Speak now or forever hold your peace. Proverb
The Afterlife of Discarded Objects
Grandma had gone. Finally having succumbed, to the disease that had long ago claimed her breasts and then slowly eaten away the rest of her. We stood in her bedroom, a disparate gaggle of female relatives and contemplated her enormous, polished walnut chest of drawers.
An aunt squatted down and opened the coffin-sized, bottom draw with staccato jerks. In Grandma’s absence, everything felt flat. All her possessions that had once glowed and shone in her living presence, now appeared dead, as if in life they had carried a charge from her, which had been irrevocably switched off.
We were there to sort out Grandma’s things but I, a gauche teenager, held myself aloof as joining in might have forced me to admit the immutability of this, my first death. The others decided by committee to divide Grandma’s collection of dolls-from-around-the-world (deemed suitably appropriate) between the three granddaughters – my sister, our cousin, and me. They unpacked the dolls higgledy-piggledy, on to Grandma’s sap green, silk eiderdown, man-handling them, as if they were just things. They divvied them up, in a thoughtless, three-way split. The precious doll-families were broken up, separated and divorced from each other. Of course, I couldn’t say anything; it would have been childish.
In the next drawer up, were old nursing supplies; tea-stained, gauze bandages, suspicious looking syringes and unspeakable, black, rubber tubing, all leftovers from her days as a midwife, which caused my aunt to say, “Physician heal thyself.“
Everyone laughed except me. Aunt raked through the contents of the drawer. Deep down, secreted beneath the medical bric-a-brac, were three long plaits, three silken hanks of hair with a ribbon at each end. They were unmistakably Grandma’s and each plait corresponded to a different stage of her eventful life, and formed a natural timeline. The hair breached emotional barriers that seeing her coffin had not. A sudden roaring in my ears bent my head and I tried to block it out by squeezing my eyes shut and clenching my jaw.
No one noticed, they were too busy laughing again, pretending to be appalled at the old woman’s eccentricity. I fought down an irresistible longing to hold the plaits to my face and breath in the essence of her that I knew must still be there, but the words just wouldn’t come.