I always had pretty bad stage fright. One time, I was presenting my Geography research to my class. Nerves were ricocheting against my fingers and palm like a mad cyclist pedalling to survive. Even the words I tried to throw out were trapped in my vocal cords as my throat was gripped. This left me with a paralysing and pathetic image of what I can’t do. I was a fumbling and mumbling boy standing in front of bored classmates, their eyes glued to the clock to pray for less time.
“Okay, Kieran, you weren’t that bad. I barely noticed your hands shaking, why are you beating yourself up?”
I turned around to face Cassie. She was still sitting in the armchair, even though it still smelled of thick cigarette smoke.
“Because if I couldn’t even do a simple 5-minute presentation for Geography, how can I do a eulogy? And it’s for my grandpa’s funeral, for goodness sake.” Cassie motioned me to sit next to her with her hands. When I did, her face softened into cautious understanding and held my fidgeting hands still. I knew this was going to be difficult for her to watch, Cassie is the only person who has felt the weight of my hollow silence. And I have never been more silent than when I lost my grandpa.
“Somewhere, he knows how hard you’re trying. It’s not going to be easy, not for anyone.” Although her presence warmed me like a dim candle, his absence continued to stuff the room’s air with a humid summer’s breath. Cassie hesitated for a second before suggesting: “Maybe you could go and look for your grandpa’s photos? That could help.”
I took her advice and went outside to the conservatory. Most of my family’s memorable belongings, photo albums and broken, precious heirlooms are stored in the conservatory. None of it stays in the house because my mum would sometimes throw these types of things away as if they were dusty, forgotten leftovers. But as long as they all stay in the conservatory, the glass and white panels give these leftovers a home. A proper one.
As I approached the sturdy conservatory door, I tried to not pay attention to the withering garden infesting the house’s back. To others, it brought pity. To me, it brought the truth. That my family truly could not nourish love into their roses or lilies. Even if they were given all the water and sunlight in the world, their roses and lilies would think they lived in a desert and wonder why my family were not parched too.
But a bright branch took my gaze. It was lying next to the swarms of weeds, the brown oak was embroidered by careless, thriving leaves of fluorescent lime green. The spill of colour was jarring against the ash-grey ground. It left a trail that led to behind the conservatory.
I expected to see the neighbour’s fence, but instead, I saw a footpath that would have extended across the neighbour’s house. A few metres ahead of me there stood an enormous oak tree with centuries left to live and generations of foliage left to raise underneath its grounded roots.
I carefully paced down the footpath, gravel bit loudly under my shoes. The blades of grass looked soft against the gentle breeze and the air was hollow but freeing. As I came closer to the tree, its thick strands of branches gently held nests of illuminated spheres. I thought these were perhaps fruits that I couldn’t recognise, but it seemed too far-fetched and strange. So, I pulled the nearest branch down, making sure it wouldn’t snap. Two spheres gleamed in lavender hues under the daylight. Each of them had figures moving inside of them, like obscure shadows from a distant lightbulb. I brought the branch closer until I could smell its fragrance to the point where it was irritating my nose.
It took me some time before I realised that these spheres contained distorted events, videos. Memories. Flicks of my auntie sitting in her wheelchair when she was still young and confident to smile widely. My dad was holding onto the handles and pushed the wheelchair up a steep hill as she shouted “Onward!” His knees were almost giving out, but he grits his teeth with a grin.
Another memory flicked on like a click of a button. This time, it was my dad’s university graduation. His degree, five years of all-nighters and unwavering hope in framed paper, rested in front of him. My grandpa, his dad, was over the moon and in proud disbelief, rather that was what he seemed to be feeling. I had only seen my grandpa in his short, but fiery spirit despite his burnt-out grey hairs. In this memory, he was an unfamiliar flame with a recognisable, youthful flair.
He only dusted off the robe on my dad’s shoulder, leaving it shining in the sunlight.
My grandpa patted him on the back as he murmured, “Don’t forget, no hunchback, okay? Stand up tall.” His proud smile was restrained with his lips as his leash, but my dad just smiled even wider as he stood up straight like his black graduation cap was his crown.
If only Grandpa was here to see this, I thought.
A new, bittersweet truth of my family was born. Even though they would leave their roses and lilies in the desert without a single drop to spare, they would quietly bring cool rain to anyone with their blood and bond if they were ever too warm under the sunrise. For the first time in years, I finally heard love in my name. Kieran Hart.