Beginnings

My grandfather died today. I sit in my grandmother’s living room surrounded by hushes and sighs. I am stifled and sick. No one is smoking, yet the room is lacquered with cigarette smoke. I get up, and move from the woolen couch to look around. His lazy-boy, the dirty yellow smoke filter, off. I want to turn it on. I sit down in his chair. A sunken middle, cigarette burns on the arms, I recline and turn on the filter. The little vent coughs out old smoke – from his last one perhaps. I exhale and begin to laugh, and close my eyes.

I am six, and I am sitting on his lap, pressing each button on his button-down shirt. For each button he makes a different and ridiculous noise. Laughter roars from my tiny mouth. His cigarette ash is long, so he carefully maneuvers his arm from his chair to the small table, steadies his hand and butts it out in the ashtray. The ashtray is huge, and the small table has two levels. On the first, with the filter and ashtray, there is also a TV guide, small pencils, a tiny brown address book and a small file folder with numerous receipts and notes. The second level holds one item: a huge black rimmed magnifying glass. I would use this instrument to closely inspect his face. Massive hairs bursting forth from mammoth nostrils, gargantuan wrinkled lips, monstrous eyebrows. I would tumble to the floor with laughter.

I start to feel sick again, so I get up and move to the middle of the tiny room. The carpet is damp, my feet are cold with stocking feet. I’m facing the cabinet with all the fine china cups. I lean forward to get a mint from the crystal candy dish. I lift the lid trying to be soundless. I pinch one and place the lid back down. Tiny clinks, I hold my breath. I am eight. I pop the candy into my mouth and slide it over my tongue. Laughter rolls in slow waves from the kitchen. Grief undulates, and this house is yellow. I think of my grandfather’s teeth. Yellow, rounded and thick, grinding. The walls are like his teeth.

I notice my grandmother’s chair, beside his, without burns, and smells of lavender. I remember her bedroom through the corridor, beside the bathroom. A room like a sanctuary, with an odd softness, some kind of magic. I take a few steps closer and see the sleeping cats on her bed with the window open, nuts and seeds scattered on the ledge for the squirrels and birds. Her dressing table is sweetly placed with thick hair-brushes, perfume bottles, the ones you squeeze saccharine air through. A stream of light releases from her window, I can hear the birds. I know without looking that there are books strewn on the floor with an old tape player. I think of how beautifully the room stays lit. All the wonders, all the splendor I want to attain.

I feel a hard wave of nausea washing over me. I turn away from the bedroom, and walk towards the kitchen…

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