across

Silvia Berger
16.02.2017
 
across
Since the word hit me, at night the dead stand at my doorstep and wave to me. Some of them are grinning mischievously. Like Great Aunt Frieda, whose rather pursed lips remain in my memory. She was worried about her carpets when we kids came to visit. Before we could even lean back she would pull out the pillows from behind our backs. Now, at night on my threshold, she smiles impishly and waves wooingly.

When I told my sister about how it was like a dream, she said indignantly: as long as you are alive, you belong to the living. But I know better ever since I was diagnosed. This dream is a kind of seeing-through, an opening up of the boundary. Nevertheless, even my sister had to laugh when I told her – as though it had been just a dream - about our waving aunt.

Do you remember, when she hopped around the table at Easter? Yes, and she sang. Both of us were singing together: Gaga, gaga, the Bunny laid an egg! And laughing. She wanted to be funny for once, but we kids just found it weird.

Great Aunt Anna waves at me as well, with an even gentler smile than her sister. It was her as well who started to talk and said: Come, you will enjoy it.

In her life, Aunt Anna was not very happy. At the end in the nursing home she would hide pieces of cake in her closet because she thought people wanted her to starve. She was so full of mistrust that she said: They all steal. Everyone. She was always freezing, in spite of those formless woollen underpants that she reproachfully showed us. Now she seems happy and at ease. She stands there, hand in hand with her sister, whom she always feared in life.

The deeper the word touches me within, the more I am interested in listening to them. For the past few nights even my grandfather stands behind them and whistles a march. My grandmother, the third of the sisters, isn’t afraid anymore that everything will be too much. She seems relaxed, with fear and bitterness gone from her eyes which now shimmer. You will like it, she says and waves. But during the day, dismay and bitter sadness overcomes me that I will no longer witness the lives of my children. Everything will happen without me, my children's wedding, the birth of my grandchildren. The future. Without me.

You have to fight, my husband says. You have to want to live. I say that I do want to live and think of everyone living close to me. But then I lie down for a long time on the sofa and the longer I lie, the more distant they grow from my thoughts and leave me alone. Or no, I leave them alone. I think more and more about summers in the mountains that I won't experience. About the smooth mountain meadows over which I won't walk again after leaving the bright larches and dark pines behind me.

Uphill I go, rocks appear from the yellow of the summer dried grasses that crackle as they sink beneath my feet. Above me there is a ridge that I want to climb which I want to look out from over a brand-new world where mountains after mountains line up into the distance until they disappear into a dim blue mist and merge with the heavens. I climb and my heart beats, thumping up into my neck; in my head something wants to explode. The ridge doesn’t come any closer and a deep-rooted fear that I will never reach it nor look across it seizes me with a gruesome pain. You are groaning – Dear, wake up – I hear a voice. My husband is leaning over me and holding my shoulders. Yes, I am crying, because I can never look across into the next valley. In my neck a painful knot presses my throat closed.

At night the three sisters stand at my doorstep again and come closer. Aunt Frieda has her bag under her arm and Aunt Anna leans almost elegantly on her umbrella. Her small old fashioned hair knot is undone and silver strands of hair sway around her head in the breeze that blows over the doorstep. With their free arms locked, the sisters are holding each other. My grandmother waves.

Don’t cry, they say. Here you can wander up to every mountain ridge. The cliffs themselves will come to you and carry you up. And once you get to the top, you can sit on a stone, warmed by the sun and like a throne it stands above the valleys. The wind will blow throw your hair, but you will not feel any coldness at all however long you sit. And when the sun – rosy, then red-gold – glowingly sets, when the purple-blue dusk falls, you can rise and walk further along the ridge on resilient mats of grass and silver-grey moss; when you reach the end where the mountain turns to grey-black cliffs before dropping into the abyss, then you will lift off like a bird and fly into a new valley.

Laughter comes to mind as I see my busy great aunts, hear their passionate talk and catch my grandmother waving encouragingly. All of you are talking so yet, if any of you ever took walks at all earlier then they were on park paths and seaside promenades. How can this be?

If you only knew, they say auspiciously; oh, if you only could know.

And during the night? I whisper. At night? Aunt Frieda giggles like she did when she hopped around the table to the Easter Bunny song. And Aunt Anna says: Then you can stay seated on your throne. As long as you wish. The wind will flow around you, but you will not freeze at all. And the cliffs will shine like liquid silver in the moonlight.

How do you know? I ask. Oh, if you only knew, if you only knew, they smile and wave. The grandfather behind them whistles a marching tune.

At night, when the living are asleep, I feel myself belonging less and less to them; it pulls me to the threshold where the three old sisters talk to me. During the day, the living bring me back to them again and avoid the word of the diagnosis. I am the only one who says it. Tired. Then they say: Fight it. And everyone knows something to say about survival, if you only do this or that ...

But the daytime life is becoming less and less something for me. My loved ones do their daily business and I wait for the sleepless night and meeting the three sisters again. The march that my grandfather whistles in the background becomes more and more merry.
 
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