I heard about you on the news. I saw you. Flicker-flacker images of glamour and perfection; parades of it, two on two. The perfect celebrity couple. Camera’s flash. Microphones in your face. Smile never falters. Is it true? Is it true? All so perfectly gracious.
And can you imagine me: sitting at home, with the crochet blanket on my knees and my head rested against that gaping hole in the couch? And then I see you: your face, the walls painted with you, the screen engulfed in you. And her. Her: looking pretty, looking charming and blond and unflustered, with a touch of angel about her, a touch of silk, a touch of the fey mixed with a drop of dragon or dryad blood.
I get carried away. You know I do.
And look: I was just starting getting it together before I saw you. I was with a new guy. And it wasn’t much, this new thing I had, just a few dates, a couple of kisses, the expectation of rip-roaring, gut-wrenching sex: but that was one of a bunch of possible futures, and we weren’t there yet, and we didn’t know. And then I did. Poor Stan. I stopped returning his calls the day I saw you. Upstanding, honourable, athletic, altruistic Stan. He’d committed the one unpardonable crime of not being you.
So, there you have it. Locked up again in that little dark grey room that I never really left. Just thinking and thinking and thinking about you.
Not everybody knows your origins. I’ll bet you some people think you were born into money, that all this wealth and attention is just something you inherited in your blood.
How wrong they’d be.
I bet you don’t tell them. I bet you kind of back around it, duck under it, when the interviewers ask you about your past, about your childhood. Don’t you know that it’s trendy to come from nothing, to have worked your way up from the slums? Don’t you know about the romance and fairy-tale of that origin story? Everybody’s doing it now. But I don’t suppose that suits the aura of the sophisticate that you’ve been spinning around yourself like a cocoon? And I don’t suppose it suits her either.
I’m not blind. And I haven’t been living under a rock. I know she’s beautiful, and she comes from only the best stock, and I know she has talent and personality, and that she does her fair share of charity work. She has that goddess-look about her, the way her hair flows in rich, thick curls, the blue of her eyes, neat pink lips; the pale white-gold of her hair. You won the fucking lottery there, didn’t you?
Do you ever think about me? I don’t suppose you do. And y’know, time has passed. I get that. But I remember. I remember how we met that day in the library, reaching from opposite sides of the shelf for the same book, and how we just fell about laughing and getting shushed by all the other patrons when it happened. Excuse me, but this is a quiet place. It might be better if you two could leave. I still remember her face, how small and prim and pinched it looked, and how soft her voice was, but still with this feeling of menace behind it. Turbo-Librarian: the new super villain. And so we tumbled out into the courtyard, and you bought us milkshakes and we found we could talk so easily and effortlessly and hours went past and you took me back you your place, and well…
Or that time when we were out at Jogo’s granddad’s place, and we were supposed to be planting trees but the rain had turned that whole field into a big, sucking, green-and-brown swamp. Even in our gumboots we were sinking all over the place. And you lost that gumboot, sucked right off your foot by the mud, and how we tried to find it and we couldn’t, and we never did again, and we all called you ‘hoppy’, and then ‘mismatch’ when all Jogo could find you was another gumboot – another lefty – of the wrong colour…
Of course, you don’t. Those days are so far behind you. And so are the days when the power was cut off, and the furniture shop had repossessed that couch, and so there was nothing to sit on but floorboards and cushions, nothing to eat but cheap tuna and flavourless crackers, and we lay on the floor, watching the neon and yellow-orange headlights go past…
A different world you live in now.
Well, after that TV appearance, and after all the news articles that followed, and all the covers of magazines, I couldn’t help but have to call you. I tried a bunch of times. And there was nothing creepy or stalkery about it, I just wanted to congratulate you, wish you well. But it just went to answer-phone again and again and again.
Eventually I left a message: “Hey, Dion, it’s been a while. I saw you on the news, and I think it’s really exciting you’re getting married, and doing so well. I’ve been following your career; I watch everything you’re in. You’re so… But anyway, anyway, I just wanted to say congratulations and all that, and how cool I think it is, your good news, and how I’m rooting for the two of you. She seems like she’s really nice. Call me, okay? It’s me, Michelle.”
A nice message, no pressure, no angst. I was proud of the way I’d been able to bury the ugliness from the past, how calm and mature I was about it. A bigger-person message, that’s what I left you.
And so, would it have killed you to respond to it?
I waited for you. I waited days. And the days morphed into weeks.
As they started approaching a month, I realised I’d had enough of this. My good wishes for you began to curdle, they began to take the form of dark wishes, devil-winged wishes, all slashed bloody, all raggedy and sharp-toothed at the edges. Wishes that above all else wanted to see you come to harm.
I am not a violent person, okay?
In all those years, even when it got heated, did I ever lay a finger on you?
Nor you on me, in all fairness.
So this was something strange and out-of-character, but you drove me to it. Can you see how that was? Just a simple answer to a simple message, I wasn’t expecting anything fancy, I didn’t want gifts or twenty-page letters or an invite to the wedding or anything. Nothing like that. Just to be answered and heard, and you know, not ignored.
When none of that happened, I went down to the beach and picked up a piece of smooth, salt-weathered driftwood. I took it home and charred it in the fire. Black. Woman-shaped. I twisted the lace around it. String. A dab of wax. An undercoat of jam. Just the way my Granma had once taught, and probably didn’t even remember she had taught, me. Secrets so long forgotten about, but suddenly bubbling to the surface when I found the need and touched a centre of deep enough pain and hurt. Her face, jam-smeared, wrapped in soft, ivory lace.
And I waited. In the days that followed what I’d done. I waited. Nails bitten to near-bleeding. Staring at this thing I’d created and given life to. I could see her inside it, see her face, her slender, poised figure, the essence of her fading into the charred effigy. The life of her was affixed to this doll now. And I waited for the carnage, for whatever would befall the glorious moment.
I truly don’t think that I wished for violence. I didn’t wish to see her smothered in lace, or her face torn open, soaked in jam-like blood. Not that. But some ruinous calamity of a torn dress, or hair ripped out of its painstaking design. The collapse of some table. A cake blown away in the wind. And I watched and listened, I stilled at the sound of radio news, I looked at magazine headlines out of the corner of my eye. With one eye half closed I watched the news. Afraid. Excited. This thing I had never even contemplated before, had forgotten I had even heard the how of it, the ancient secrets. As if these secrets had found me when I needed them, had waited for me, and now would give my muted, unanswered voice a chance to boom.
That wedding was a thing of beauty. It was perfect. There were wreathes of beautifully matching flowers, towers of champagne glasses; a dress that sparkled in the sun, as white as snow, silvered by all it’s tiny little glass beads. A tiara braided into sun-bleached soft hair.
Absolutely nothing amiss.
“So, you made all that stuff up, didn’t you?” I said a couple of days later when I went visiting at the nursing home. I laid the ginger cake down in front of her, sitting down on the chair beside her. “All that pseudo-voodoo stuff. You just told me that to impress me as a kid, didn’t you?”
As usual, she didn’t answer. She doesn’t do a lot of answering. The staff would swear that she was perfectly mute, except for the times when she suddenly decides to sing, and then her voice carries all the way through the home and it’s melodious and layered, enchanting. Until she bursts into that fit of shrieking, which is ten times louder and much less enchanting. And she does that until she wears herself out with it, and then she’s silent again.
Perhaps she misses her mind. If there’s a part of her that knows it’s gone, perhaps her wailing is her mind’s way of grieving that it should have to die before her body does. Who knows why she does it? But it releases something inside her. And I guess we all cope in our own ways.
Sometimes by lying to a little girl about magic she can perform with a few random items she can find around the home.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me it wasn’t real, eh? I grew up believing it because it came from you. How many more things did you lie to me about?”
Her: just cocking her eye up at me, the hazel-nearing-yellow of those bright irises bouncing between me and that cake I’d just laid before her.
“What else, Granma?”
No answer, as usual.
I allowed myself a dramatic sigh. “How should I ever trust you again?”
Her smile - more cake than granddaughter focused– gave nothing away.
I wasn’t expecting your call when it came.
“Um. Hi.” The voodoo abomination still sitting on the windowsill in my bedroom.
“Hey, sorry I didn’t have time to get back to you earlier, but I just wanted to say thanks, for leaving me that message and all that.”
“It was nice. It made me feel… this is silly, but it made me feel like the whole thing was going to be okay. Like if you’d given it your seal of approval that was some sort of cosmic proof that all would be well. I did use the word silly. But I appreciated it.”
“It went… well… the ceremony?”
“And the reception?”
“And the honeymoon?”
“It was all… nice…?”
“Uh… yeah. Yeah.”
“Good.” I spared a glance for that useless charcoal doll. Thanks a bunch Granma.
“Well, anyway, Wendy was really thrilled that you’d even think to leave a message like that. And that you included her, even though you don’t know her. She’d love to meet you sometime.”
“How are you anyway? Doing good? Still working at Bright Star?”
A bar not a brothel, in case anyone’s wondering. “Yeah, I’m sort of an assistant manager, on-call something-or-other. The pay’s better. A little.”
“I can’t chat, but listen, I just wanted to thank you for thinking of us.”
“No worries,” I said, “I really just hope it all works out for you
guys.” I replaced the receiver slowly, just glad that I was able to mean that.
Picture credit/discredit: author's own work