“Children should be seen, not heard.”
She says it once, her voice stern. I notice the lock of hair that falls loose and softens her face, a strand I want to touch yet dare not. My grandmother’s hands are clasped, hiding her fingers. Fingers that will never touch my cheek or stroke my hair. A cup of tea waits to be sipped.
Fortunately for the two of us, I understand. As seasons surely change, our visits follow a predictable pattern: Cod Liver Oil, silent play, and tea time.
“The child looks sallow,” she says.
Her sister agrees. “She’s pasty.”
“Child. Step into the light.”
“The poor thing,” the aunt says. “It must come from the mother’s side.”
Two sets of eyes swallow me whole. Two heads nod in agreement. The aunt bustles for a spoon. A rattle of cutlery and the thud of a cupboard signal her reappearance. The two women coax me to open wide, their lips form key holes.
“Feed the birdie,” they chirp.
The silver spoon rises and dips, as a wounded bird mid flight. I shut my eyes and wait for the liquid to wash through the gaps between my teeth.
“Now scoot,” she says as her arm sweeps me out the back door. “Mind the cat and stay away from the Italians’ dog.”
Once outside, I’ll spit what is left into her garden. It’s almost a relief. There is no sense in tears. It’s important to please.
It won”t be long until the door opens to summon me inside. The sunroom is filled with Mason jars, some marked Nasturtium. Others house twine or buttons. I want to ignore her and wander over to a wooden table. I want to touch the cacti rooting in soup cans. Instead, I follow my grandmother to the kitchen.
” The little lady looks freckled,” the aunt comments. “Sunshine and tonic is the right mix.”
“Sit for tea,” my grandmother adds, “and remember- this isn’t a playground. There are sugar biscuits on the plate.”
Her words slide like honey and for a split second, I think I see her smile.
Our time together will suddenly end. There isn’t an official explanation. The birth of Madeline creates a fuss. Visits trickle and end on a full stop. There is never an explanation as to why two granddaughters are struck from Alice Jackson’s guest list. Perhaps the Cod Liver Oil has something to do with it.
“But she would want to see me,” I say. I repeat it and repeat it. No one listens. I am surprised by this as my father is a man of diplomacy.
“That’s the way she does things,” he says.
During our absence, I find a way to remember her. With my mother’s help, I mail cards to mark the passing of special occasions. Only the prettiest images will do: wide- eyed kittens tangled in balls of wool, their paws dipped in glitter or wicker baskets filled with pansies- her favourite flower. I hope she’ll smile as she slips the card from the envelope. Inside the card, is my scrawled script: Love, Annie.
I wonder. Does she see that I choose images for her? Can she hear the thump of a tiny heartbeat as it attaches in rhythm to her own? The cat on the card resembles her beloved feline. The pansies aren’t a random choice. Does she notice?
Everything done in tiny moments is to please her.
~ Annie Speaks