Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Fiction #78: Grace March

Iced-Tea and Bruises

I am sorry for the summer.

You know the one. And I really am sorry. Kelsey brought it up again yesterday.

I tried, I really—I did try. There aren’t any excuses good enough, and I don’t even want to make them, only I wish you had told me instead of Kelsey because I would have changed—not for the right reasons, of course; it would have been out of fear rather than affection or blank deference, but I would have changed nonetheless.

You see, I was terrified of you. I still am. I can picture the blown fuse in Oma’s eyes if you heard me say that, or the cloud rising out of Opa’s features like condensation from the kettle spawns on the wall beside it. You would ask what you have ever done to make someone afraid of you, and the answer would be both everything and nothing, because I might understand it now but I didn’t in 1993. Now that I do know, it won’t change anything. You will still be communicating all your rage and confusion with your Merry Christmases, and I will still take two days working up the guts to send a polite email, because I think it would be better if we just forgot about each other entirely. I am never going to be able to do as you wish, and you are never going to approve of me.

I still wish that we could have been friends. At the same time, I wish there were enough apathy between us that we could arrange a neat estrangement. Now, there cannot be, in part because of the summer of 1993 and in part because of how much everything has changed since then. It is almost as if the summer of 1993 was our last chance, and it was royally botched, and the whole carefully-gestated structure of our relationship was aborted, and now all we have between us is the knowledge that there was a life, once, but it is as gone as it was unrepeatable. The most we can do is to pretend that it was an involuntary miscarriage or that it didn’t happen, at all; the most we can do is plate squares for Sunday afternoon coffee in the same kitchen, process beans on the same afternoon, and compliment each other’s health because it seems to take a real talent to hang onto, after a while. You were so proud of your sunroom, the way the light danced across the table, the colour of iced-tea.

What you did to make me afraid of you was done out of love. That was what Kelsey said. She didn’t say for whose love, just that, for whoever, you loved yourselves into debilitation and decay, until you were crotchety and impatient, northern Mother Teresas in sun-visors and plastic aprons. She said that you wouldn’t be as shrunken and hoarse-voiced as you are now if it hadn’t been for how difficult we were, my siblings and I, and we have always known that, but we also always figured it was your own fault. You were supposed to have been powerful enough to stop the bruises forming on our bellies.

The way Kelsey explained it was: that you loved us, so you hated to see us so dirty, helpless, and socially-inept, and because you hated to see us that way, you became short-tempered, and maybe you were trying to help us become otherwise, by inserting little instructional moments into our conversation until the entire dialogue consisted of reprimands. Because you were angry, because you so obviously loved us that you could not imagine we would suppose you didn’t. But we were children, and we were frightened of you. Every time you sized us up and told us how much we were worth, we would rather you have told us that you didn’t love us, at all. You said that you loved us because of who our mother was; you meant it as an encouragement, because you do not think anyone could separate themselves from their family, but we, because of everything else that you didn’t know, would rather you have told us that you didn’t love us, at all. When you said the bruises were our own faults. Now that the bruises are gone, should the hate be gone, too, or is it me who should leave?

There was so much that you did know. I knew nothing, and disdained you for what you knew and what you ignored and what you lied to us about. If you had, at any point, been honest, I would trust you less, and as you never were, I would have rather you told us that you didn’t love us, at all, at all, that you didn’t love us at all.

Except for, Kelsey says, that you actually did, and that makes all the difference.

Hence, I am sorry for that one summer. You know the one.

What, exactly, are we supposed to do?

Plate squares for Sunday afternoon coffee in the same kitchen.

Throw packs of beans into the freezer.

Compliment each other’s health.

Drink nameless black tea from white ceramic cups.

Eat pineapple pizza in sunlight the colour of iced-tea, watching for hummingbirds and squirrels, the life you are so proud of.

Let everything stew quietly inside and never tell one another, only you will tell Kelsey so that she can tell me years later, and I will tell nobody that we both know, to spare myself the questioning and also to preserve, at all costs, your reputation. To make sure that nobody you know ever asks you why I should be afraid of you, because you will say that I shouldn’t have been—I didn’t know any better, I only knew that you were angry, and never asked why—because you were righteously angry, even if it was the only part of our relationship with any righteousness in it; because you measured us out like so many cups of water for boiling, and publicized our faults, in order to motivate change, however you knew how, as change was needed more than anything else; because when you say, “Merry Christmas,” and it carries the weight of two decades’ worth of disappointment and dismay, you are not saying that you would give up two decades if only to escape the disappointment. Because you actually did love us. That makes all the difference.

That’s what Kelsey says, anyway.

*


Grace March is a writer from the prairies of Western Canada. Her work has been featured in Rkvry Quarterly Literary Journal. 

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