Do you remember when tattoos were cool; when strangers shook hands and hook-ups happened; when women shaved their bodies and men pumped their guns; when reality stars ruled and virtual worlds beckoned; when commuting took hours and the school run was a thing; when the craving for likes trumped the need for affection; when summers were warm and hurricanes rare; when snow came in inches and the seaside existed?
No? Me neither.
But my grandmother does and she swears life wasn’t much better back then.
Wagging a finger, the one with the ring etched in ink, she tells me again. How the world is more pleasant with less people in it; how choice was a headache and the rat race a pain; how the young are so lucky, being born when we were, with dieting an ordeal we’ll never endure, ditto for jetlag, and surgery too; how fortunate we are to have missed the decade of plague, to have slept through the fighting, curled up in our cribs; how blessed we all are to have made it this far, to have lived through the storms that ended more than the war.
Then clearing her throat, she says that soon she’ll be gone. Tutting and sighing, she says not to fret, she’s told me everything so often there’s no chance I’ll forget. But she tells me again, just to be sure.
Keep your eyes on the heavens and your ear to the ground.
I nod and I knead and I mouth along with her lesson.
After fourteen years alone together, I know her spiel. There’s more to come; she’s not done yet. And on she goes. The sky and earth will guide me, she claims. Their language, I’m told for the thousandth time, only needs deciphering, like the poems we pour over when it’s too wild to go outside. But then she stops and instead of finishing in her usual way, with a rueful smile and the bit about greed, she shuffles closer to the fire and stares so intensely at the flames that I’m afraid she’ll fall in. Abandoning my ball of dough, I tug on her sleeve with my floury hand. Her lecture I can do without, but her voice I need. She hugs herself and delivers the ending in a whisper.
Stick to your own patch. Take care of it and it’ll take care of you. You’ve enough to get by. Trust me on that. And don’t get greedy.
I nod again and return to work, but then she whispers new lines that bring me back to the fire.
And pay attention to the world around you, especially to the weather. Because that’s how it starts, small changes first and then-
The rest of her sentence is lost to a fit. She coughs and she heaves and she struggles for breath. I settle her down and wait to hear more; but the pressure has dropped by the time she recovers so I listen instead to the wind.
N.K. Woods studied Creative Writing in the University of Edinburgh. Her work has appeared in Tales From the Forest, The Galway Review, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Honest Ulsterman, Flash Fiction Magazine and The Ogham Stone. She lives in Ireland.
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