I live in a new city now, far from where I took my first breaths and you took your last. I spend a majority of my time within crisp new walls, one slanted wall made of cement. This wall is the lifeblood of the room, it radiates the outside temperature through its’ hollow structure. In the wintertime, when I place my hand against the rough slab, it sends chills up my spine. The others are formed with plaster, their craftsmanship more refined than the latter. The bed is slid tactfully in the corner to save space for the minimal furniture that weighs on the hardwood. The panels beneath my feet are slightly scuffed from the soles of random visitors.
When I sleep within these crisp new walls, I dream of the walls where you spent your later years and the stark differences from the place where I currently reside. I walk up the jagged concrete steps, weeds writhing upward from every crack that welcomes in the sunlight. As I enter, I’m greeted with the stench of smoke from cigarettes that my father would smuggle inside for you without anyone knowing but us three. My grandmother, your daughter, was always on your case about cigarettes. I promised you that I wouldn’t tell her each time you brought out your lighter and ignited the flame. I never told. I become aware of the walls and their deep texture. These walls aren’t crisp, they speak loudly, covered in the yellow tinge that the smoke brings. I can see your sly smile while you explain to me that it only adds character.
I go out of my way to experience that smell in the new city. Others bring out their lighter and ignite the flame but it doesn’t hold the same significance, it doesn’t tip the scale in favor of recognition. I search for signs that point me in the direction of something more vivid than a photo. I try my hardest to keep you alive in my mind but it seems as though the textured walls take up more of my memory than you do.
And then I sleep again. I dream of the hushed tone that my mother uses to describe the wholesomeness of the grieving process as we drive to the viewing. As I climb up the steps to the funeral home, the rust that clings loosely to the metal pole creates a graft on my hands. I wipe them across my dress with little concern for any smudging. Even at this age I am aware of the fact that black hides everything, masks imperfection and emotion. My eyes stay downcast but in sleep I can still feel a lump form in my throat. I am afraid to look up, and I hear my mother’s hushed tone again. Death is inevitable and grief is wholesome. This is the mantra that plays in my mind like a broken record for the course of my slumber.
As I sleep, you appear in the city of crisp new walls. The tea lights that stay plugged in throughout the night dangle from the ceiling and snake their way down the walls, allowing the resemblance of ember to dance across your form. I know that I am asleep but you are here and you seem more real now than you did in life. You do not speak but I do not mind because the sound of your voice can’t begin to match the unspoken bond that was shared between those textured walls, the bond that is now shared within crisp new walls. It is here in a new city where I understand that grief can be wholesome. It can be wrapped in the warmth of a dream and the clarity of a vision. Within crisp new walls I find peace.
© 2019 Ellei Kay
Noel Penaflor from California on May 15, 2019: