Museum of Miniature, West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen
As part of the Museum of Miniature project at West Cork Arts Centre, I was invited to write a short piece inspired by one of eight miniature works of art.
Aissa Lopez’ Miniature (below) made a deep impact on me and prompted my response, Return, which I read as part of the Museum of Miniature’s event at the West Cork Arts Centre in July 2018.
Miniature by Aissa Lopez
Houses shrink. We grow; they shrink. Go back, and everything seems smaller – hence the saying: Never go back. But I always did. Looking for you, probably.
This house, here, was all innocence: licking the wooden spoon when you baked, Fry’s Turkish Delight on Fridays, a big pink teddy bear one Christmas… The one time we had money for Mr Whippy, I was so excited I dropped the ice cream running home.
You handled my despair; Mr Whippy had gone.
This one, then, this is where you entertained in elegant Irish-designed clothes and I turned prankster: hidden bells, collapsing chairs, a hamster stashed in my dolls’ house one April Fools’ that was never seen again … Here, too, I got my first pair of bell-bottoms and stood staring at the mirror, biting my finger – me, in bell-bottoms!
They were tweed, for feck’s sake. Tweed.
The house with the stairs outside – here you suffered and I fell in love. Deeply. He and I, we often lay on the floor in an alcove downstairs, between a room and a room, where you couldn’t surprise us. Nor we you. There was an orange cordial stain on my white bedroom carpet (mea culpa) and I once smashed a door through a wall. Well. A huntsman spider the size of my face was loitering on the back of the toilet door. The flight instinct has muscle.
This was a home of blue skies and water fights, of light and shadow. And lost days.
In the tall, thin house I discovered my writerly self – the one you had detected years earlier – while scribbling on yellow pages, gutted by Italian crooners. One winter’s day, I sat in the orange grove in a porcupine coat and for four hours wept my siblings’ loss. Mine, too.
Here, we spoke our last words.
This – this is the house where you have never been, where the grandchildren you have never known grew up, and where I grow older than you ever were.
Winner Florida Keys Hemingway Home Flash Fiction Award 2016
The letters kept coming. She wrote of Bormio, of winter-white hills and Alpine ridges hanging from the skies, of streets busy with get-there skiers and lithe ski instructors in sausage-skin suits. She described the brittle night air so well that you could smell it off the crinkly stationery. Airmail Light. A traditionalist, then, sending missives in the old style, as though there was no way to communicate other than organizing thoughts into sentences and lives into paragraphs. She had fetched up in Bormio, she explained, a resort huddled in a saucer-like basin with thermal springs and baby slopes and a come-again, go-again population. As a chalet chef, she was learning to deliver tajines that soothed aching limbs and desserts that sweetened the pain of spectacular bruises. She fully intended to be as seasonal as her guests, to move on – or move home? – before the hikers came, and the botanists. Not for her, she insisted, the fresh mountain springs or cow-bell summers.
And yet, soon enough, letters came full of wild flowers and walkers. In summertime, you could loll about in the terme without icicles forming on your nose, she joked, and the mirror-eyed ski instructors were replaced by leather-skinned climbers … But still no lover, for her, although a kind of hope wafted about the pages like the smell of thyme drifting around Bormio’s trails. Only passing mention was made of yearning and loneliness, but a wistful eye was sometimes cast back – back to this studio apartment, with its too narrow bench-bed high on the wall and its backyard view of urban grit.
All this, in a neat hand. A good hand, easily read, one side only.
` Marsha came to crave each new delivery – the bulky envelope with Lombardy stamp and, within, the simple, affectionate greeting, ‘Dear You,’ the ‘xx’ in parting. It was like having a subscription to a monthly travel mag; and it was soap opera too, with chalet romances and sunburn and tantrums, and change – changing faces, languages, allergies – but the mountains, huddled around her and scratched with ski runs, deep with snow or grey with lack of it, these, she wrote, were ever a wall, encircling.
Marsha pinned each letter to the wall – a scripted wallpaper, ceiling to floor, door to corner, encircling. Words surrounded her, parading stories and trip-tripping across the studio like a caravan across the desert. Within this whirl of writing, she ate and slept, suffered and dreamed, and re-read whichever letter best suited her mood. On a hard day, she liked to wander Bormio’s old town in springtime, steeples overhead, cobblestones underfoot, unwinding; a giddy day and she took to the snow, sliding between the conifers on the lonely tracks that had taken perilous tumbles to master. This was what kept her there – in the studio and in Bormio: the quiet, inky drift through another person’s perspective.
She never wrote back. Sometimes, not often, she wondered who the letters were from and for whom they were intended.