Friday, 18 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Twenty-Four: Sacrifice

My grandmother has fallen into the sea.

We stand helplessly safe on shore and watch as she is tossed under, churning through waves of dementia. She reaches for words as if for a life raft or a paddle, a buoy, debris from the wreckage of her memory, demanding coherence...or at least to be right.

I left when I was 80, she said this afternoon. We were waiting in the car outside the St. George Pharma-Save while my mother picked up more prescriptions. From across the parking lot she spotted the garage where she used to take her car for oil changes and tire rotations. She didn't remember that. Or what driving is called. Or a car. And she didn't leave when she was 80. What she meant is that she stopped driving when she was 80, but the phrasing was out of reach. She is very close on many things. Earlier she'd said the weather would be soft today. She meant mild, or fine, or nice. Push the box and he'll tell us, she'd said, meaning, Turn on the TV and see what the Weather Network says. But as long as we can follow the logic it means there still is some. And anyway, why not soft? It's a soft day out there, Kay, you're right. But I think we're in for an angry night. Probably a bit of a crumbly morning. She reaches for the words she can't find, hand in the air pulling at the sky, the sunlight, the living room ceiling. Where do words go when they are gone? Who keeps them safe for us? And then who steals them? Who hides them in the night?

My birds, she said, looking for a series of misplaced photographs after we'd returned from our errands. She was an avid bird watcher all her life, and these, the Grand Manan puffins, are her favourites. After an hour of frenetic searching, she found them at the bottom of a candy dish that has been sitting on the coffee table all my life and hasn't held candy for half that time, but which remains there nonetheless, keeping its place—holding all our lives together for all I know—and providing a haven for rare and wayward birds. She held the photographs in both her shaking hands for just a moment saying, over and over, My birds. My birds...., before looking up at me with such incongruous clarity and saying, Oh good, there you are. I wanted to show you these pictures. Look here. These are my birds. Colin took them when he was know, with those other people...

Later, my mother escaped to the kitchen under the guise of boiling water for tea, and Uncle Danny wandered back in, drunk again. Evening slipped in through the curtains behind me. The photographs lied abandoned on an end table. My grandmother thumbed silently through The St. Croix Courier, sighing as the local news flooded past her—nothing important to her, really, just the usual stories of theft and car accidents, charities and fund raisers. Further proof of a complicated world, that no one is ever wrong, or right, and the only true story is the one not told—the one about our inescapable tenderness swimming like mad through circumstance and sacrifice.

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