by Josh T. Alto
I did not know that the only way to fight my fears was to meet them face-to-face.
|On warm summer nights like this I often sit here outside my house on the carved bench, listening to the crickets chirp, watching the starlit sky, waiting for a falling star to appear. Well, falling stars are rare and the night is long, so I’m going to tell you my story. Somehow it is strange, even for me to believe; I am not quite sure whether there is anything in it or I fantasized too much, I will let you decide.
I wonder how far back in time I should go for you to understand it; maybe to that night five years ago when I had that frightening dream, or back to that day sixteen years ago when my grandmother died and I arrived to her deathbed too late, or maybe to the day of my birth thirty-one years ago when I met my grandma for the first time, or more probably I should go back even further to a time from where I do not have any memories at all. It would certainly help if you believed in a life after death or at least you have to accept that there are things beyond our grasp that we cannot understand right now.
I am sure at some time in your life, at a certain age, in a certain mood or in a certain situation, you already had that kind of feeling as if you could see yourself from behind or from above as if you were another person or as if you could see yourself through someone else’s eyes. It is called an out-of-body experience and an explanation to this phenomenon still does not exist.
At first I had that feeling I was standing in front of an old drawer in my grandma’s bedroom shortly after her death. I was trying to turn the old key hoping to find something of importance though I had no idea what that could have been. Suddenly I saw myself from behind. Then my point of view moved slowly upwards little by little and I could even see my hands touching my grandmother’s things, something that I had never done before.
I had the curious feeling that my grandmother was keeping an eye on me as she always did, but how could she when she was already dead? I saw her in her deathbed and even touched her hands which were not cold at all but rigid as a piece of wood. I was fifteen and full of fears, and from that moment on I was even more scared, I knew quite a lot already but not enough; although I was aware that something inexplicable happened to me that afternoon standing in front of that old drawer in my grandma’s bedroom. I had nightmares even long afterwards. I could not forget it and I wanted to run away as far as I could, but can anyone escape from his fears?
I took after her, everyone said; I had her eyes, her smile and even her nature. We were friends in a way and even more than that, we were soul mates as she always called us; she was my only shelter when my mother began quarreling with me and I was the one who could give her hope after my grandfather had died and she totally broke down.
She taught me a lot, how to accept people with totally different points of view as mine, and I taught her how to fight for herself, that there is still a lot life can give her even if grandfather cannot be there anymore but certainly watched her from somewhere. We never quarreled; we saw things quite similar so there was not much collision between us, we accepted each other.
When I was a child I spent most of the summer with her. She lived in a small cottage outside our tiny village and her garden was full of delightful flowers that were blooming the whole year long, at least it seemed to me at that time. In front of the house there was a beautiful meadow that ended at a neat stream with sedges at both sides and water lilies that my grandfather had brought there from somewhere years ago and planted in the middle of the riverbed.
When I was a child the lilies had already covered the water more than ten meters long making it almost unrealistic somehow, like in a fairy-tale. I liked running through that meadow to the stream, the wind caressing my hair, I imagined I was flying on a soft breeze not even touching the ground. I have never seen so many butterflies and dragonflies since then; it was there I first took the pencils, the brushes and the paint box and tried to seize the moment, tried to make it immortal as my grandmother said.
She often held my hand and showed me how to do it, to sketch the trees with only a few lines or the rocks as the water streamed above them. She always wanted to be a painter but her parents could not afford it. Behind her house there was a wonder world to me, a poppy field that fascinated me whenever I saw it. Those light purple flowers waving faintly in the wind still entrance me even after so many years.
Now I know they can have almost any colors but my grandma’s poppies were always purple. I was rather small so I was not allowed to play there because I could get lost easily; or maybe my grandmother was afraid I could be put to sleep by the flowers like Dorothy in the ‘Wonderful Wizard of Oz’. Actually I really dreamt of it sometimes, lying unconscious from the poppies being carried out on a wagon that is pulled by mice. Is it not wonderful?
Hearing it, one could think I was already drugged by the poppies. My grandmother had an interesting idea taken from some Greco-Roman myths that I never really understood. According to it poppies signify the promise of resurrection, whatever that means. She talked a lot about a life after death and she really believed in it; a weird idea indeed but she took it seriously.
I loved to be with my grandmother, I could hardly wait for school to end. Sometimes I only lay in the grass and read one of the old books I found on the shelves. She had a lot of books with real adventures; I mean about real explorers and adventurers traveling to fabulous places, discovering unknown species of insects and birds, rowing in a boat from island to island. They all were heroes in my fantasy.
Certainly there were also times to work when we both settled out after breakfast and worked almost the whole day long. There was often hoeing that waited for me because she had a bad back that even worsened in the summer. But my favorite piece of work was harvesting the poppies; it was a ceremony in itself.
We sat to the table full of the poppy bulbs like small heads in a pile. First we cut off the upper part of the poppy head near the crown and poured the seeds into a bowl. I liked its flavor, I often pushed my nose into the empty bulb and looked like a clown; we laughed a lot together. Afterwards my grandmother sieved them several times and laid them out to dry on a large white canvas.
I often watched them drying, turning them from time to time as the color changed slowly from dark to lighter purple. I liked writing in the poppy seeds with my finger. I also learned the alphabet from my grandma while writing in the poppies, big white letters on a poppy blackboard. Later we would chat with each other by writing messages and waiting from an answer, or we simply wrote instead of talking, that is how I practiced the alphabet during the summer. Those memories always haunted me later, even years afterwards.
When my grandmother lay dying in her bed she asked for me. I was at school in the nearby city, I started arts at school and my grandmother was really proud of me, she backed me up in all possible ways so I could accomplish my dreams. My mother tried to call me several times and even sent me a telegraph in the end.
I arrived sometime in the afternoon, the rain was falling as I ran into the house, upstairs and held her hand, trying to read her thoughts. But I am afraid I could not. As she saw me she said ‘So you are finally here…’ and those were her last words as well. It sounded as if she would continue ‘…so I can die now…’ but she did not say more. I was sure she wanted to tell me something though she could not.
After she had died I went out of the house, it had just stopped raining and the rainbow filled half of the sky. I could only see her face watching me through the rainbow smiling. It is the only picture I have of her, imprinted in my mind. I knew what she probably wanted to tell me, she thought I would take over her cottage, she mentioned it several times before but I did not take it seriously.
When I was standing in front of her old drawer I understood that she really meant it but I was too coward, I thought the house would be full of ghosts that would scare me to death so I never returned to the house, however in my dreams I saw it quite often.
I returned to my studies and although I inherited the house from my grandma I stayed in the city in the end, I did not want to go back to a time of my childhood where I had spent the happiest days of my life; on one hand it scared me and on the other hand it made me sad whenever I thought of it because of my grandmother.
The years passed, I got a job at an advertising company, I adapted myself to city life and I felt contented in a way, but something happened that changed everything. One night five years ago in the beginning of summer, I was suddenly wakened with a start. Sitting there in the middle of the night or more precisely sometime around four in the morning, I tried to recall my dream but at first I could not catch the meaning of it.
In my dream I saw a house that looked quite familiar to me, actually it was my grandmother’s house, but then I tried to flee from it as far away as I could. Suddenly I was in a forest and I saw the weirdest creatures around; first they were watching me from a distance though later they started advancing towards me; I felt I was enclosed into a circle, a circle of my remorse. I was scared but one thing I understood clearly, I had to make an agreement with myself, with my guilty conscience, and I had to fulfill it as soon as possible. Outside the first rays of sun had already broken through the curtains of dawn and I just lay back on the pillow and was thinking about my dream. I knew I had to return to that house at the end of that narrow path, hidden under the locust-trees, once my home: my grandmother’s house that I thought I would never see again.
I had once even promised her to take the house over after she died and live there, but I just fled, as far away as I could. I did not see the house for a long time, I was not even sure whether it still stood there but next day I got into my car and drove there. A kind of relief overwhelmed my heart unburdening it from the load I had carried ever since then.
The house was standing abandoned but still in rather good shape. A few months later I hired some craftsman and let the house be renovated so it looked like sixteen years before when my grandmother still lived there. I moved in and suddenly I felt free and as I rediscovered the house and the whole neighborhood step by step. The meadow was as beautiful as in my childhood, the stream still flowed in the valley and even the water lilies covered its surface. It seemed that nothing had changed.
I even continued growing the poppies, it made me happy again to see them bowing in the wind; I could hardly wait to start with the harvest, for the first time on my own. I was sure what my grandmother wanted to tell me on her deathbed, I knew she always wanted me to live there after her death but I tried to escape my destiny. I wonder now if anyone is able to do it.
When she died I felt I had lost something but my fears had driven me farther and farther away; I did not know that the only way to fight my fears was to meet them face-to-face. Now I know that her house had been waiting for me all the time. I enjoyed living there again, feeling the sun warm my heart and filling with the lightness of my childhood.
As I stood in front of the white canvas with the drying poppies on it I remembered how we wrote to each other, how we used the poppies as a message board. I wanted to write something in the poppies but as soon as my finger neared the canvas, the poppy seeds moved gently aside, and there were already letters forming on it, tiny little letters of my grandmother and as I touched the canvas I felt her fingers holding my hand like so many years before; it was like finally coming home.
(Word count 2337)