© Copyright 2020 by Laura Labno
She opened the door and there she was. Somewhere in between a blurred eyes-made picture from 8 years earlier and this very moment, registered by the very same eyes. There she was.
Almost unrecognisable, except
The eyes. Body as if shrunken and swollen, face wrinkled like elephant’s skin. Just the wood-brown eyes stayed somehow the same. Very similar to her own eyes. Yes, she could recognise the eyes… And yet, not quite so.
What was this… peace? Something was lacking. Fire. She remembered woods on fire and deer racing and racing and…
now there was no fire, no racing deer, no one was racing, nothing.
Although, there was some light in there. Light of joy and contentment. Disbelief, perhaps?
“My child came!” – Said the old women. Ursula. Her voice, hoarse from years of smoking, seemed somehow childish. It was a granny-like voice. Childish as it was the Sixth Stage of Man. The stage of regression.
In this moment Lisa knew she did the right thing. She had doubts, so many doubts. They were writhing in her mind like raging snakes all the way to this god forsaken place. It was her fear of seeing what she saw so many times as a child. Fire and racing deer in the woods. Racing words falling out of her mouth like rocks from a canyon. One by one, destroying everything on their way.
But now there was this unrecognisable something in her whole persona.
Peace. Joy. Sanity?
“My child came!”
The room was a little messy and so was Lisa’s smile, with a pinch of uncertain awkwardness in it. A fast hug, fast heartbeat. Ursula’s moves were messy, mirroring Lisa’s smile. Every single one of them seemed to be driven by some uncontrollable energy. Buried motherhood. She was so small and cute. Such a granny, Lisa didn’t expect it. Her dad was much older and still preserved a lot of his youthful appearance. It was just a matter of genes, of course.
Lisa’s mum introduced her to her flatmate, another older woman, a good friend of hers apparently. Showed her the place – an untidy bed, a little bathroom, a small table with a dirty mug and appliances for making cigarettes resting on it. Ursula was speaking fast, excitingly. One question after another was falling out of her mouth quickly, hastily, desperately. Not like rocks from a canyon anymore. Like something else, something impatient, not quite mature. Sometimes she would let Lisa finish answering and sometimes she wouldn’t be able to wait. She smoke one cigarette after another, one after another… It was the emotions, of course.
But, at the same time, she seemed so normal, so sane. This realisation was striking Lisa with a sensation of an indefinite quality. The memories of her which she possessed were not aligning with it.
“I brought you a little present” – Remembered Lisa.
Ursula’s face illuminated pure joy. Lisa didn’t suppose she had many visitors. She didn’t suppose she was getting gifts from anyone either.
It wasn’t anything special, Lisa couldn’t afford anything special. A small giftbag she brought with her contained chocolates, a pot of flowers ready for planting and a book she’s written and published some 4 years earlier, when she was about 15.
She remembered that her mum loved flowers but mentioned once that giving flowers as a gift made no sense unless someone could plant them in a garden or keep them in a pot to grow. There was no joy in getting flowers and looking at them die.
But the book. The book was the treasure…
“Oh yes, I’ve heard, they told me you published a book… “- She said quietly, touching it gently, with her eyes shining. It was all in her eyes, the whole quality of her being was in her eyes. So expressive, so vivid. And suddenly, sadness?
It wasn’t a good book. It was something what a lot of moderately talented and persistent 15 years old fantasy lovers could probably write. It wasn’t original and so Lisa wasn’t proud of it at all. But she was happy it made Ursula proud of her.
Ursula also wanted to write a book. Lisa remembered a dirty table, full of unwashed dishes, and Ursula sitting and scribbling things on pieces of paper. But it couldn’t work. Rain in moderation brings life but too much rain can bring only flood. And what can be born out of a flood, really?
It was always somehow too much.
I always wanted to publish a book, you know, Lisa – The tone of Ursula’s voice was filled with a mixture of feelings which made Lisa remain still and careful. As if the smallest move of her body, or sound of her voice, or even her breath, could make Ursula’s voice fall apart in a fashion of a china plate dropped on the floor. Then, it would only be crushed and she would need to glue it, and glue and glue but the pieces wouldn’t fit and it all wouldn’t make any sense, again… – When I was a student, I even bought a typewriter, that was the first time when I tried. My friend was laughing at me. I wrote one page, read what I wrote and didn’t like it. And that was it. One page.
“Do you remember… the first sentence? The start of your book?” – Asked Lisa quietly.
Ursula’s face conveyed absentminded smile. For a second or two before it disappeared, it made her look almost youthful. And then reluctance shifted through her face slowly, like a shadow of a wounded animal.
“Ehh, it doesn’t matter now” – She said forcing a weak smile and looking down.
Lisa insisted. She wanted to know. It mattered to her. So, Ursula finally said, as if talking of something what couldn’t possibly have any real importance.
- “I wrote something like – She sighed – “Violetta was sitting on a window sill looking at a flowery carpet lining the floor of her room.”
Lisa looked at her amazed. This short description resembled quite well the beginning of her own book – “A boy named Danny was sitting on a window sill, looking at his room”. She felt tempted to point it out but she held it in. She would let her discover that on her own, in solitude. That’s how she would like to discover it herself.
As it was a sunny day, they soon went outside. The Social Welfare house’s garden was pleasant. Reminded Lisa of a church garden where she used to go sometimes as a child and pretend that it was like the garden from Bunett’s novel.
“And so I am very happy here, darling – Ursula kept repeating. She sounded surprisingly honest and, in fact, Lisa sensed honesty radiating from her words – I’ve decided to leave… because I thought it would be for the best. My mum… she was always destroying everything for me. I didn’t want to do the same to you. You see, for instance … I would never let you go alone abroad at such a young age – She was explaining herself and her granny-like face and granny-like voice somehow didn’t fit in to the picture painted by her words – I would rather tear your passport apart. And then you would never do all those things, you would never write me that letter, saying you were so happy.”
Lisa remembered that letter very well. She wrote it during the first year of her studies, when everything she looked at still seemed to glow with a kind of magic. When her university town felt like a promised utopia. The memory of that time had such a strange, dream-like quality. Only later she was bound to learn that utopias didn’t exist. And there was no such place as home because wherever one went, and however long one stayed there, it was always going to be just a temporary residency. Calling places homes was merely a part of a game which humans came up with to entertain and distract themselves during this short residency period. A part of a game and a game of its own, among many others. It was all like a child’s play. It fascinated Lisa that humans made it all feel so important. But, after all, and don’t children always think that their games are very important?
“And yet, undeniably” – Lisa thought to herself –“ it is the games that make them happy. So perhaps it is all for the best?”
Without any doubt, Lisa was much happier back then, when she was still so immersed in that game. Whereas later… things just changed. Her awareness somehow expanded and even though she wasn’t completely out of the game just yet, she knew that all the cultures, traditions, institutions and, well, ideas such as that of a “home” were nothing more than that. She still played those games but having this awareness took away a lot of the joy they used to give her.
She didn’t hold any grudge for the fact that Ursula has left - Stopped keeping in touch. In fact, she always preferred it that way. It saved her a lot of the fear she’s experienced as a child. Her unpredictability was always keeping her alert, making her wonder when Ursula would appear again and embarrass her in front of other people. But then she vanished and there was no more fear.
“I’m so happy to be here and have people to talk to “ – Ursula kept repeating – “At one point it was very bad when I was alone at home. I talked to myself, Lisa, to myself – She emphasised the last words in a way which made them sound even more dreadful. As if their meaning wasn’t enough. Her eyes were filled with dense fear which brought to Lisa’s mind a puddle of tar which she slid into once when she was little. It seemed as if the very idea of talking to oneself was somehow too much for Ursula. Lisa found it almost grotesque. She saw her in some very bad states as a child. States which were much worst than talking to oneself.
“I didn’t have any motivation to do anything and – She sighed - oh Lisa, I felt so lonely. But here they take care of me and I have people to talk to. I feel completely different”
Lisa could see it. That was what she spotted when she saw her at the very beginning. Something so very sane about her. Something she’s seen only a few times before.
It wasn’t even like the times when she was on medication. She remembered that seeing Ursula on medication would always make her feel very confused. It was because her peace didn’t seem natural. It was like a painting done under no inspiration or will. It seemed strained.
Now it was different. Actually, she wasn’t peaceful at all. And yet, she seemed sane and that made the whole difference.
Lisa wondered at her own emotions. She felt happy for making Ursula happy. It was like the joy of looking at a person opening a gift you just bought them. But it wasn’t a joy of seeing a loved one. Lisa realised that if someone asked her whether she loved her mum she wouldn’t confirm it. She felt some emotions towards her – some of them were positive and some a little less so. But she wasn’t sure whether there was love amongst them. There was a lot of ambiguity, that’s all she knew. If there was any love it was still very immature, like a mischievous, or a very shy child, hiding all the time, never taught how to behave properly. Never fed well enough to grow.
She didn’t feel bad about it. She suspected there must have been a good amount of people who were saying that they loved their parents out of pure societal pressure and obligation, just like Lucian from Sartre’s “The Childhood of a Leader” story. She loved this story for its honesty about parent-child relations. Of course, probably not all children were like this. But some.
She was, apparently.
Ohhh – Ursula’s voice exploded with excitement once more – Now I will show you our fish!
Lisa’s heart softened even more as Ursula pulled her towards a small pond, which constituted as if a blue splash of paint in the middle of the green page of grass. There were, indeed, a few golden fish swimming in it. Calmly, undisturbed by any complex family matters or other games of their imagination. Even survival wasn’t that big of a concern for them since they were separated from most potential predators. There was a double swing and they both sat on it for a while. They were swaying gently on it for few minutes talking about Lisa’s life. In the meantime the minutes were fighting wildly somewhere in the background of the spacetime to prove themselves significant enough to compensate for the 8 years that Lisa and Ursula haven’t seen each other. Lisa had to admit that they were very particular, those few minutes, and their quality resembled something of profound importance.
But it wasn’t enough to compensate for the 8 years and Lisa didn’t want compensation anyway. She never really wished for things to be different. People always did and she thought it funny. People always wished things were just a little bit different, or at least one small aspect… But the truth was that whatever would have been different there would always be another “different” to be wished for. Perhaps this realisation shouldn’t prevent one from trying to change the present that could be changed however it was a good prescription which cured Lisa from many regrets of the past.
“And so I sometimes come here, during spring and summer, and look at the fish” – Said Ursula, whose emotion wrapped the tone of her voice with a blanket of joy, contentment and peace which reached her eyes immediately.
Looking at Ursula, Lisa began to understand what people felt when they looked at her. Many of her friends would point out that they saw her as a very pure and deeply good person. Lisa knew of course that all of this was much more complex than just segregating people like that however if she inherited those eyes, and this facial expression, she wasn’t surprised that people would see her like this. Perhaps she should see it as a blessing however the truth was that, in fact, it was a very dangerous weapon to handle.
Ursula wanted to show Lisa the centre of the village and so they went outside, with permission of a nurse who was radiating a very unpleasant vibe. An apple rotting from the inside. Lisa sensed it after exchanging only a few words with her and Ursula said later that she didn’t like this nurse, even though Lisa kept her impressions to herself.
The village was tiny and plain. Lisa thought it must have looked very saddening during winter. Ursula showed her a tree from which she apparently liked to pick cherries and they picked some of them together. It brought to Lisa’s mind memories of her as a child, going with Ursula to near-by rural areas to pick wild fruits. She used to be scared sometimes during those walks as the places they used to walk to were often rather secluded and Lisa would always imagine someone attacking them. It has never happened however, and the fruits were very tasty what allowed those memories to be coloured with tints of pink.
The afternoon started to turn late, like August coneflowers, and Lisa began to feel tired. She began to mention that perhaps it was time for her to go back. In fact, her train was supposed to come soon.
Ursula insisted on walking her to the station and Lisa didn’t object, even though a flashback of the old, well known fear galloped through her heart. What if her eyes would suddenly drop the veil of calm and she would jump into the train with her? And then, she would spill on her ideas cold and heavy like bricks… ideas of them running away together or something equally mad. There was a part of her capable of doing it. Lisa knew it existed in the past and there was no way of knowing whether it was dead or merely asleep. Or merely hiding, motionless, waiting for the right moment to reveal itself, to catch its’ prey.
But Ursula only walked her to the station and didn’t want to wait with her for the train. Perhaps she didn’t want to watch her leave. Her face was only coloured with a guise of a weak smile through which sadness was spilling like water through something porous.
“Thank you, thank you…” – She kept repeating with gratitude but trying to remain collected. Her emotion was however very vivid, easily perceptible, and Lisa would imagine her rounded and wrinkled face covered with salty streaks in merely few minutes. She was glad she wasn’t bound to see it.
Ursula kissed her on both cheeks and hugged. But shortly. And then her small, funny persona would turn back and walk away, with a sudden, unexpected vigour.
Lisa was left alone at the small and empty train station. The summer sun was staring at her exactly from above, with a late-afternoon smile on its warm face.
She felt she did a good thing and now she only wanted to analyse in her head all the things that have happened during those past few hours. For her it was an event that added to the book of her life a page filled with something important and interesting.
For Ursula it was likely much more than that. But now they both had their own lives to carry on living and their own businesses to take care of.
Lisa had many planes to take and much luggage to pack. Ursula had flowers to plant, fish to contemplate and
to pick. There was no way to say whose matters were more important
as, at the end of the day, games could be nothing more than what they
were – Mere distractions.
“And so perhaps – Lisa thought – Their value should be assessed on basis of how well they were fulfilling their function rather than how significant they seemed in the context that humans created?”
Lisa shrugged her shoulders after a short moment and stood up hearing her train approaching the station like the end was approaching that day.
“Well, who knows, really?” – She thought somehow tired and took few last gazes at the monotonous rural landscape around.