“She will be missed.”
“Thank you,” I whispered.
My Great Aunt Stacy still clutched my hand. Shaking it as if she could ring the tears from my eyes. I hoped she hadn’t noticed how clammy my hand was. I wished I swiped it on my dress first, but she snatched it up, before I could prepare to be touched.
“She loved you very much,” Stacy said, her grip surprisingly strong for her advanced age. It took every fibre of my entire being not to yank it back.
My mother elbowed me, “Yes, thank you.” I said with a grunt.
Stacy eyed me and then my mother. My mother and Great Aunt Stacy haven’t spoken to each other at all, during the procession. There was no love lost between them.
Stacy squeezed my hand again – I started when she pressed something into my palm. I regarded at her quizzically, but she looked to my mother and shook her head before moving on. She didn’t utter another word of condolence, just turned away, her ratty purse swinging out, narrowly missing my mother, as Aunt Stacy made her way to another mourner. I felt, rather than saw, my mother stiffen at the slight. I’d wouldn’t hear the end of this on my way home. How I let my crazy Aunt Stacy shame her at own mother ‘s funeral. Slights, perceived or not, were such a tangled thread to follow.
I wished I could talk to my grandmother, she always helped me process my emotions. But this was said grandmother’s funeral service we were attending, so obviously she wasn’t here, or she was… and wasn’t at the same time.
I turned to my mother and then thought better of it. “Excuse me,” I said to no one in particular, moving away from the crowd of well-wishers that had gathered around us. My grandmother, Opal, was well loved within her community. There was over a hundred in attendance to pay their respects. It would’ve been heartwarming if I could stomach crowds.
“I’m so sorry for your loss.” Was volleyed a dozen times before I could reach the privacy of the washrooms. I nodded my thanks but was ultimately thankful for the reprieve, the solace of the unoccupied toilets.
I realized Stacy had pressed a folded piece of paper into my hand. I had it clutched so tightly, hopefully I hadn’t smudged whatever was so secret she couldn’t say it front of her own niece.
The paper was of fine quality – it seemed to be a page torn from some kind of notebook. Fortunately, the ink hadn’t smudged, but that was about all I could decipher. It was a script written in a language I couldn’t understand. Elegant, with smooth looping lines and odd dotes of punctuation, I sounded the words it out loud as if it could help me decode it.
“Maṣene timeasbẹru, olufẹ mea,” I whispered. It felt both foreign and lovely on my tongue. Like a decadent sweet I had just discovered and could only sample.
“It means ‘Be not afraid, my love,’” came a voice from behind me.
I startled and locked eyes with my Aunt Stacy in the washroom mirror. I hadn’t heard her enter the room. My heart lurched, in the low light of the washroom, she could’ve passed for my grandmother. They had the same slim build my mother and I inherited. The only different was the hair and the eyes. My grandmother’s hair was wild curly – like my own, with hazel eyes that felt so piercing they could pin you where you stood. Aunt Stacy’s hair was more on the wavy side, though it was always pulled back into a painful looking bun. It made her honey brown eyes appear larger than they were.
Said eyes were peering at me through the mirror. I couldn’t decipher the look in them either.
“Why did you give me this?” I asked her reflection.
“It was Opal’s,” she smiled; her eyes twinkled for a moment before growing sombre.
My hands shook as I pressed the paper to my chest. It was my grandmother’s. She left me a note. I… I had no words. That was how we’ve always communicated before… When I was anxious and overwhelmed by an interaction I couldn’t’ understand, she’d encourage me to write it down in a letter… This meant more than the world to me.
I felt my eyes well. I blinked back the tears that had finally come. I felt my aunt place a comforting hand on my shoulder. She squeezed before letting go.
I collected myself enough to remember to ask, “But what language it this?”
“It’s Kelishi,” It rolled beautifully off her tongue as if the words danced in the air. Though, her voice shook with an emotion I couldn’t place.
Kelishi, now that it was given a name, it sounded so much more poetic than my butchered attempt earlier. “Oh, well it’s lovely. I’m sorry I’ve never heard of it.”
My aunt kissed her teeth, “Blame your selfish mother – when she came to this country, she shunned our ancestry.”
I shrugged. My relationship with my mother wasn’t any better than my aunt’s but I wasn’t one to gossip. I was more focused on whatever this Kelishi language was. Where did it originate? She was right about my mother shunning our ancestry, growing up, I had no idea where were from. “Why would Grandmother leave me a message in a language I didn’t understand?”
“She was hoping to teach you one day,” Stacy broke off, choking up with grief. I knew I should comfort her, at least in the small way she did for me, but those kind of actions and gestures didn’t come naturally to me as it did others.
Returning to the subject, I motioned to the note, “It looks like it was torn from something?”
Stacy nodded, “Oh yes. Her diary,” she paused to dab her eyes and then reached into the worn purse she always totted about. It was actually more of a satchel now that I was eyeing it. It was faded grey suede, stained, and seen better days, but she was never without it. She rustled around for a moment before pulling out small black book about the size of the palm of my hand. It too looked old, like ancient old, scratched, leather bond and worn. She gestured for me to hold out my hands.
I shoved the note in the pocket of my cardigan and reached for the book. She gently placed it in my hands. It was oddest thing. It felt almost warm to the touch. The leather felt rougher than it looked, almost hide like. I smoothed my fingered against it and nearly dropped it when an inscription emerged in the leather, as if written in invisible ink.
I looked to Stacy.
She had grim look about her. Her lips were pressed flat until she sighed and nodded to herself. “Thank the Gods,” she murmured under her breath, but I caught it.
“Did this ink just appear out of thin air?” I asked, incredulous. I felt absolutely ridiculous in asking, but I know what I saw.
Stacy was silent for a beat, before she cursed, and met my eye, “Yes. The book has awoken to your touch.”
I stared at her, trying to digest what I just heard, “…Is it… Like, heat sensitive?”
“In a way,” Stacy hedged. “It’s spelled so only Opal’s descendants can read it.”
“Yes,” Stacy said gravely. I hadn’t realized I’d spoken out loud. “This was her grimoire.”
“Grimoire?” Like a –
“Spellbook, yes.” Stacy supplied.
Wait did I -?
“No,” She finished for me. “I can hear what you were thinking.”
I think… I must have been short circuiting.
Stacy laughed, but there was no humour in it. “You’re not going crazy, but I understand the feeling. This is what your mother couldn’t process.”
I looked at my grandmother’s dairy – no spellbook – or grimoire whatever.
“What is happening?” It felt needless to ask if she could read my mind (!!!), but I guess I was still learning the new intricacies of this double life my grandma and great aunt were living.
“Oh, Olivia child, there’s still so much for you to learn. Opal’s… passing. It has left us no choice. There’s no time to be delicate,” she said, her expression was full that grief again, but this time it left me with an unease I couldn’t fathom. I watched her figure approach in the mirror until she stood to between myself and the book. I flinched when she reached up and placed her hands on either side of my head.
“What are you doing?” Again, it was probably pointless, but she didn’t answer, only closed her eyes whispered too low for me to hear. Her fingers dug into my scalp; the mounting pressure was unbearable. “Let go of me!” I tried to shove her off with one hand, but she held me in that shockingly strong grip.
The book was growing uncomfortably warm in my other hand. I made to drop it when Stacy’s eyes flashed open, and she called out in a voice that wasn’t her own.
“My grimoire, never let it leave your possession.” It was both command and a plea.
My head was spinning, “Grandma?” My voice had grown hoarse. My legs buckled as something wet touched my lip. Distantly, I registered my nose was bleeding, but the worry fled as Stacy stared back at me with my grandmother’s piercing, hazel eyes.
“Be brave dear child, there are dark times ahead.” said my grandmother. Stacy’s lips moved but it was her sister who had spoken.
Her voice. I had forgotten how much I missed it. Missed her. Beyond the fear and confusion, there it was. My despair and hollowness. I lost one of the only people who cared for, understood me most, and I’ve been feeling adrift ever since.
“I love you,” I whispered.
Stacy smiled my grandmother smile before her face twisted into something like anguish. “I’m sorry, love,” they said together. I couldn’t tell who had spoken. They kissed my brow and removed their hands from my temple. One of Stacy’s eyes were brown and the other was hazel.
I opened my mouth, pushing past the metallic rust taste that filled it, about to beg my grandmother not to leave me again. I didn’t care what was coming as long as we could face it together, when Stacy lashed out, quicker than she ought for her age. She shoved at my chest, and in a mighty heave, I went pinwheeling backwards. I should’ve fallen into the washroom stalls, but they didn’t’ break my tumble. Instead, I kept plummeting, down, down into cold empty air, that yearned to swallow me whole. A black abyss yawned open all around. The grimoire clutched in my hand was glowing, its Kelishi inscription blazed golden in the encroaching darkness. The last thing I saw before the abyss enveloped me entirely, was a silhouette, backlight by the world I just departed, shouting below,
“Be not afraid, my love, Kelishi needs you.”