It’s a bright day, warm and lazy. The kind where you might describe a nectar-gorged bee zig-zagging towards the hive in the park, though there aren’t many this year. Grandmother always kept a beautiful garden, and it’s taking full advantage of the sun this year. Brilliant colours line the flower beds. Lavender, rose, orchid, chrysanthemum, daffodil, and more sprout and bloom.
Boy walks along the path up to the house. It’s distinctive, awash with colour in an insipid street, in a neighbourhood full of yuppies and middle-aged couples one bad day away from a mid-life crisis, the threads of their lives unravelling before them. The path up to Grandmother’s house is red brick and curls up the lawn to the porch. The door is black and an old brass knocker in the shape of a fish is set into it. The curtains are open, in the room to the left of the door. Boy knocks on the door, and presently a pottering along the hallway on the other side is audible.
“Who is it?”
“Oh! Your mother said you were coming!”
The door swings open, and Grandmother wears a light shirt and some simple trousers, looking as if ready to go to the garden.
“Come in, come in! I’ll put some tea on!” Grandmother’s voice is already trailing away as Boy enters the house and moves to the lounge room, sitting on a floral-patterned chair, with a small cushion.
“It’s so good to see you again! It’s been such a while! Most of the time it’s just me running myself around here.” Grandmother places down a small china tea set, and a plate with biscuits.
“Yeah … Sorry I haven’t come out to see you more often. Did Mother tell you why I came to see you?”
“When ______ called me? She said something about some sort of school project.” Clearly in Grandmother’s eyes could be seen the glint of curiosity.
“Well, we have to interview our grandparents about something. Kinda like chronicling the past, or what life used to be.” Boy paused. “And I think it would be good to do it now, before …” trailing off. Grandmother makes no indication of having heard this comment.
“Well then. Did you have any questions in mind? Or were you just planning to ask this on the fly?” Grandmother chuckled. “I’ve got a lot I can tell you.”
“Pick a favourite for me. An all-timer.” Boy set down a small tape recorder.
It was the middle of winter, before ______ met me, before I moved here. In that time, if you were lucky, it would snow, but more often we got these bitingly cold winds, sleet and hail and rain. You’d slide across the road in the car and fall flat on your a-, A pause. -butt, walking back from the shops. I remember one time I’d been sent by my own mother to get lard and soap, and I came home soaking wet after tripping and falling straight into a puddle on the way back. Anyway, that’s how it was then – I could give you a million more examples.
On one of these days, some friends of mine from back then, friends from high school, though of course then it was the done thing to leave high school early, so we couldn’t have been older than ______ is now. They’d wanted to see something new at the pictures … I can’t for the life of me remember what exactly it was called now, something scary, though. So, we’d gone in, me and a few girlfriends and maybe a boy or two … my memory is lacking there. A laugh. Anyway, the movie, it started off in this old house, derelict, you get the picture. These teenagers had broken in there, heard it was the local haunt of a ghost, and at first they hadn’t heard anything. There were a few fake scares – like the teens scaring each other or playing around with something in the séance. But, later on, things started to happen that they couldn’t shrug off anymore – it started with things seeming to move, or scraping noises from below … Hm? Oh, don’t worry, I’m going somewhere. I’m just trying to set a- a mood. Another laugh.
Anyway, this wasn’t a big budget movie, so it looked corny sometimes. It was still creepy, definitely, but it- it was pretty funny in some parts, to be honest. At this point, too, we’d still not seen … whatever it was, that was terrorising these kids. It was just noises and shadows and flashes. So, about halfway through, we were following one of the kids, they’d been separated from the group, and the house seemed to twist and turn and morph around them while they tried to navigate …
And then sitting in the cinema, we just heard this … low, rolling boooooooom. It’s so hard to describe the sound. It went through your body and out the other side and kept going. The building shook where it stood. At this point … we’d all forgotten about the movie in an instant. The theatre was … was nearly full, and there was a mad dash to get out the door, get outside, see what happened.
And outside, there was a billowing pillar of smoke rising into the sky, and a lurid orange and red glow, mixing with the sunset sky. Grey smoke was twisting up and mixing with the white clouds. You could start to hear sirens now, and some of my friends had already hopped in their car, to get a better look and …
I had stood outside the cinema, fixated on the smoke and fire, and some of my friends had also stayed … And then after a while, I don’t know how long we heard – didn’t see –
Grandmother stopped here.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes … yes, but, I think I will have to finish this one another time.”
The tape recorder clicks off.
Originally published in Woroni Vol. 72 Issue 2 ‘To Be Confirmed’
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