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A little shudder

“Oh, you look so beautiful, my darling.”

“Thanks, grandma. You know whose fault it is though.”

“You flatter me, darling. These old bones are fit for nothing but the grave.”

“I won’t have any of that talk grandma, not today. You know you’ve got centuries left in there.”

The old woman chuckled and adjusted her hands on the younger lady’s shoulders. She was standing behind her, leaning rather heavily against the sturdy wooden chair on which the latter sat.

Their eyes met on the mirror of the dresser in front of them. For a quick second, they held each other’s gaze, satisfied smiles stretching their lips ever so slightly, while a moist film descended over the younger woman’s eyes.

“Thank you so much grandma, for everything.”

“I love you, my darling.” She squeezed the petite shoulders. The younger woman’s hands came up and clasped the wrinkled fingers. “With everything I have… Now let me show myself out before your friends do it for me. I’ll be in the car.”

She hobbled out of the room, her worn cane striking the wooden floor to an irregular rhythm, mingling chaotically with the energetic tick of the old white clock that hung near the ceiling on the wall opposite the window.

The room sprung back into action in her wake, recovering from the respectful pause her entrance had caused. There was no man in the room. None was allowed. Only women. In shoes with sharp heels. Whose clacks replaced the tick of the cane and clock as the bodies above them dashed about picking things, lifting things, applying things, folding things.

One of them stroked the face of the girl by the dresser gently with a soft brush, touching up the makeup that had taken countless minutes to apply already. Another played with the fluffy train of the dress she wore, while yet another opened a drawer, threw in a small box, and closed it back up.

***

They walked up the aisle slowly. Not just because the bride’s supposed to walk slowly on her wedding day, but because the old woman in whose crooked hand she secured hers was old enough that she couldn’t hurry even if she wanted to.

Up ahead was the love of her life. The one that had finally managed to pry her from the tender love of grandma. Many had tried. She had stopped counting at seven. None of them fit. Grandma always asked her, every time she turned down an offer, how she swung it. She always responded the same way: she would know when the right one came along.

And come he did. Bounding gracefully up the front steps as if his heals were made of springs, his smile wide as the sky, his hair cut perfect down the sides. He was lost, he said. His parents had moved into the neighbourhood a short while before. But he was across the country for work when they did, and now he wanted to see them but couldn’t find the address on the slip of paper in his pocket.

Nancy and grandma were sitting on the verandah, listening to an old transistor radio, knitting. Grandma loved knitting. Said it was one of only two things that calmed her down. The other was the dear face of her grandchild. Nancy liked knitting. Couldn’t say she loved it. But she loved grandma too much to mind knitting with her.

That day grandma said she would knit alone for a while so Nancy could show the lost young man to his parents’ new house. But she needn’t have asked her to do so. For, the moment their eyes had met, both Nancy and the young man had known their lives would never be the same again.

And so they walked awkwardly to the mysterious new house, their voices low, floating into the calm Sunday mid-morning air. His name was Denis, and he was a forensic accountant. Said he spent his time sniffing out clever white collar thieves by their numbers. It wasn’t dangerous, he said when she asked. Just a little more tiring than he had imagined going in.

Before they parted, in front of a squat brick building, he asked if she would mind it if he dropped by on his way out to say goodbye. She told him that would be lovely. And he shook her hand.

***

They were now halfway down the aisle. The rich and full sound of the organ filled the space between their heads and around their thoughts. The black-suited figure of her lover stood patiently on the lower step of the altar, his hands folded on his lap, the strap of his watch pulled ever so slightly up by the skin of his right wrist.

She felt grandma shudder and instinctively turned to her. Years of living together had attuned her to grandma’s every involuntary move. She shuddered when she came in contact with something colder than she expected, and Nancy could pick the tremble from the next room.

She also always shuddered whenever she remembered the day grandpa died, mere days before Nancy was born. He had gone to look for her father, her mother’s high school classmate, who had run away when he learnt that Nancy was on the way. He found him, and was on his way back, the young man in tow. But their ferry capsized and trapped them, and all their fellow passengers, in the cold morning waters.

It was the thought of the cold water that made grandma shudder. She had long made peace with the absence of her husband. She had Nancy to fill her remaining days with the warmth of tender love. Both the men in her immediate lineage may be gone, but she remained, and she was the sweetest thing grandma could have asked to be left with. It was the way they went that gave her the shakes.

The only other thing that gave grandma the shakes was the onset, ever more frequent these recent days, of her arrhythmia. The doctors said there was no connection between the arrhythmia and the shudder, but Nancy had known grandma longer than they did.

And because there was nothing cold inside the Church today, and the cold morning waters that had snuffed out the lives of her two male ancestors would be the last thing on grandma’s mind at that moment, Nancy helplessly knew her shudder could only mean one thing.

Even as she turned to grandma, the crooked arm in which hers was secured went limp, while the cane held by the other arm clattered onto the floor. Nancy’s eyes rested on the face just in time to see the older eyes go blank within their wrinkled envelopes.

And then she was holding grandma with both hands to prevent her from hitting the ground too hard.

Feature image: Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash.

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