In my last post I promised to tell you some of the stories my grandfather used to tell me during long winters in Croatia. He was a big man with large hands and clear green eyes. His stories were of sorrows mostly and of joy occasionally. Joy did not dwell in his life often. I loved my grandfather, his large hands and his stories. Scent of tobacco that lingered around him. How sun reflected light in his eyes. I still keep black and white photograph of him when he was a dashing young man in uniform … in years 1940 and others. It was his youth during those years that made him find love amongst the death and decay. He married my grandmother and they have their first child, my mother, during that war. They were heroes. My heroes.
I wrote the story below couple of years ago in New Zealand. It is based on one of the stories my grandfather told me. And like most of his stories it reflected the events he lived through. I knitted it into the story below many years later with threads of different language. So it lives. He would have liked that.
The night was thick with the late summer scents and sounds of small insects weaving midnight away. She was sitting very still under the circle of the small desk lamp turned towards a single sheet of yellow paper. There was certain longing in her silhouette, in the way her long arms were resting at the edge of the desk, and her head was slightly tilted to one side. Curves of her body wrapped the chair into the softness of dreams, the same dreams that shine through her eyes. Her grandmother used to tell her there was a river in her eyes, a fast, green river running bright and clear over shiny cobblestones, weaving dreams like village girls weave their scarves, with passion and hope. It was because of those dreams that she was sitting under the small circle of light that night and many nights before. Dreams that would not go away, dreams that threaten to spill over and envelope her sober daily mind into an everlasting fog.
The fog was not unfamiliar to her. Even as a very young girl, and long before the villages were burned, she could feel the swelling of dreams and the rush of thoughts rising in some deep corners of her mind, and then hurrying, almost bursting into her consciousness. It was at those times her eyes became river-like, deep and clear, shining through distances. Those distances and the stories she brought from them earned her the reputation of a ‘dream-weaver’, someone who glides effortlessly from the visibility of daily life into the shadows of the hidden world on the currents of the green river in their eyes.
It suited her well; there was no time in her memory when she did not observe her own grandmother and other village women telling and re-telling stories, sometimes hushed like secrets, sometimes laced together with the lightness of the first summer breeze, but always enchanting, always vivid. The stories were like currencies, told to soothe, to warn, and most of all to assure everything that has happened, and that seems so harsh, has already happened in some form or the other, to somebody else, in some other time, and it is engraved, together with its warning, in the village’s collective memory.
There was a story about a wedding that took place without the bride’s family approval and ended up in shooting and deep roses of blood on the bride’s white dress; there was a story about a baby born out of wedlock whose young mother put her hand over its mouth until the tiny breath was no more, and then walked down to the woods and has never been seen again. There were stories of mysterious illnesses and remedies for them, sudden deaths and greed of those left behind, stories of land burned and stock starved to death in time of drought or war.
There were rarely any happy stories; happiness cannot stay still in the story, her grandmother would say, it cannot be contained and preserved in the memory; happiness is like sweet wine, you drink it and it warms your heart, warms your very soul, but then it is gone; happiness is like a wind over the stones made of grief. Houses are made of stones, heavy stones with their memories and their wisdom, if the occupants are lucky and the year is good, the stones of their houses will be held together by happy events that do not need stories. But if there are no stones, houses cannot be made.
Those were the easy days of her childhood and youth; she would run wild amongst other village children over the stone walls and meadows, through the small woods that start just after the school’s field and finish before the village’s only church and graveyard. Her existence did not extend beyond those signposts; white stones of the church with its imposing cross and shiny coloured windows, the blackness of her grandmother’s long skirts shimmering over wet grass, the smell of bread coming from the kitchen, and the faint smell of the sea barely visible over the cliffs, crisp and high singing of voices coming from fields before the day is over.
Will be continued soon …