My mother bites her lip, fishes the depth of her purse, rummages through lipsticks, combs, and compacts, to offer something, anything to sweeten the journey and soften the grief.
“People disappoint,” she says. “Best get used to it.”
Words drop. She is tired of the narrative. Her eyes fixate on the contents of a purse, scattering her lap, rolling out of reach.
“Ah- here it is.”
I watch as she lifts a tissue bundle, holds it mid air.
She regards peppermints as medicinal. A sugar salve to cover grief and sweeten the moment.
“Take one,” she says. “It helps.”
She tucks the peppermint bundle beneath a stashed scarf, clicks the clasp of her purse.
“Grief aches like a broken bone,” she says. “The good news- you learn to carry on.”
I watch as she squares her shoulders and stares down the end of the road.
“For awhile, it’s horrible. You speak it. Words pour out, ugly, pathetic. You stop speaking. People say, ‘Find peace.’ You wonder, How? There’s a hole in your heart and it won’t heal.”
She shrugs. “So- you throw yourself into charity, community, family. You summon new interests. Delight in passionate pursuits. You dare believe you can write your story.”
She turns to admire a grove of trees on a distant hillside. Their limbs seem as if adorned in scarlet ribbons, lit by ochre light.
“How beautiful,” she comments. “I used to rake the leaves of the chestnut trees lining the boulevard. Oh those leaves. Such a rich shade of green. You do recall?”
I nod. How to forget? Year after year, the trees grew taller, more abundant. Today, they form a canopy overhead. I do not tell my mother. In autumn, I return to the block. I choose one chestnut.
My mother speaks. “You’d toddle along, amusing yourself, collecting chestnuts. Only a certain few stayed in the wagon. As the pile of leaves grew higher, you grew bolder. Arms high, face first.”
She places her hand on mine.
“You learn to go on. Softly, softly. Forward.”
My Grandmother ends each visit with an offering of peppermints placed in tissue.
“Just a moment,” she says.
Bags rustle on a pantry shelf. Fingers fumble. She centres five peppermints, twists the tissue and presses the bundle to the palm of my hand.
“Tuck this away. Later, when you take tea, slip one. Don’t share.”
I meet her gaze.
Her eyes are oceans.
We come to understand. Life is loneliness and then it is joy. It’s sweet, tiny moments and sacred silence. We laugh and then, we’re overcome by sorrow. It’s a question without an answer. Scar tissue thickening on a soul. We seek the road home. It’s a song on the radio, a photograph that slips to the floor and then, everything collapses.