Some people have one story that they tell again and again and when you meet them eight years later, almost a decade, that is still the defining narrative, all their friends know, even their new ones. She had the affectation of a swan and even if she was wearing black looked like she was dressed in her Sunday whites, her neck stretched proudly long and poised for the halo that would fall down and choke her. Like her mother, she used knowledge for power and indifference for a knife. Being raised amongst the emotionally manipulative and the insecure had done wonders for this swan’s song. She wanted to talk, continuously and about one thing (like her grandmother who when living had no note and gasping and clinging to life when death approached unlocked her silent throat).
“Listen to me Sylvia,” she sang, her crinkled hand clutching her granddaughter’s small porcelain hand for cruel but dear life.
Some people have the tendency to sweep issues under a rug and not address them. The mess is hidden where it can’t be seen and the past piles up. Eventually some people trip over the mountain they made of mere dust turned to mounds under the carpet. Only a tiny bit of Sylvia’s grandma, like the tip of an iceberg, was above the surface and an iceberg is cold. Gems like frozen water dripped around her body in the hard impenetrable form of diamonds. One was never to be found unadorned by earrings, bracelets, necklaces, sparkly things and rings. She raised her daughter and granddaughter to always be the decorative element in any room. Harriet, to all who knew her, represented perfect union, balance and life. Sylvia’s grandma was always “the life of the party,” they would say but Sylvia kept most of her self like her fine jewels locked up in a vault. Harriet and her husband were held up as an example of how a marriage should be and gave all of Sylvia’s friends hope. Though divorce can occur (especially following nesting failure) swans tend to mate for life and Sylvia’s grandma was no exception. Harriet and her husband behaved like giddy teenagers till the day she died. They were monogamous when it was vogue in their society to swing. They didn’t have affairs. There were no illicit lovers to speak of. This much was true. Harriet and her husband had made friends with fidelity.
Some people hate on what they don’t have. Harriet’s friends flaunted themselves at her husband, offering him things (according to their argument) he didn’t have. He had found everything he ever wanted or needed in Sylvia’s grandma (so he would say). Since the very first time he set his eyes on her (Harriet’s husband would profess) he knew he would follow through. Up until the day he had met Harriet (legend has it) he was a cad. Sylvia didn’t know that man. She only knew the man who followed her grandma around like a loyal loving comrade. A man who looked after the grandchildren while his queen had her beauty rest in the afternoon, calming their childish qualms with chewy caramels. By the time Sylvia’s mother, Marguerite had come into the world―strutting out like a star, selfish but sparkling―he was a man who took out the garbage, brought his wife breakfast in bed and always kissed her like they did in the romance movies Marguerite, his dotted upon daughter, would watch with her mother, curled up in silk sheets, the smell of lavender sauntering up their nostrils. Harriet’s husband was infatuated, dedicated and treasured his wife above all and anything but when a swan dies or is killed by a predator, the remaining mate will take up with another and Sylvia’s grandfather was no exception.
Some people are succubae, feeding off others in order to shine, a star furiously burning fuel to twinkle, consuming, till depleted, people in their presence, not caring what stellar gas in their atmosphere they use up, until their victim has no energy left and ends up a vacuous black hole. Sylvia was shocked when her grandma, gripping her granddaughter’s hand, propped in lacy cream-coloured pillows, china cups covered in pink roses, a plate lined with dainty flowers and coconut vanilla macaroons pilled high, placed on her vanity for deathbed guests to take tea (dying is no excuse to be a poor hostess, visitors must be greeted graciously) said some things one is not accustomed to hearing their grandma say. Especially this grandma! Harriet was not known to curse nor be catty (but swans are known to aggressively protect their nests. One man was suspected to have drowned in such an attack). As the story sank in Sylvia stared at a small shrubbery, a bunch of scrambling wild roses―briars―pretty and prickly like Sylvia herself, next to a fragrant thorny myrrh tree covered in sharp daggers (its aromatic resin, the most exquisite perfume) out her grandmother’s window.
Some people shift professions during their lifetime. Harriet’s husband began his career in politics at an exceptionally early age before transitioning to finance after he met her (A past Harriet would keep secret from her daughter Marguerite and granddaughter Sylvia for some years to come). The names we smudge as we propel (fast motion, a blur) to our futures, turning pages as I fill them like the things we accrue as we set up home, our roots into the ground and objects upon objects. The time one wakes up and finds a palace attached to their house and the palace is the past. When the past is bigger than the future and memories come back: weird feelings. An odd déjà vu, a recollection we can almost touch but can’t. It is just lingering there, intangible and ephemeral like finding an old deodorant and smelling it and remembering something you can’t define. Maraschino cherries attempting class in a non-classy fashion in vodka mixed drinks; the feeling of cold metal against thighs; the sensation of having a heart that became a hole.