piano music drifting down and
bubbles of girlish laughter
I imagine the chandeliers and
the glowing couples on the dance floor
and I sit
when the great clock is ready
the jolt is unspectacular
I know these flickering lights and
the stillness before time resumes
then the music strikes up
the dance goes on
and I wait
for the hurrying footsteps and
echoes of voices past my room
a book slides off a table
the music plays faster
the dance speeds up
while I wait
till it bursts through the door
as cold and as black as I knew it would be
now the running has stopped and
the voices are stilled in the sigh of the ship
as I sit
why should I run
I have always been here
I know it’s there — sitting on top of the bookcase, looking ornamental against the polished surface, though mostly I don’t notice it in the clutter of my daily life.
Today I see it. My maternal grandfather’s glass paperweight, heavy and perfectly round except for that flat area at the bottom. It’s a magnifying glass; you’ve got to make sure the rays of the sun can’t reach it on its shelf. I remember the faint smell of burning one day when it had caught and focussed the midday sun onto the polished wood. It is scorched and ugly where the small hole was burnt.
As I look into Grampa’s paperweight I see in its depths another room in another town, and now the glass ball is standing on a massive brown desk with brass fittings. Heavy red armchairs dominate the room, and there is a sound that awes the small boy I was then: my grandfather using a small orange rubber pump to give himself more air during a fit of asthma. I never dared observe openly how Grampa used that pump, so I never found out precisely how it worked.
Grampa seemed huge to me then, a big man with a great bald head and the long yellow teeth of a horse, teeth that could have frightened a small boy, were it not for the fact that they are nearly always bared, in my memory, in laughter or friendly smile.
Grampa and Grandma had already moved from the big house into the flat on the ninth floor of the town’s first high-rise building. Set into the wall of the landing on each floor was a round aluminium door that opened into a dark rubbish chute reaching all the way down to the ground. We children used to fight over who’d be allowed to tip the full rubbish bag into the void. When you stuck your head in after it you heard the satisfying plop of it landing on the other bags in the big metal container at the bottom.
Out on the small concrete balcony, nine floors up, I would lean over the rail, holding on to my glasses for fear of seeing them sail into empty space. The backs of my thighs tingled with mixed anticipation and dread.
As I look into the glass ball again, I can see Grandma, too, and smell her Sunday roasts invariably served with carrots and peas in a beaten copper saucepan in that room with the red armchairs. She charmed people with a Swiss French accent that was ingrained too deeply in her character to be affected by a mere forty years spent among Swiss German speakers. She impressed me by mixing Bordeaux wine with orange squash, and the shudder that gripped her after downing her glass of Kirsch to round off a cheese fondue.
Years later, when Grampa’s smile was long gone, I remember another room. I was sitting at Grandma’s bedside in the old people’s home, keeping my mother company during the long hours when Grandma drifted towards death.
And I remember another bedside, much later, not long ago, my mother’s this time.