Before I thrust you into the coming short story, I wish to draw your attention to two things:
1) I am now emangine.me! (thank you Haya!)
2) I haven’t written anything other than emails in a while, so this might be like when you get overzealous at the gym, end up pulling all but seven muscles and gaining half a kilo on account of the Burger King you rewarded yourself with.
You have been warned!
The front steps were dusty. Dusty front steps usually mean abandonment, reclusion or loneliness. In this case it was a combination of the three in equal measure, which is why I felt compelled to be standing there with a fruit basket. I had to press the doorbell a few times before it became unstuck and I could hear it’s insectile buzz reverberate through the house. I took a deep breath, counted to twenty, and pressed the doorbell again. Another deep breath, six, seven… I could hear footsteps, nine, ten… a key was turning, twelve, fourteen, a little old head popped out and broke into a toothless smile, “hello dear! I’ve been expecting you, come in!” I nodded, sixteen, seventeen…
“Won’t you come in?”
“Speak up dear.”
“Twenty,” I rang the doorbell again and walked inside. She was a very old woman, the oldest in the neighborhood, but she was dressed in a long blue housecoat decorated with dainty yellow daffodils and matching slippers. She had applied some rouge on her lips. It was nice that she made the effort, even though the rouge had smudged over her lips. It was not correct, but it was okay. It’s just rouge. Deep breath.
She took the basket from my hands and led me wordlessly through a long hallway lined with foggy, ornate mirrors to the living room. She sat me on a lumpy couch near the radiator, which was on the highest setting even though it was mid-July. I glanced furtively around, it was as if her surroundings knew that she was dying and decided to die with her. Just as she was a faint reflection of the grace and beauty of her younger years, so were they a reflection of better times. Mold grew in the corner of the ceiling, old pictures of long-dead friends and relatives stared through their veil of thick dust, ants flourished in the crevices of the antique tables and a radio stood proud in the middle of the room as an ode to a bygone era. Even the air was old, as if it had been there since 1973 and decided it liked the room so much it would stay. I tried to smile and appear happy to visit, but it was unnerving being there, as if I was imposing on something. A part of me was afraid of touching anything lest I set off a butterfly effect that would change the future. She handed me a teacup filled with hot water. The cup was chipped in two places and didn’t match the saucer. The saucer was white with red tulips on the side and the cup was cream with silver gilding. I stared at the odd pair and my body tensed. I looked up and saw her mouth moving, she was saying something but I could not hear, all I could hear was the smudge above her lip, that rouge. The silver gilding, red tulips. Red gilding, silver tulips. It was not correct. The rouge had to be inside the lips. The cup did not match the saucer. It was not correct. The saucer crashed to the ground and I broke from my reverie. Her mouth had stopped moving. Ashamed, I stammered out a string of apologies and cleaned up while she told me about how that saucer belonged to her great-grandmother. She might have been lying because it had a ‘Made in China’ stamp on the bottom, but I did not say anything. It was okay. Deep breath.
I drank my hot water from the chipped cup with the silver gilding and no saucer. The radiator burned the side of my arm, and the hot water scalded my lips but I had to drink it all because there was no saucer to put the cup on, and cups had to rest on saucers. She smiled, “would you liked to see my children?” she asked. I nodded. She giggled like a young girls and pointed to an enormous glass armoire. I walked towards it, with my cup, and peered inside but there were no photographs. I turned around and opened my mouth to say so only to find her standing beside me looking fondly at a collection of jewelry boxes. They were not arranged in any way I could recognize, not by shape or size or color or weight, but it was okay. It was okay. “Where are your children?” I asked.
“These,” she replied, pulling out a particularly large box with the inscription ‘In Loving Memory 1949-1969’, “are my children who left me.” I took a step back. And then two more.
“And these,” she continued nonchalantly as if she wasn’t holding the ashes of a dead child in her hand, “are my children who will never leave!” She carefully pulled out a pair of small china dolls in brown gowns and sausage curls, and placed them in my hand. “Be careful,” her voice dropped to a barely audible whisper, “they are very fragile and become upset when they’re shaken too much.” I nodded and squinted at their faces, and nodded again. They were exactly alike in every way, from their flowery bonnets to their tiny leather shoes, except one had a stain on her cheek. I rubbed her face with my thumb, but the stain was still there. I licked my thumb and rubbed her cheek harder, but that spot of brown dirt still besmirched her rosy cheeks. Deep breath. It was still there. Deep breath. No. They had to be the same, they had to. I was rubbing furiously, spitting on their faces. The old woman was shouting. I tried scratching, spitting and scratching. Someone was trying to pull the dolls away, the old woman perhaps, but the dolls were dead, painted with streaks of blood from my fingers. I knew it was still there, the stain was still there. And her rouge was still smudged. It was not correct. I dropped the dolls and licked my thumb…