It was morning, late morning. At least I think it was morning. The sun was shining in through slat-blinded windows, radiating down from midpoint in the sky. Bright, but not too warm, so late morning it would have been. Yes.
When I was a little girl, I liked to spirit the scissors from the ledge of my grandmother’s sewing machine table. Withdrawing into myself and the wall beyond Granny’s pulsing feet in the space under that grinding machine, I would open and close those scissors, one little hand on each steely grip, marveling at the sound they made in transition. Open. Close. Open. Close. And I would smile to myself, a small smile at this weight of power in my hands, this wanton act of defiance.
Bits of lace would fall from the workstation above, very small bits. My grandmother was dutifully thrifty and prone to reminding me thus when I did not want to eat my oatmeal, even if it was the third time it had been served that day! “Eat it or wear it!” Granny would threaten. Just a few days before the one this memory rests upon, I had discovered what Granny was talking about. Most of the oatmeal had come out of my hair by the second wash, although some of it had dried hard due to my own darn stubbornness Granny told me as she briskly snipped away the baby blond, wispy, knotted pieces.
Granny’s dear mother had died when she was a young girl, leaving Granny and her youth strangers of convenience from that point on. She was the eldest of fourteen siblings, so in the order of the day, the task of looking after her brothers, sisters and a domestically and otherwise ignorant farmer father fell to her. Granny did the only logical thing a girl could do those days to escape her lot. In grand Catholic tradition she married the first guy she literally rolled in the hay with and went on to have five children with him. Her new husband was a dashing pilot, fresh out of the war. Grandpa was brave. He had medals and big dreams. Grandpa had been quite a catch those days, women fawning, draping all over him, hanging onto every word as he regaled them with stories of patriotic risk and daring. He brought with him the breath of lands far away and exotic, and exhaled it into the Vancouver Island backwoods town they called home.
Granny, as a young and seductive farm girl, it would seem, was more fertile than the others, and a few months after a hasty marriage a baby girl was born. Grandpa always believed he could of, would of and should of, but he never did, preferring instead to stew in his own bitterness because, for reasons he never cared to divulge, he preferred it there. It was what he knew. In that war and world-damaged soul of his there was solace in the dark. But the darkness he carried with him made it difficult to hold a job, to hold respect for himself and for others, especially his family. With each new baby his ability to cope grew more and more difficult to grasp.
In the grand scheme and desperation of things it would have been obscene if abuses hadn’t have happened. They just weren’t spoken of except in the silent screams of a black eye or thumbprints thickening, whispering from the soft skin under a livid ear to matching, swelling fingerprints on the other side of Granny’s neck. When one was suddenly caught aware, the voices of the town criers of purgatory were unmistakable in clarity and bareness.
Lost dreams can be dangerous things.
Open. Close. Open…
Red velvet was a rare find. Small bits were useful for stuffing inside the porcelain mouths of the antique dolls my grandmother outfitted to sell at the local summer trade shows. If an errant piece did manage to be lost on it’s way to the remnants pile, by the time my little fingers had happened upon it, it’s edges had frayed and it no longer presented much of a texture to rub like some exotic fur in my childlike imagination. But the ragged weft could no doubt be well trimmed and shaped by the scissors, although the execution of such a task could prove fatal to my mission of wanting to keep said scissors to said self and not have said Granny take them away upon discovery of possession. Such a feat would require two hands for the unwieldy scissors and something to balance the tattered velvet on to allow for easy trimming. Such options were limited under the sewing machine table, especially with granny’s nylon-clad feet always tapping and pulsing and dancing about on the treadle, one or another of her big toes poking its’ way through a fresh run.
This cherubic felon would not be deterred by circumstance and peril.
Open…close…opening very slowly…closing very carefully, precise, almost surgically I went about notching the beleaguered velvet scrap balanced against the toe of my scuffed white shoe in a series of “vees”, letting the cuttings fall into my lap and onto the linoleum floor around me. I felt a perverse thrill as I manipulated the cold steel blades, one handle gripped in each determined little hand.
When the door to the sewing room burst open, and a red-faced Grandpa planted himself in it’s frame, his stocky torso listing from one side to the other, I was so far down in myself that at first I did not react. When I did sense him from my shadowy vantage point, my instinct was to press my little body so hard against the wall that my spine seemed to buckle and cave into itself, as if by pressing deeply enough into the peeling wallpapered wainscoting I would cause myself to disappear. In my short life’s experiences with my grandfather I had found that disappearance was by far the favoured option to discovery.
With a kind of frozen stealth I slowly lifted the scissors up the wall with one hand and poked them quietly and precariously back onto the ledge from which I had pilfered them only moments ago. Granny’s feet were still dancing on the treadle as her crackled voice hummed along with Sarah Vaughan on the radio. Jazz had been a staple in the sewing room since I could remember, since my mother had gradually left me with Granny so it would be easier to find a new father for me. A new father had been found, quite quickly really, but it seemed now my mother needed more and more time without me, especially after a new baby brother was born. My mother, this new father and brother set up house together, but it must have been a very small house because there was no room for me there and I was small enough to fit under the sewing machine table! So me and granny passed the days, then weeks, months and years in and out of this room, jazz pumping in and out of time with the machine above me, flanked by dolls of all sizes and expressions, leaning on shelves against each other in various states of dress and undress.
I could see my grandfather, looming large, bloated and belligerent, saying something to Granny, but Granny was making so much noise singing and sewing that she didn’t notice him. Three shaky steps and his hand was cupped and cuffing the back of Granny’s head hard enough to knock her off her chair. The sewing machine stopped but the old tube radio kept playing loud until it was silenced under a vicious fist. Bending down to his sprawling wife Grandpa spat in rancid, gin-soaked breath at the hands she held protectively over her face, “Now do ya’ hear me, ya’ deaf bitch?”
Then his attention turned to me, having, for all my efforts, not been successful in disappearing. Granny pulled herself up. Ranting and raving about this bastard child and her slut mother, Grandpa reached down to drag me out from my hiding spot but then Granny hurled herself at him, using all her weight to shove him aside. The sewing scissors were knocked back down the wall to rest again on the floor in front of me and I was crying uncontrollably now as Granny grabbed them away. Holding the scissors up over her shoulder like a furious bird with a murderous beak, this wife lunged at her husband, pecking madly and violently at his shoulder. He recoiled, slapping his hand over his fresh wounds, fearful, indignant and shrieking obscenities as Granny stood her ground. Liquid velvet seeped between Grandpa’s fingers, as he sputtered, cursed and seethed then slowly backed away back through the door. Slam! Heavy, staggering footsteps stomped through the living room. Slam! A toxic torrent of incoherence fading as the heavy car door crunched closed. An angry engine fired and howled away and then all was silent but for me sobbing, breathless, wanting to be stronger than this. By now I should have been stronger than this.
Then I was in her grandmother’s arms as, kneeling down, Granny discovered the bits of red velvet cuttings scattered under the table, and shaking, smothering her teary cheeks in kisses Granny held me tight as she cried, “Oh, you monster! You precious monster! I told you not to play with my scissors!”