My grandparents' estate was not how I remembered.
When I was young, the rolling acres seemed never-ending against the forget-me-not horizon, and the modest, victorian-style manor felt stately and royal, like a palace. I recalled playing in the technicolor garden, violets in the air and grass stains on my tights. Feeding the sheep and goats, their fuzzy lips tickled my palm. Going on horseback rides along the ocean with my grandfather, salt tangled in my ashy hair.
I spent many summers there as a child. Whenever my mother felt stifled by my incessant needs, I visited my grandparents for a few weeks. As I grew older and became more capable of taking care of myself, the trips waned to once in a blue moon. It had been eight years since my last stay.
Returning was underwhelming.
Unlike the warm, dewy summers, fall in Newport was desaturated and still, making my grandparents’ oceanside residence appear foreboding. The white fence surrounding the property had faded to a cinder gray. The house’s exterior, once a vibrant yellow, was now sun-bleached and dulled with dirt and grime. Maple trees lined straight and neat on either side of the dusty road leading to the house, their old age showing with patchy autumn leaves and skeletal silhouettes. I was akin to them, spindly fingers gripping tight onto the last of their beauty as the winter threatened to strip them bare.
I’d once remembered this place having so much life, but Death had touched it since then. Fitting that I was spending my next few months here, as I’d also recently been touched by Death.
I tucked a bitten fingernail under the bandages binding my wrist, scratching at the forever itchy skin beneath. If I’d known I would be caught, I wouldn’t have slit my wrist. I loathed the idea that I now had to live with the scar.
Battle wound, I tried reminding myself. A scar was what my mother called it while expressing disappointed in my now tarnished skin. Something unsightly, something to be covered up and hidden, like why I did it.
“Remember, Vi. You’re to do as your Nan says. You’ll help with the chores, and take care of Grampie.”
I rolled my eyes. “Grampie’s in a coma.” What care could I possibly provide?
My mother opened her mouth, her frosty gaze saying she was about to snap at me, but she found the willpower to hold her tongue. I smirked to myself over the minute victory.
I wasn’t looking to start a fight, but I was bitter and she knew I sat on a short fuse. Rightfully so, since she was ditching me two hundred miles from home only ten days after a suicide attempt. I guess her daughter’s troubling desire to kill herself wasn’t enough to make my mother wake up and smell the fragrance of her own neglect. I gnawed at my lip, my annoyance itching as violently as my stitched up wrist. I was angry that she was running away again, but maybe it was for the best. I didn’t want to be around her for a second longer.
I opened the car door before my mother brought it to a complete stop, forcing her to slam the breaks.
She followed me out of the car with an exhausted huff. “Violet, please. I just need some time to think. To figure out what to do. I don’t know how to handle all this. I’ll be back for your birthday,” she reasoned, always stifling a note of frustration when talking to me.
I retrieved my duffle bag from the backseat and slammed the door closed, sending a sharp glare at her over the hood of the car. As a teen filled to the brim with unnecessary angst, everything came out of my mouth far more poisonous than intended, so I committed to the toxicity. “Why do you only seem to be able to think when I’m not around?”
My mother stared at me, a deep wrinkle appearing between her brows, like I’d wounded her. She was about to reply, but the front door of the aging house opened, and my grandmother stepped out onto the veranda. There was a smile on her face, but it shrunk a fraction when she felt the heat from the conversation she’d interrupted.
I turned back to my mother, shutting my eyes to settle my anger. “I’m sorry. Just do what you need to do.” I always ended up apologizing. Every time. Because a small part of me always hoped she’d change. That she would suddenly see the errors of her ways, tell me to get back into the car and take me home, and we could resolve it like a real mother and daughter.
My apology just gave her permission to not feel guilty though.
She sat back down into the driver’s seat and took off with little more than a goodbye.
I watched her drive away until the dreary gray swallowed our silver sedan in the seaside fog. Once released from the paralyzing disappointment, I turned, slipping past my grandmother as she held the door open. I avoided her gaze so she wouldn’t be forced to hold her sugary smile anymore. I knew she was doing it. She was so much like my mother and me.
I glanced around the entryway instead; it was as I remembered, yet hauntingly different. It wasn’t the warm, welcoming home away from home it used to be. Now, it felt cold and quiet, smelled of stale air, just as in the hospital. The comparisons made my mouth dry and my skin itch, as if my wrist wasn't the only part of my body covered in uncomfortable gauze.
“The spare room is tidied up for you. I left some boxes in there so it’s a bit cluttered, but I don’t expect you to be spending all your time in your room while you’re here anyway.”
Her frigid tone suggested she was as apprehensive of me being there as I was. I didn’t blame her; there was enough on her plate with taking care of the estate and my grandfather by herself. I guess I understood now how she might need my help, even if it was simply one of my mother’s weak excuses. But did she want my help? That curiosity didn't have such an easy conclusion. I felt like nothing more than a burden, only there on suicide watch. Another unresponsive body for her to tend to.
“Let me know if there’s something I can help with,” I answered.
I didn’t exactly want to do anything, and I wasn’t sure how the offer would hold up if she ever decided to take me up on it, but I didn’t want my grandmother sore with me before even making bed. All I wanted to do was curl up and sleep through the winter. But if she wasn’t going to allow it, then I might as well try to help make our time together as painless as possible.
“I’m making dinner at six,” she said, locking the front door and heading upstairs without another word. I heard the beeps of a heart monitor before she disappeared behind a closed door at the top of the stairs, leaving me alone.
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