by Shannon Savvas
Jessica looks out at the bleached-bone sky. Her David Hockney pool, shimmers, blue ice, under the sun. Heat undulates from the terracotta terrace. Another Mediterranean summer. Relentless. Inside her stone and glass oasis, she shivers in the sterile air-conditioning, pulls her paisley shawl over her cotton-clad shoulders. She shifts in the wheelchair to ease the pressure on the cling-film skin coating her bones.
Nicos dead now two months. Their children scattered – to study, to love, to work, to marry. Anywhere but here. Now they take their holidays and her grandchildren to blog-worthy destinations. Anywhere but here. She knew that feeling once. A teenager, at the bottom of the South Pacific, the bottom of the world, she too thought anywhere but here. But now. Now she longs for lush wet grass and the smell of creamy roadside freesias. But no family remain in New Zealand. Blue-eyed, red haired Jessica. I am the baby of the family, she says out loud to no one. Ridiculous thought.
Nothing moves until late afternoon when heat and light ebb. After lunch, every living thing sleeps, including the cicadas. Outside her hermetic room, the shimmering air is aromatic with thyme, syrupy with pine resin.
Nothing stirs the swimming pool water these days. No thrashing bodies, no laughter. Only swallows swooping and diving in the early mornings and late afternoons. Their joie de vivre no longer gives her courage.
She remembers walking home from school with Lindy, barefoot like every other Kiwi child, shoes and socks crammed into satchels, put on only for the nuns and Masses. Arms wide, heads tossed back to the dark, fleeting showers that cooled and washed the summer afternoons, she remembers laughing, soaked to the skin. School dresses drenched, clinging like second skins until peeling away as they dried, and footpaths steamed.
She remembers the wild chaos of Lindy’s Tongan family, overflowing their state house with aunties and uncles and cousins and siblings – all who embraced her as one of their own. Saturday night sleepovers and the food and dancing and songs, which filled the nights. The next morning, too tired but Lindy’s mum hauled back the blankets where the girls lay curled like kittens and turfed them out of the house to be on time for eight o’clock Mass.
She remembers her feet panic-hopping across the griddle-hot pavements and silky, burning sands on the beach, despite the sixty-five years, which have failed to dim the memories. Her toes curl as she remembers the coolness of spongy grass on her stinging soles. Gathering empty Coca Cola bottles for the penny deposit to buy Crunchie bars, on bountiful days, she and Lindy collected enough for Tip-Top hokey-pokey ice creams, licked fast and furiously before they melted.
Ten years now, since the car accident. Ten years she has depended on the kindness of Sri Lankan girls to get her in and out of bed, on and off the toilet. Nicos claimed asylum in his angina. Neela, the latest, now cooks, cleans and comforts. In the evenings, she brushes and braids Jessica’s long grey hair.
Neela rests in the afternoons. She leaves Jessica her a tray of Earl Grey tea, sliced lemon, Villeroy-Boch mug and two slices of ginger cake under a cloth of aged Irish linen edged with local Lefkara lace.
Jessica never sleeps in the afternoons, otherwise she would lie awake all night. Her hooded eyes, blue ice, look through her Cypriot window. The Cypriots always smiled but never embraced the xeni; she remained the foreigner. Cyprus has left her now, dead like Nicos. Behind her sternum, a familiar, recent aching. New Zealand emerges in the mirage of heat. Today she is too, too tired. This time, this hour, this once, she lets her eyes close and her memory open. The black crab of nostalgic longing devours her heart. Jessica is going home.
Shannon Savvas, a New Zealand writer, divides her life and heart between New Zealand, England and Cyprus. She has been published online (2015) and in three anthologies (2017). She won the Autumn 2017 Reflex Flash Fiction competition.