Poetry is an activity on the side of life, they say.
It was the typical ‘family’ occasion. This meant indeterminate hours seated in the pre-polished room hoping for the mercy of easy-enough conversation. That typically was not the case though. She watched her mother attempting that long effort called ‘engagement’ – offering coffee and an array of biscuits which were all really slightly differing shades of beige. The particular thing is that people paused before selecting them, as if it was almost ‘exciting’. It was almost like the canopy suspended above the baby’s head, offering soft colour and shapes at which to flail a limb or two. The artificial fire kept the room an ambient temperature. Everyone was smiling.
Even Abigail had rouged just below her cheeks so that when she assumed a smile her face would look ‘a picture of health’ as her grandmother said. To complete the ‘picture’ she had pulled back her hair tight with pins even though they dragged against the scalp and had covered the eye-pits over with what felt like a layer of filler. She felt like had almost bruised her face by rubbing so hard, so desperately. It was like her face was determined to drain colour; and she had piled on layer after layer of liquid that morning in front of the mirror,
The ‘family occasion’ had now assumed the stage when people were attempting to conceal their unspoken but awning distances from each other by nursing their mouths with slightly overbrewed tea. The bitterness gave an excuse for any untoward expression.
“This is nice,” Her grandmother trilled, to which several heads hastily, gratefully nodded. It was as if they were an assembly of actors waiting for ques. An auntie was next.
“I’ve heard you’ve not been feeling too well recently, Rita.”
They provided sufficient prompt for the swivel of a number of pairs of eyes and a gaggle of noise which allowed Abigail the time to examine the object in her hand. She wasn’t holding a cup of tea like the rest, for she had already downed hers minutes before, when the liquid still singed the back of the throat.
Instead she held a hand. She squinted through its yellowing surface, curling up at the sides of the nails like old paper. In fat, the nails seemed like the original, slightly milky surface which the skin had swamped over. The veins appeared like slowly guttering spools of ink, and she traced a notably thicker one with an unfeeling forefinger; it seemed it followed direction rather than actually felt anything.
The conversation had reached the level at which it was deemed appropriate to taper off about illness and collapse into laughter. It started on the word “Still” – Abigail’s mother seeming to spill forth a noise like bubbling vowels. It was met with others like the wings quickly buffet in a flock of seagulls. A hahahahah adadadada hhaeharahaar.
She felt the hand in hers squeeze down, slightly clammy, though with the pressure of touch or exertion she could not tell. She looked at her granddad, to whom the hand belonged it was strange to think that they were presumably joined, at such a proximity, by blood. Felt nothing, although anticipated the liquid lurch of her internals, yet only the long slow itch of a niece’s knitted jumper against the bare flesh of her arms. Her granddad’s hand was still in hers and her feet wrapped in a pair of socks her mother had insisted her to wear, the clips had been leant by her grandmother still digging, digging in her hair, her mouth ached as of for speech, still coated with her uncle’s attempt at tea. She couldn’t move for the badly chosen, charity-shop jeans and the well-thumbed newspaper over her knee.
It was hard wondering what she was amidst all of this. Almost easier, instead, to seize the adjacent coffee cup ‘belonging’ to her aunt, that may well have been enough to cause dispute in itself, perhaps she would take it one step further, would watch how the coffee edged against the lips of the cup of she would twist it in her free left hand, spill the contents over her lap. She would be met with the adjectives ‘clumsy’ and ‘careless’ even as the liquid would singe into her skin and she would passionately care about that, those proclaiming inspirational minutes. The minutes in which she was not only witness but caught in some beautiful way.
She wondered why she felt so distant from the hand in hers.
She never noticed the silence and then
“You don’t look yourself today, Abigail.”
And she came forth with her usual confession that she wasn’t Abigail but