August 2020 Competition WinnerPosted 1 month ago under Uncategorised,
Suzie Watt lives in Christchurch, in 2018 she completed her Masters in Creative Writing with AUT, gaining First Class Honours. She has had one short story Published in Fresh Ink, a Collection of Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand 2019.
It was the sweet smell of marmalade that started it. I was sitting in a corner bookshop café listening to the coffee grinder purge the beans until they were burnt. Slowly the marmalade on the patron’s toast opposite me entered my pores sending me backwards in time.
I had ended up at Anne-Marie’s door at the end of autumn with leaves that turned into tiny little speckles on the path towards her front door. My mother said I had to get out, away from the disease and illness that had swept the country and the world. Now Timaru opened its arms to me, with its strange landscape that twisted up towards the ranges, then fell back into the teal sea. Large ships docked, with wide berths, as cold air blew into gusty gales.
Anne-Marie, swept me in with the wind, as she turned towards her pots of sweet smelling brew. I had no idea what it was, having never experienced a mother who could cook. But Anne-Marie with a click in her tongue swished it around a few times, then laid the wooden spoon along the bench.
‘Now then, we won’t have you in those clothes,’ she said. Her corn blue eyes scanned me rapidly. She spun me around, with another click of her tongue, then guided me up towards the stairs. The bedroom was sparse, a duvet cover that had small iris like flowers, while on the duchess, a small vase with one delicate red rose. I had never seen such a vibrant rose, it seemed to reach out towards the sun through the window. A neat set of clothes had been left for me on the bed, jerseys and jeans, a blue skirt. I couldn’t remember the last time I had worn a skirt, my mother had dressed me in hand-me-down odd bits of clothes that never matched, and left me feeling cold and damp. These clothes, however felt soft, and there was the smallest smell of rose again, that made me feel lightheaded.
‘I have a bath running, that will get you warm, then will have a nice tea with jam and bread. Get the blood running in you? I can see, you’re want for care, aye, if I had known the state of you, I would have sent for you earlier.’ This time she clicked her tongue, in a matter-of-fact way, then turned in a swift stride towards the bathroom. There was a muffled sound, as the taps turned on, followed by the steady flow of water. It made me feel drowsy hearing the water running so smoothly, almost like a dream. I found myself floating, somewhere between worlds, trying to remember how our family had ridden out the storm for so long, until James fell ill, then Helena, both had died among the flu ridden hospital. I could feel things swirling in me, a wave of sadness, over and over.
We heard by television that the virus had stopped, but no one knew if this was real. Bit by bit we all creeped out of our houses and tried to find some sense of normalcy among everyday routine. I had gained a scholarship, so I left Timaru. The slow descend from Anne-Marie and her pots of marmalade slid away. For the life of me, I scrambled towards making a living as an editor, and then chief editor where the clock chased me everywhere. When the doctor rang to say I had a lump in my left breast, it was like the past had just knocked on my door again.
Everything seemed unreal, and so I had given up almost all social interaction with anyone, in an attempt to try to control my life. I found myself trying to console my own soul while teetering on a cliff. Late one Friday night, I impulsively booked a ticket on the express train back to Timaru. I hovered at the station, then found myself intrigued by a little girl, she was about the age I was when I had arrived in Timaru. Unlike me, her mother was there, she squished a poker dot hanky into her face, then licked it as she smudged her round little face. The girl squirmed, annoyed at the intrusion into her fantasy world. Left alone to jump the puddles, the girl seemed fascinated with her own shadow, as she reached her arms high into the air then down to the ground. There was a grumble in my stomach, nausea floated into my blood as I realised how much we take for granted, when we are young, before we grow up towards the head on traffic of life.
The house was reasonable, I had expected it to be in tatters, with broken wooden arches and overgrown hedges. However, the garden seemed to be in control of itself, it had turned upwards towards the sun, while a row of red roses danced among the light. I reached for the key, left under the watering can. As I opened the door, a soft sweet odour, climbed up into my nose, it couldn’t be surely? The kitchen door was left ajar, while to the left a small pantry was filled with jars right up to the ceiling. I scanned my eyes downwards, to the cracked jar, oozing marmalade along the floor, it appeared like orange blood, a myriad of colours that branched out like vines. Anne-Marie would have laughed if she was alive. Her kitchen had always been clean beyond belief.
I reached for the pots, then turned to the back door. As far as I could see, light green ferns arched over, beyond this a large lemon tree, curved over itself, ready to lay its fruits towards me. I could feel something unusual in my face, for a moment I couldn’t understand, then I realised the smile set upon my face.