When I was little, I always loved watching my sister paint. She would create the most realistic snow capped mountains and the rustiest torn down barns. I would sit next to her and watch her create whole worlds with just a few flicks of her palm. She would give me a blank canvas, and tell me to draw anything I wanted. I hated seeing that blank canvas, it was just a square of nothing, so I would paint streaks of color everywhere. Turquoise, maroon, magenta. Off they went, covering every corner of that ugly blankness.
My mother was born into a family that believed in all kinds of superstitions. Growing up, whenever we were alone, I’d watch her pray to her Gods and perform small rituals to be protected from evil. She would never place two mirrors facing each other for instance, believing that the infinite reflections in each mirror would open a gateway for the devil. If she accidentally spilled some salt, she’d take a pinch of it and throw it over her left shoulder to undo the bad luck and repel the devil. She would change her way if she saw a black cat on the street and knock on wood every time she or someone else mentioned something unfortunate, such as accidents, illnesses, or bad fortune.
“It wasn’t just my family,” she told me once. “Everyone in my village believed in them. They lived their lives accordingly.”
Her feet always showed her age more than the rest of her body. Dried blister atop dried blister, flaking skin; a bone spur adding dimension to her little toe. I cradle her foot in my hands and began to massage it starting with the toes and working my way down to the heel. Slowly and evenly I make circular motions with my thumbs, kneading the cold flesh of the woman who raised me. Everyone needs a little pampering. What you don’t get in life, you should get in death.
I laugh at railroad crossing PSAs when bad actors gasp at oncoming trains, are too immersed in headphones, or think climbing on boxcars is dope. I guffaw at YIELD TO ALL TRAINS signs.
And I roar at the footage itself, the footage some railfan with cat-eye glasses caught by sheer, dark chance. No 90s quality footage and actors who could have been kidnapped from a family sitcom. Just a car, my sister’s Toyota Corolla, actually striking a train. Not being struck by a train. Striking a train. Ramming a boxcar, as though her Corolla were a Panzer rolling down the streets of some occupied European power, and not being dragged and spun around.
My dad and I are sitting at this bistro table in the sky having a great conversation—a really lovely time. I’m not eating or drinking anything, but he’s eating a bowl of steamed mussels that appears to be bottomless. He’s making no headway whatsoever.
Eating seems like the wrong word because he’s actually chowing down on them like there’s no tomorrow, which there isn’t, for him at least, because he’s dead. He’s been dead for years, but he showed up in my dream to say hi and eat these mussels. He’s talking with his mouth full, which is ironic to me because he was always very strict about table manners. I guess all decorum subsides in the afterlife since he really does seem more laidback.
I was smoking in dad’s garden, pacing and stamping around. There were some seeds on Dad’s kitchen table and I had sprinkled them onto the soil. I might have fainted or tripped, the doctors say. I don’t know which.
Dad’s neighbour saw me, and she got me to the hospital. They didn’t want to send me home that night, so they kept me in a bed there. I listened to the same podcast over and over. It was about wild deer living on a housing estate on the edge of London. The deer peeped in the ground floor windows while people were doing their washing up. I must have listened to it five or six times. I kept forgetting parts, because of the concussion.
‘Hi Barry, it’s Tanya.’
‘Oh hi Tanya, thanks for taking my call. I know you must be busy with the pharma conference…’
‘Certainly am, Barry. We most certainly are! We’re missing your input! Anyway, what can I do for you? How’s it all going?’
‘Phrr, well it’s pretty tricky, I’m afraid. I’ve managed to pin down my daughter’s location…’
The oars swish through the water, each stroke taking me further away from Mum and the baby. Brown and orange leaves float on the water around the boat. The baby’s screams echo around the valley from the canal bank; she didn’t want to get in – now she does, but it’s too late. My brother bickers with Dad, rocking the rowing boat from side to side. I cling to the seat; water splashes my face.
I scream and sit bolt upright. It’s as if there’s no air in my lungs; I let out a huge sigh and take shallow, fast breaths. My heart is palpitating, and I am soaked in sweat. It’s the same dream, always without an ending.
Your house smelled as if bathed in Pine-Sol. Ebony and Jet magazines cluttered the coffee table. You didn’t care that they were twenty years old. It reminded you of when Junior was young and your husband, Manny, was faithful and alive.
“How you been, Mom?” Junior asked. Cheeks puffy. He sat in the chair next to the sofa.
“I’m fine, Junior,” you said, adjusting your auburn-colored wig. “Nice of you to ask since I haven’t seen you in months?”
His face, the color of sandalwood, flushed crimson. “It’s only been a couple of days.” He fiddled with the papers in his hand. “You’re all set to move next week.”