Wrinkly knuckles clench, running white. The old man sits, well he lies, in the bed. Tucked up to the chin. It’s a cosy image but why does it feel so cold? He strains his eyes and runs them up and down me. Hello inspector, nice to meet you, what are we investigating today? Bloodlines, hereditary, autonomy.
“Who are you”, he whispers, and the woman cries beside me. Little paper sobs, crinkling into soggy tissues.
“Please, don’t become your grandfather.”
Her hand comes to my shoulder and I flinch. The monotone of my life erases, kick starts some breed of emotion vibrating through my brain. Is that warmth? Images of playing outside with a girl. Rosy cheeks. A real smile, kid smile, innocent jaws chattering under sunlight. Glowing skin. Who cares about nettle stings, grass stains and nasty wasps, when there is that?
Her hand leaves me and the world becomes grey again. At least I’m not trapped in a hospital bed, I think to myself, but I know that both me and this old man are similar because we both must live with strangers. When we walk home that small girl is there, she didn’t want to come with us. She struggles to walk these days. The woman with the magic hands is shaking her head but the girl looks to me, excitedly, expectantly, despite this. It makes me uncomfortable.
“Who are you?” I whisper and the woman cries again, those little paper sobs.
When I am led outside I feel better, not good, but better. And I see a familiar picnic blanket laid out on the front porch. Something in me lights up, but struggles, as if resisting being burnt out. The same image comes fighting its way into my mind, toy dolls and tea cups outside in the summer. I know I have sat there before, with this girl, when I knew who she was. And we were happy, I knew happiness, I knew warmth. We were happy. And we liked to play, we liked to play with… The girl is watching me from her sun lounger, leg raised on pillows.
“Where is the ball?” I don’t think, I just
ask and hope she understands.
She stares at me, face becoming harder to read – reminding me of the strange symbols on paper that someone once taught me to decode. “Mum!” she is shouting now, “Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum!”, she won’t stop. It is the same word again and again and again. It makes my head hurt because I can feel myself grasping for something, thinking, finding… what?
The woman runs out, tears in her eyes, as though a beast pushed her out the door. They talk. The woman is aghast and she runs to the shed. When she returns, she clutches the ball like her life depends on it.
I take it. Hold it. Blue, leathery, muddy, and battered. And that image reforms before my eyes, like a dot-to-dot, a smashed picture frame, a puzzle. I see us on the picnic blanket again, squinting under the sun, cheerful playing. We played catch. My red knees bled. Blood.
Her hand is on my shoulder. I remember – on the picnic blanket, off the picnic blanket, we ran for the ball. Wait, stop. Stay on the front porch. The road is dangerous. But the ball might burst. She comes after me. Car screeching, jolting. Screaming. “Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!”, that same voice in that same way. A thousand times “Mummy!” And that hand fell on my shoulder, those hands held me throughout the cacophony. I remember.
“I’m not going to be like grandad”