The old lady sits and stares, rheumy eyed, out of the net-laden window. Her dining chair is pulled tightly up to the lace covered table on which she and her husband used to eat dinner together, laughing or crying over their daily tales. She watches the world go by, although the scene behind her eyes is something quite different. It’s the scene of her memories, of loves lost and adventures won, of friends and lovers and yes, even the odd enemy or two. She remembers, and she smiles, for nostalgia is always tinged with joy, despite the pain she may feel inside.
Her hair is tied into two long braids, one resting on each shoulder and running down her body, stopping just above her belly button. This is the way she has always worn her hair, although it never used to be so grey or so fragile. It flies away now, dancing around her head but before, it was smooth and straight and silky. Gone is the bright blonde, and gone are the pretty little bows that mother favoured, gone too are the days that she hated them, for the style has remained and it’s here to stay. So are the memories.
On the table-top sits a bowl of ripe gooseberries: green and plump and juicy. As she watches the world go by and as she replays the memories behind her eyes, she pops them into her mouth absentmindedly, biting down and letting the sweet liquid explode in her mouth. Occasionally some dribbles down her chin as her mouth is overloaded with sensation, and occasionally she wipes it away – although occasionally not. Sometimes the memories are just too much.
The room is quiet but for the ticking of the grand old grandfather clock in the corner, the one that used to belong to her grandfather and will one-day belong to her grandson. There is a small television in the corner, although it’s rarely used. The carpet is swirled with a heavy pattern – good for hiding the dirt, she’d told her husband when they bought it all those many years ago. The armchairs too are patterned, raised onto little plastic feet to make it easier for Joyce to get in and out of them, so the occupational therapist tells her, although the sagging seats don’t help.
And on the floor sits a young girl, a girl much like Joyce was, once-upon-a-time. A girl with bright blonde braids, one hanging over each shoulder, adorned with pretty little bows on the end – the bows that her mother favours. She sits cross-legged and hugs her knees as she looks up and silently watches her grandmother, as her grandmother watches her memories. She wonders, this little girl, what it is her grandmother dreams of, and how she herself can get in on the action. She craves adventure, just as the young Joyce once did.
“Nan, why do you like gooseberries so much?” she asks gently, as though frightened of interrupting her grandmother’s reverie.
“I’m looking for the magic one of course,” she replies, popping another gooseberry into her mouth, still staring out of the window and at her memories.
“The magic one?” The girl is surprised, as is clear on her face, but still she doesn’t move from her spot on the floor. She cherishes these moments with her grandmother, even if not much happens. “There’s a magic one?”
Joyce turns suddenly to face the child and realises what she’s said, what she’s accidentally let slip. “Oh gosh no, child, don’t listen to me! I’m just a silly old woman who’s going a bit batty, is all.” She has been warned by the child’s mother, Joyce’s daughter, not to tell tales to the girl, no matter how much Joyce believes in them, because the girl is easily influenced, easily encouraged. So Joyce denies all that she knows, and pretends that she is a crazy old lady, all for the benefit of the daughter whom she loves, the daughter whom she once failed, the daughter whom she promises never to fail again.
Joyce hasn’t gone batty though, and the child knows it. All she needs to do now is discover what the magic gooseberry is, and who can fetch it for her.
Read part one of The Rainwitch series here.