Grandma stares at me from her chair in the lounge. She’s drinking a cup of tea and I run my tongue over my chapped lips. I take a log from the wicker basket and balance it against its crumbling charcoal neighbours. A flicker of flame starts to grow.
Grandma’s teacup still hasn’t moved. It’s suspended halfway between the line of her pearl necklace and her shiny red mouth. The saucer rests in her left hand waiting for the clatter of the cup to return back to it. Two things they’ve got wrong. Grandma doesn’t wear lipstick and by this time in the afternoon it would be gin, not earl grey, she’d be drinking out of bone china.
I hold my hands out in front of the fire. It’s a dank, dark autumn day and I’ve spent too long going back and forth amongst the apple trees trying to harvest all the ripe fruit. Grandma planted the orchard when they first moved here and my childhood was spent caught up amongst the tangle of its branches from the confetti falling blossoms to that first pleasing crunch of the sweet flesh.
I try not to laugh, but Grandma’s little finger sticks out at the right angle. I must have mentioned it somewhere in the conversation. I like rolling out the stories like the games of marbles we used to play on the hall parquet floor. Those tales about her childhood in the Valleys, where she drank tea out of an earthenware mug cracked and chipped from its constant use, and a brew strong enough for the spoon to really stand up in. But that was before she met Grandpa. Before she read all the books.
I wonder whether I should have purchased the platinum model, where with a click of the remote, I could have raised her arms up and down. When I tested the feature in the showroom though, the elderly man wearing flannelette pyjamas had overreacted. His hand jerked around until it finally came to a stop, his finger pointed towards me. It’s you.
The salesman had steered me away then, down the aisles to the ‘more functional models’, as he’d liked to call them. Even after I signed the paperwork and gone home, I couldn’t stop thinking. Yes, it’s me. I’m the one who’s dressed you in your favourite lilac blouse you kept for best, but now wear every day. I’ve opened up the pair of stockings still wrapped up in their cellophane packet hidden underneath the bed in the hat box. And the dentures stored in the plastic container on the bathroom shelf now fill the gaping chasm of your mouth.
A log cracks into the silence. I wait. Wait for those lilting sentences to fall from your lips again. I promise this time, I’ll gently pluck them from the air and wrap them up in newspaper. And come the winter, you’ll find me amongst the apple scented boxes in the shed listening to their whisper
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