in the breeze, hands gripped tightly round the rusty handlebars that left their auburn ashes on my palms. When I cycle past your house now, I keep checking my hands for gritty rust. It’s an awful habit of mine. But I always forget that I’ve been riding on the new Aleoca bike that replaced that old BMX you gave me for Christmas all these years ago. Paolo gave it to me. Do you know who Paolo is? They look the same and carry out the same function, but when I hop over the seat and clench my legs around the frame – now that’s where they’re different.
The solitary spotted dove sings its docile conclusion to the sunset before the soft patter of its feathers – first a silken rustle, then an incognizant echo – alerts me to its quiet exit. Yes. That was what you did. I unwrap my scarf and retie it, making sure not to snag the frail fabric. There’s a large gaping hole where it got caught on the bramble when you left that day. I was singing in the backyard with the strawberries. I don’t know if you remember giving me this scarf. I hope you do. Do you still remember your promise? Do you still remember me, clinging on to this worthless scarf that I should have thrown away, but somehow still find myself being unable to do so?
There’s hardly an inch of snow, but I see the trees waving their surrender to the winter’s night. My hand reaches forward to grab a branch that hovers within my reach, but it clenches at nothing but the inky sky. I can grasp at the ether, but I can’t hold it in my hands. All this air around me, enveloping me in its simultaneous embrace of intimacy and detachment. Why can’t I hold it, if I can grab it? My breath makes its sprightly escape from between my lips, the condensation forced out like the steam absconding with its hard-won freedom from the spout of a boiling kettle. I inhale and exhale forcefully and my right hand tries to catch the gleeful escapee, but once again I clutch at nothing. My twin stares at me from beyond the fingerprint-smeared glass, unable to do anything, a pearl of a tear rolling down her cheek. That is all you’re allowed. The flow staunches itself. I walk over to the piano. That’s what I’m good at.
Then my scarf slips slightly, uncoiling itself, tired of holding on to a similarly wrinkled neck. The wreath of pungent burgundy starts to recall its age in a dip and the whoosh of old cloth – coffee stains five summers ago, a snag in the fabric during the peak hour rush. Its unraveling edges trail across the worn ivory. Stroked by pianists past their golden prime, clumsily scratched by the fingernails of beginners yet to begin theirs. A dirty shellac rag falls onto the floor, its graceful defeat by gravity a cruel confirmation of its lowly status. I can no longer go at it alone, anymore. I sink into the piano seat and close my eyes. The scent of strawberry shortcakes waft up from the bakery below.
I hear the door open, its sustained tone carefully shredding the tranquility into two, letting in a mere crack of light. The light slowly pools at my feet, man-made incandescence casting its spotlight as the door opens another crack.
Click. Thump. Click, thump, click, thump.
That’s it. That’s you.
I remember the footsteps of people very well. Here’s my dream catologue. Mum’s footsteps: the absent-minded scuffle of a patient housewife. Dad’s foosteps: slow, lumbering giant in Timberland boots. And you. Leather-suited heel down, first. That’s where the click comes from. Then the muffled thump as your shuffled step resonates. My eyelids flutter against their own will, battling 10 years of despair and hope. No, don’t open them – it’s not him! Yes! You’d recognize those footsteps anywhere!
I allow myself a little slit of thinly-lit vision. Mmmm. The vivid tones brim at the edges, quickly separating into dots of black, orange, white – all accomplished by the quiver of muscles that stitch such gratuitous immediacy to the seductive power of wilful ignorance. The sharp intake of my own breath that follows is a betrayal to the accumulated bile that has simmered underneath.
Your soft footsteps start coagulating into a reality that starts building its own momentum, rolling down a valley – right smack into a torrent of unpleasant memories and the terror of the present solidifying with each step that tears itself away from the shadows. The scream of tyres. Burning rubber. Upturned car. An explosion. The raven that grasps my shoulders with its griffin’s claws melts away with your impending arrival. Why are you still here, right before me? The draughts blow in, and I shiver, but the goosebumps don’t come. He’s still alive.
The footsteps stop.
Oh my god.
It’s him. It’s really him.
Where have you been all these years?!
Then the seat beneath me inflates and deflates just as quickly. He has seated himself on the same chair that I’m on, occupying the empty space beside me. Filling it in with pitch-black gooey Plaster-Of-Paris – the words come quickly, in a torrent, reading from a hastily scrawled note – the form of a 5′ 10″ human shaped figure of 36 years, who liked beat-up cars and penny books –
Something brushes against my bare skin, the faintest of impressions. The small piano seat is too small for two. His elbow nudges my arm. The expeditious invasion is now complete. My shaky breathing starts to quicken, collecting any breathable scrap of him into my lungs. Hungry for more, binging on the present. Strawberry. Cologne. The one that I gave him for his birthday! My heartbeat jars. More, more, more –
I wait for him to speak, to break these foreboding fences down. Anything to convince me that we could start afresh; to put away these 10 long years into a crate, nail it shut, shove it into a drawer and carry on as if nothing ever happened. As if that never happened.
He clears his throat. I bite my lips. Then silence perforates the barriers.
Unable to contain myself anymore, my eyes burst open and the room swims before them, orange, black and green dots morphing into the bitter mixture of dismay and anger obscuring my vision, burning my throat. I stand up, all ready to shout obscenities at him, to rail against him for our baby girl now clasped in eternal slumber underneath an inconsequential tablet. Then I take in his whole bulk, and gasp as my eyes flicker upon his face. The scarf now unwinds itself, fluttering to the floor, its invoking ability now powerless against the crushing truth that stands before me. A hand flies to cover my own mouth in defense against my shock; to stop myself from screaming, but the sobs come hard and fast, venomous in their strength. My legs finally crumple underneath me, all sense of ostentatious fortitude gone.
He turns his milky white eyes onto me, and pauses, before saying the exact phrase I don’t want to hear.
© Zelda Reville
Michiru Aoyama‘s music is manna for inspiration.