What's My Tribe?

Entry by: Obergo

10th October 2017
Grace decided she would go for a run. She sat up and swung her legs over the bed. She placed her foot on the carpet and sat there for a second and changed her mind - she would go to the toilet and then decide about the run.
She walked to the bathroom, pulled down her pyjama bottoms and rested her elbows on her knees.
There was a faded ceramic slate on the wall opposite, with a poem on it, and a strange little picture of a sexless toddler holding a bath mat. She closed her eyes and whispered the poem to herself to see if she could still say it.
She heard her grandmother cough. A wave of goose bumps crept down her lower back.
Her grandmother lay in the room next door which looked over the garden. She would be lying on her side, her teeth in a jar, listening to the radio in that grey morning light and morning smell.
Grace pulled up her pyjamas, washed her hands and slipped out of bathroom as quietly as she could. She held her breath until she’d taken the four steps to her grandmother’s room, out of some strange childhood habit and pushed the door open.
The radio was on and Grace saw her grandmother in bed, in the light and the smell she had expected. Grace walked across the room and searched for a space on the edge of the bed to sit, breathing in as she sat down, as if to make herself smaller and placing her hand on the covers over the old woman's leg.
Her eyes were still shut.
“Granny?” she whispered.
A small, thick hand darted up from under the covers and ran across the front of her hair net. Her eyes opened: “Oh Grace! Good morning. I was just listening to a writer, it's very good.”
Grace paused until the woman’s voice on the radio finished a sentence.
“Did you sleep?”, she whispered.
“It was alright.”
Grace looked over to see if she had been down for her toast and tea, and saw a plate by the radio, but no mug.
“Would you like some tea and toast gran?”
She squeezed her leg above the covers. It was a habit, hardened into a ritual by her mother and aunt, to take granny tea and toast in the morning. Her granny seemed so small in the bed, curled towards the radio, in the room with the mirror and dresser. The mirror, with a crack in it, that lay face down on the dressing table, which was set back into the wall between two cupboards. It was one of the big round, Victorian looking ones, with a long handle that Grace had seen in period dramas on TV and in paintings. The mirror, like the crucifix on the wall above the now empty bed on the other side of the room, were always there, as far back as she could remember.
She felt responsible for the crack in the mirror which, she had become convinced, had happened in one of her childhood summers. She dug around for the memory now. She had snuck in and climbed onto the stool in front of the dresser, leaning forward on her knees to pick everything up. The mirror, so heavy, the blusher, the little comb, and with the voices mummering downstairs, put the lipstick on. Then she got down, walked over to where her grandfather’s shoes were standing by the bed, and stood into them. She began hauling the two enormous things across the carpet. “Arasure, I’m grand. Whasheveryouwant now,” she whispered, in their accent. And, holding the mirror up, lips pink, hair freshly combed, she started dancing in the huge shoes, her little body, probably just six years old, bouncing up and down, swaying around at the waist, the mirror heavily swinging around by her side. “Grace, howaya? Grace, Grace, Grace” she started to say, out loud, “Wash? Wash? Wash?” As she repeated the delicious soft t making the word totally different, there was the sound of footsteps on the upper stairs. Had she felt fear explode in her head? Yes, her head had pumped with fear. She tried to get to the dresser but the shoes were too heavy. She pulled one foot out. The mirror was so far form the dresser. Did she fall? She heard the click of the paint from the door unsticking from the wooden line across the floor.
She couldn’t put the mirror anywhere. It was her grandfather. No, she didn't fall. Now she was standing in his shoes. She could taste the lipstick in her mouth. Her body was suddenly wrapped in shame. Bound like a little mummy.
He looked at her, looked around the room, his mouth opened and his eyes narrowed a little in concentration.
“What are you doing, you ejit? Get out of here!” he said.
He pulled the mirror from her hand and placed it back on the dressing table. He grabbed her under the armpits and lifted her little feet out of the shoes.
Grace thought now of her little cheeks going red, and a ball of pain rising in her throat. “Sorry, granddad,” she must have said, squashing her face and closing her eyes to try and hide herself. How could she have explained what she had been doing? She never meant to put his shoes on, or take the mirror that far away from the dresser. Could she have felt ashamed that he knew she was so interested in his things and granny’s things?
Yes, that must have been that summer the mirror broke, Grace thought, as she made her way downstairs now, stepping quietly down each step.
She turned right and back along the line of the stairs towards the kitchen door. She still had goosebumps from her back to her thighs. She pulled the handle down on the kitchen door. It had three kinks in it as she pushed down, the first, which was the final, crucial click if you were closing it, was the release, the other two followed automatically, almost. TRA, ta, ta. Yes, everything was the same. In order, clean from the night before and the smell of fish had gone.
Recently, perhaps over the past five years, her granny had started eating brown bread. It was a delayed concession to her adult children and grandchildren who would return to the kitchen from their various homes and shuffle about for it in the breadbin. For a while her granny had bought bread with hidden wholemeal wheat flour in it – Kingsmill 50-50. But now, even when she was alone, she ate brown. Grace reached up and opened the waxy packaging of the half loaf and put a slice in the toaster. She lifted the kettle and put in under the tap without taking the lid out. A small jet of water shot out towards the window sill. She watched the drops drip and thought about whether or not to tell her granny she would go for a run. She had to smooth things over before she went out. She put the kettle on the stand, clicked the button down. She didn’t really want to go. You get lazy here Grace, she told herself. She walked over to the fridge and stopped to look out of the kitchen window and scratch her head. The lawn was wet, grey clouds hung in the sky, and the damp green colour of the shed, where she and her cousin Ruth had snuck in with their mothers’ Silk Cut, looked depressing and determined to keep being rained on.
The garden had a small bit of patio at the top where the grown-ups had sat on summer afternoons. Mum and dad, uncle Davo and Marie, Jim and Carrie. The plastic table pushed up into a corner would have been scattered with 7Up bottles and sunglasses and empty plates of ham sandwiches. The kids played football on the lawn. They would practice when the adults weren’t there - against the rough wall on the patio and when the ball hit the kitchen window, they would stop and look up for that face to appear, confirming what they knew already. If it didn’t appear, they watched the door, for something worse to happen, or wonderfully, when luck would have it, no one would appear at all.
You never get those walls in England, Grace thought. She opened the fridge and reached for the Kerry Gold, I’ll go for a short run and won’t mention anything about a run unless she asks, she resolved.
The kettle rumbled and immediately after the toast popped. She began to make the tea. Back over to get the milk, and then, once that was done, butter and marmalade on the toast. Back over to get the marmalade. By the time she was buttering the toast it was cool enough for the butter to stay yellow and the toast to stay firm. Her grandmother liked it softened, so the butter melted and then, when Grace had seen her do it, she pasted the marmalade on top, so it soaked into the soft dents where the knife and the butter had been pulled across the slice. It was like a tea-cake then. White bread toast was really the best for that. It irritated her that she had made it crunchy.
When she returned to her granny’s room she was in the same position, but now her eyes were closed as if she was sleeping. She was small, but not too thin. She was 89. Grace felt a lump in her throat rising as she placed the toast and tea down. She hadn’t made it nearly enough times for her. She hadn’t really been there since her late teens. It had been twelve years since the summer visits had ended, when her grandfather had died, and steadily the trips had become harder and harder, because she felt too big, too loud, too grown.
She watched her grandmother open her eyes again.
“Oh Grace, thank you, that is lovely.”
“No worries,” she replied.
“You know your hair Grace? Why don’t you wear it down like that? You have such a lovely head of hair, and when you came in before, it was so beautiful, and you tie it back,” she said.
Grace looked at the steam rising from the tea. She had made it weak and half a cup, which was the way her grandmother liked it. Her mother only ever drank half a cup. The house in Birmingham was always scattered with mugs of half drunk tea.
“Ha, yes, I know, well I take it out for the boys,” she joked, “It just gets in the way when I’m doing stuff.”
“Ah no, I don’t mean for boys, it is beautiful Grace, if I had hair like yours I would wear it down with a little Alice band,” she made a quick tap of her head, a motion to demonstrate the delicacy of an Alice band.
Grace felt sad. Alice bands, she would look like a Stepford Wife, but that wasn’t what her grandmother meant.
She felt as if she were watching herself from above - that she was on her own stage.
Was it that every single thing in the house had a meaning that belonged only to her? There was no movement, no act, no habit that didn’t have a bloodstream back into early childhood that, as she headed into her twenties, she had written off - or tried to write off. It had finished. Ireland was a place her parents had left. Mass, presses, rashers, Taytos, the neighbours in and out, and the fixedness. The fixedness - that was Ireland.
She leant in to give her grandmother a kiss, walked across the room to the door and said: "I'm nipping out for a run, but I don't actually want to go."
"Don't then," her grandmother's voice hovered in the air.