As I walk home, I see the back of a picture frame by one of the windows on the second floor. I imagine a lifetime kept in a couple of drawers, someone’s slippers carefully placed under the bed, the folded duvet — I can’t think of the colour. We never know how far far is until we are there. I walk home carrying my backpack and a shopping bag. I have just popped into the supermarket after dropping my son at school. Inside this backpack which I carry with me everywhere, I keep my wallet, the house keys, a pocket kite, and an emergency umbrella.
Most days I’ll buy a treat on my way to pick him up — you know the way children are always ravenous after school. This week it will be a gingerbread man. I am walking home, and this small town has become my ‘hometown’ now, no matter how far it feels. The years, the ocean, it all contributes to this inconclusive equation. It’s my own private epic, this invisible saga where all I have is what’s in me, not what I carry. And what I hold in my arms and tend to on a daily basis is an extension of my seeking; it’s the reward for not staying. It is a strange set up to be born to leave, but that’s how I see it now, our birth being the first departure.
When I was younger I often though of Laika. But it was only when I finally moved to this country at the age of twenty-two that I felt an even deeper connection to her journey; the bewildering clash between innocence and adventure. It became some sort of amusing allegory during my early days as a foreigner, back when I was unfazed by the distance.
I am home now writing this. There’s a pile of laundry on top of the drying rack, waiting. This morning there were doves by the empty bird feeder, waiting. And then some time after that, my son stood by the door with his raincoat on, holding his water bottle and book bag, waiting. We rushed past the puddles born out of the rain that fell overnight, and he ran towards the falling leaves, trying to catch them.
On the way back as I walked past the nursing home. I noticed the picture frame with its back to the road, and next to it, a glass vase with artificial flowers.
He was sat on a bench as she clutched her bag. They were strangers then. She asked him if he knew the time, he said it did not matter, “this is where we are now”. His name is John and her name is Mary. Years later, a week or so before their daughter’s wedding, John finally tells Mary that that was a lie, that it does matter. Mary does not understand what he means, and so she hugs him, thinking this is about their little girl being all grown up now; about the young couple’s big move abroad.
Mary offers John a coffee but he says nothing. He stands by the window, looking into the distance. “What is there?”, Mary jokes as she hands him the coffee anyway, the steam rising from the cup like a lone feather. And John says, “all these years and I never wanted to think of this, of how this time would come, and how we would find ourselves alone again, almost like strangers.” Mary immediately stops in her tracks as she handed out the cup which John did not see. She begrudges the sign: no one could ever cling to a feather. For a moment Mary considers telling John about the broken pane, and how that particular window is long overdue to be replaced. And the tree which they both can see from where they stand should have been trimmed last autumn, and so they’ll have to wait until November, after the first hard frost. Yes, deadheading and pruning should take place every year after the first frost.
She gathers enough strength to ask him, “how do you mean, ‘almost strangers’?”. John says he wants to book a ticket, he does not know where to; and that he would like to travel and see how far he could go before he came back again. Back again. Mary grabs hold of his words almost the same way she had clutched her handbag all those years ago, when she first laid eyes on him, and asked him the time. She brings the cup to her lips and takes a sip of John’s sugarless coffee, fallen leaves look a lot like feathers, she thought.
Luciana Francis is a Brazilian-born, UK-based writer of poetry and fiction. She holds a BA (Hons) degree in Anthropology and Media from Goldsmiths, University of London. Her work appears in various publications in Brazil, the UK, and the US, including Popshot Magazine, Literary Mama, Minerva Rising, amongst others; her poetry is forthcoming in two anthologies as well as in the print issue of Confingo Magazine. More recently her micro-fiction has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize and Best Short Fiction Awards.