Emotion: to drink legally in the UK, and too

Emotion: introspective/ reflective, quiet solitude, nostalgicThe hospital room was a silent one, the constant murmur of parents’ tears, reassurance, rattling bedpans, and the dependable beat of the heart rate monitor that eddied around my grandfather’s prone frame, now faded to a dull echo. His magnificent silver crown of hair cushioned his head and elevated a man I knew to be all at once, godly, and so human.I meandered outside the hospital, hands in pockets, and took a breath of the steamy air. As the clouds lowered their shoulders to brace against the descending sun, a warm breeze’s humid body slid along my skin, gently lifting the hem of my dress to curl around my waist and encourage the tension to release along my spine. I close my eyes and picture our last trip to England together, through his eyes.*******At the pub on Clapham Junction, you guzzle Coopers ale while Milly uploads photos to Instagram. “England trip with Grandad”, she’s called them, and she tags you in each post:”Tried to leave the Muggles behind, but I’m stuck with you snitches #potterhead, Pops @Heathrow trying on a Kate Middleton fascinator!”In one hand, she cradles her cellphone, and in the other, a slender glass that brims with Tignanello, which you’ve learned is French for fancy wine. After each taste, the rim of the glass bears a whorled pattern. Seventeen, your granddaughter — not technically old enough to drink legally in the UK, and too young for everything else. She’s heading to University in Melbourne, and had planned this trip with her boyfriend of two years, a last hurrah for schoolies. Then he broke up with her out of nowhere; his eyes bigger than his own charisma, and set on University girls. Tough as nails, your granddaughter, but you know what to look for: you see the way she tears at her thumbnail with her teeth. Milly drops the phone to the side of the table, as if forcibly reminding herself to stay present. A two inch silvery line scores just above the elbow she leans on the table, where, in Year 9, she intercepted a goal by throwing herself in front of the netball. The doctor said you could cut the stitches through at home, so while she sat on a barstool, you pinched the first thread with your tweezers. She told you not to make her less attractive. You said, “well, there’s not much worse you could get”. Without missing a beat, she returns the ball with a terrific backhand, “you’re funny- you got me in stitches.” *******Now, in the pub, you drink two ale’s for every flute of Milly’s tig, until both of your cheeks’ are flushed pink. Your head swims with the worries that you never lose: Have you been a good grandfather? How have you still, nothing to say about the grief of losing someone? After being cruelly dismissed by her ex, Milly went alone to the Federation Cliffs, eighty meters in the air. The Pacific Ocean below has a riptide, and those that have survived the leap, recount a desperate aqueous grapple. You found her a few meters from the edge. I wasn’t going to jump Pops, she said, and you believed her. I just wanted to see the ocean from higher up.Rock music drones overhead, and Milly goofily plays a pantomime riff on the guitar when the chorus hits. You laugh, sit back, and are in your comfort zone. The room fills with wicker thin University students on summer holidays, bronzed from days in Ibiza. Milly’s gaze dances along the newcomers, and lingers on one, and you hide a secret grin.******Back along the cliffs, when you found her, you didn’t leave. You both listened to each other, filling your lungs slowly and deliberately, letting the steamy air dance across your lips and tongue. Both of you fix your eyes into the the mirrored sky and ocean before us. Elderly walking groups criss cross along the mounted cliff paths. Your phone vibrates. Things’ll be okay again, you told her. How would you know? She asked. Under the amber light you saw her tears, the exhaustion gathered in the strands of her flyaways and the folds of her white t-shirt. As you gaze, you become unstuck in time. The sounds of the ocean become the static of a CD after you lost your first job, sitting numbly in your Holden EJ. The honey of her hair becomes the spilled amber liquid of Barb’s medication, out of your shaking hands and into the sink. Answers come to you, as ephemeral as a butterfly’s wing, and for an instant you know the answers to her questions, beyond the cliches. But as you knew would happen too, the thought flies away, only a beautiful streak of colour dancing into the horizon. You instead reach around her shoulders, your arm, a bulwark that allows for her moment. Even now, as she pulls on your shirt sleeve, drawing your attention to the next stop- Big Brother, at night!- you feel something, an ache, a throb, an impulse towards protection, and then an equal, opposing one to let her shatter, and rebuild. There are infinite moments in your mind’s eye- the Tignanello, the stiches, the Pacific Ocean, the amber liquid, the honey of Milly’s hair. You see your whole life behind you, and glimpse the the endless life in front of her. You see her gaze at the young man and wink; you see his future with your granddaughter, and her laughing, crying, as she heads to England to be with him. You see her daughter, her humor with them; you see your death, a missed phone call. There is only the now. And this now, in a bar in London, when Milly cracks a joke with the University student that makes him laugh and his eyes twinkle, and you want to tell her that things will be okay again, because for an instant- you just know.*******I open my eyes, look up from the gray sidewalk, and remember, things will be okay again.


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