A Key To The Heart

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

The last thing she believed was that her great-grandmother’s words had been literal.

The old woman was prone to tall tales, lore and fairies, rumors and gossip, odd potions and odder notions. There were always layers of meaning. Lessons. Some ancient moral to decipher. A hidden understanding.

As a young child, Patricia was fascinated by Gramma Gee. She would spend hours dreaming about the meaning of the words of mystery from the wizened woman who had more wrinkles than skin and whose spine bent halfway parallel to the ground.

But by the time she turned an adolescent, Patricia found the elder’s cryptic talk to be boring, dated, and annoying. She only went to visit to assuage her mother’s guilt, and even then did so without enthusiasm and for the briefest stay.

When Mom died at the end of a long illness while Gramma Gee continued living, Patricia — then a college student — stopped visiting altogether. She’d convinced herself that the old woman in the cheerless room in the old people’s home was senile and would not know the difference, but in her heart’s heart she knew that she was angry. Every day the ancient lived felt like one stolen from her mother.

Patricia wondered if her mom had felt that way after Nana died. The sudden death that bled Nana’s life into her brain had left Mom bereft and lonely. Patricia was not quite four years old at the time.

It did not seem fair. Two holes bracketed by a woman so old there could not have been a good enough reason for her to still live.

Then, on Patricia’s twenty-sixth birthday, Gramma Gee breathed her last. She’d just turned ninety-five.

She left Patricia everything: Two tattered suitcases of documents, moth-eaten blankets in a trunk that could have come out of a horror movie, a box of knickknacks, and a four-leaf clover key wrapped in a piece of leather in the shape of a heart.

“There is a key to the heart, and you can use it.”

Patricia had heard Gramma Gee say this phrase more times than she cared to remember. She’d thought it romantic at some point, then irritating.

But was it more than an expression? And if so, a key to what?

The attorney who was the executor of Gramma Gee’s meager estate was no help. A harried man with droopy spectacles and droopier hair, he had not much to tell her. “It could be in the documents,” he said, nicotine-stained fingers fidgeting for her to sign the papers on his desk and let him go handle some other oldster’s odds and ends. “I believe there’s a deed among the documents. To some house in the old country. I don’t expect it to still be standing. Most are not.”

It was mostly not.

But a section was, and part of a stair sticking out of broken walls. And the owner of the bed and breakfast nearby had a small tractor and a strong son he could lend. When they cleared away the rotten beams and tumbled stones and mounds of weeds, there was an intact part of ancient wall revealed, and more steps.

And at the end of those, a closed door. Set with a heart-shaped lock.

She had the key.

And she could use it.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto challenge

 

Flecked History

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Photo: M.Bin HMQ; Wadi ad-Dawasir, Saudi Arabia

 

“He is an infidel,” Abdul grumbled about his employer. “Ad-Dawasir history shouldn’t be fouled by non-believers.”

“So were your ancient ancestors,” Umm Habib noted, her fingers flying as she shaped the dough with the practiced moves of innumerable meals prepared.

The adolescent startled. Such accusation would’ve necessitated a fist-fight if it hadn’t come from his grandmother.

“Many Taghlibi remained Christians well after The Prophet came,” the old woman’s face remained placid. She didn’t need to look up to sense the anger flashing in the boy’s hereditarily flecked eyes. But youngsters’ dark moods and opinions were like moving water. Truth remained.

She plucked freshly baked bread from the earthen oven with bare fingers, tips hardened by life’s constant flames. “That history is long passed, but it bears remembering some of our ancestors even fought against Muslim, and many stayed Christian …” she paused, considering. “Before finally embracing The Prophet’s teachings and Islam.”

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Wadi-ad-Dawasir, Saudi Arabia

 

 

Sentry Sign

 

“Can you believe this weather? The sun is …” she stopped cold, her jaw frozen in mid-sentence. Her heart thundered, threatening to escape the confines of her chest.

“Mauve?”

Eric’s voice sounded as if filtered through molasses. Someplace in her stunned mind she noted to herself that she finally understood why cartoonists slurred speech and movement into agonizing slow-motion during moments of high-drama. It was as if the world itself spun differently. Time simultaneously lingered and lost all definition.

Her finger labored against a suddenly-too-heavy gravity. She pointed at the gravestone.

“The swirls,” she managed, her tongue was a parched brick in a desert.

She forced herself to breathe and swallow. Paradoxically the motion released some moisture back into her arid mouth.

“It is the mark of my ancestors,” she whispered. “A sacred, secret, rarely-used Sentry Sign. I’d only seen it once. I didn’t even know they’d been to this land.”

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

 

 

What Could Not Be Untold

 

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Golden Gate Highlands National Park, South Africa (Photo: redcharlie on Unsplash)

 

“Is that where we’re going?” the boy pointed at the road snaking below. He squinted, hoping to see a car. They’ve walked long. He was tired.

“There,” his father’s finger angled higher, at the cliff. Beyond.

The boy scrunched his lips but kept quiet. Time with his ntate oa was precious. Also, at eight, he did not want to be seen as a baby who should’ve been left home with the women.

The father nodded approval. His son was growing to be obedient and mindful. It was good.

“What’s there?” the boy adjusted the Basotho blanket over his shoulder. He hadn’t been  happy to be told to bring it earlier, but was now that the sun hid.

“Rocks. Earth. Bones. Your ancestors’ homes.”

Khotso nodded. His father was a man of few words, and Khotso knew he was being trusted to understand the power of what could not be untold.

 

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Free State, South Africa

 

 

A Long Walk

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Aosta Valley, Italy (Carl Borg on Unsplash)

 

It had been a misty sunrise. The light rode soft atop the milky white outside.

He thought it was an omen and that she ought to stay in. “You won’t see where you’re going,” he fretted.

She told him the mist would clear. She could read it in the air. She could smell it in the tang of pine. She readied her day-bag and rushed through her chores.

Still he fussed. “What if not?”

She understood. She also knew he hadn’t grown up in these mountains. His roots did not go deep into this land, while her family traced their ancestry to the Ligures. Her people lived in these environs even before the Celts had arrived.

He feared what she did not.

In more ways than one, she realized.

It was another reason that she needed to take a long walk. Exactly so she could see where she was going.

 

 

 

For What Pegman saw: Aosta Valley, Italy

 

 

The Farm

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Photo: Weston MacKinnon on Unsplash; Saskatchewan, Canada

 

“Look Papa!” the boy’s voice rose in excitement.

“I see,” the man replied. His deep voice resonated in the small space.

“You didn’t even move your head,” the young eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“I did not need to.”

The child exhaled and shook his head and the movement reminded the man of a yearling. Impatiently straining at the edge of youth, eager to race headlong into life.

The man eased the pressure on the pedal and moved his foot to the other, stopping the car.

“I am looking now,” he smiled. “Thank you, Son.”

The boy’s eyebrows rose but he asked nothing. They watched the buffalo together, the sun and field and beasts a golden-brown.

“Is this their farm?” the boy finally asked.

“It is their home,” the man replied. “The farm came to live on it.”

The boy nodded, his ancestors evident in his soulful eyes. “They are like us.”

 

 

 

For What Pegman Saw

 

 

Land Of Water

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Photo: Guyana, by Joshua Gobin on Unsplash

 

“Have we always been here?”

“‘Always’ is a long-winded word,” Papa’s melodic voice told me a story was coming. “Some people lived here before our ancestors. Some had come after we’d already been here. The land and the water were here before any humans had come. The word ‘always’ does not mean one thing.”

“Moses said we’re not from here. That we were brought here as slaves.”

“Are you a slave?”

“No, Papa.”

“Are you here?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“You and I are Guyana born. Have you worked this land, swam in the Essequibo, witnessed Kiaeteur Falls, walked the savanna, ate manioc?”

“I have.”

“So you have your answer, Son. We’re all children of land and water. All born of wombs filled with water, all depend on water, and will one day become rain and go over the falls. Your ancestors got here. You’re here. Where else would you be from?”

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Guyana, South America

 

 

They Live In You

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Luanda, Angola; by Jorje sa Pinheiro

 

“Why is the top of that mountain rusty?” he asked.

His grandmother’s hand tightened gently around his wrist, then released it, almost in apology.

“For your ancestors,” she said.

He looked at her, uncomprehending. She had a way of speaking without saying everything she meant or with saying more than she meant and then cloaking it so it was still a tangle of implied meanings. He didn’t always know which it was. Or both. Her lined face was held up in what looked more like grief than awe.

“Grandma?” he asked.

“This rust is the mountain holding up the iron bled by your great-grandfather’s chains and the chains of those before him, and before, so many generations that the rust of those shackles rose up. It is the blood of the mountain and like the blood in your veins, it is them. They live in it. They live in you.

 

 

 

For the What Pegman Saw challenge: Angola

 

Perpetuity

a channel of water flowing out to sea, with the sun reflecting on the water.

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

“You know,” she said, “this will be home.”

I looked around. Marsh and bog and semi-dry patches that high tide or rain were sure to turn completely water logged. It looked a misery.

“It will, too,” she added, even though I hadn’t said a word. She always knew to read my body’s thoughts, even when I voiced no words and moved not a muscle.

Some days it made me hate her. For my utter lack of privacy.

Other days I felt indebted beyond measure for not having to find ways to explain when words had never been accessible enough to match my thoughts with meaning. And for being seen by her when no one else seemed able to or cared to try.

“Wanna know how?” Fiona pushed a heavy lock of hair off of her eye and I knew then that she already had a plan, and that the plan was sounder than the muddy ground we stood on. I knew that gesture, that flowing move of clear-eyed determination that carried with it more than just a touch of crazy. For neither one of us was sane, but Fiona was nuts enough to get us out of scrapes I did not see a way out of. Somehow my sister, younger by three minutes and wiser by ten decades, thought ahead in moves others did not appear capable of anticipating. It had saved us, more than once, of certain death.

She was about to do so now.

“How?” I asked, though I knew she didn’t need me to.

“Stilts.”

She yanked a twig out of the soggy ground and scratched a diagram into the patch of godforsaken earth in the end of nowhere anybody, that an hour earlier I did not know existed, let alone that it belonged to us by ancestry through crumbling deeds that no one since an ancient relative had made use or taken any heed of.

“They thought the place too wet,” my sister noted as the outline of an elevated house rose like a phoenix from the lines she etched into the dirt. “But not Friar Felix. He saw the same potential that I see. The fish and clams and seaweed. The crabs. The cattails by the spring that makes the stream that gurgles out to the sea. A place to be.”

She glanced up at me and the hazel in her eyes reflected the sun’s rays along with something far older. Like a memory not of hers that nonetheless also held on to our own desperate need for belonging.

“I don’t know if he knew, Finley, but Friar Felix had bequeathed the deed to this land to his sister’s children, and to their children’s children in perpetuity.”

My sister turned her gaze onto the water and her voice dropped to a whisper in the wind.

“We are those children’s children’s children, Finley. This is our home. It will be home. You’ll see.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge