- Vol. 09
- Chapter 12
She had long been fond of that childhood photo of her grandfather. When she was a small child, her mother would routinely bring it out, point at the po-faced little boy, in an oversized train controller’s cap, clutching a satchel with his left hand and the other extended towards the camera, an unidentified paper in hand. She had always assumed it was a grade sheet of some kind. She had never thought to ask her mother what it was. The strangeness of it only dawned on her when she was much older.
Or maybe it wasn’t so strange. She was more intrigued by the sight of her stern, tall and sinewy grandfather as a tiny, chubby-cheeked and diffident tyke. On each occasion, her mother would enquire, as if for the first time: ‘...Who is that?’ or ‘Do you know who that is?’
She hadn’t needed help identifying him the first time, let alone when it had become ritual. Even as a child, she queried this adult penchant for condescension, although she wouldn’t have had the words for it. She came to realise her mother’s shared fondness for that picture. She must have been drawn to it for the same reasons.
Over the years, she would create her own folklore around the document that baby-granddad was holding.
He was an especially industrious lad and began the newspaper round at an early age. No. The document was too small to be a daily journal.
At other moments, she imagined he was handing over a long-awaited letter to the sweetheart of a war-ravaged soldier – feared dead. Anything to humanise the old man. Anything to hold him in that place of shyness; a whisper of vulnerability. An openness to the other.
She’d appropriated the photo without her mother noticing. The older woman had lost interest over time. Perhaps the hopeful fantasising couldn’t withstand the hard reality of the usually irascible man she knew.
Her daughter now sat at her desktop, on the fifth anniversary of his death, manipulating this once-beloved photograph with an irreverence so delicious, it formed droplets on her tongue. She had the little boy suspended over his home city, a place her grandfather resented. She tinged the backdrop lilac. It was a colour she knew he also disliked, for being too effete, with all the small-mindedness that word implied when he used it. The last addition, was a random uncredited picture of the Australian outback with a slightly out-of-frame kangaroo. Her grandfather would often express his disdain for that country, unprovoked, to nobody in particular. Not because of its genocidal history or even for fear of the punishing heat. He just couldn’t take it seriously, he said, with such bizarre creatures hopping around.
She avoided looking at his puffy cheeks, or the ill-fitting jodhpurs that - she supposed - passed for a school uniform. She wilfully forgot the tremble she used to imagine in the hand gripping the mysterious paper. It was the only way she could see the task through.