Thursday 14 March 2024

A Visit to Grandma’s by Jane Spirit, pressed apple juice

Rosie hesitated at the door of her grandmother’s little home on the Deep Woods Estate. She wanted to capture her arrival there for her many admirers. Standing on the threshold she could feel the icy winds that blew through the estate despite the many sheltering trees that surrounded it. She found herself recoiling from residual raindrops that dripped, even on this dry day, off the massive chestnut whose branches were growing ever closer to the bungalow’s wooden facade. Still, Rosie was pleased with the image when she checked it. The wind’s slight ruffling of her trademark scarlet cape and the slight fuzziness added by a water drop on the camera lens had added a touch of mystery to the selfie. Content, Rosie cropped the shot to highlight the little basket of fruit she carried casually over one arm. Thinking that she was lucky to get any kind of signal in this god forsaken forest, she posted the picture. Then came the familiar surge of adrenalin as she saw in her mind’s eye her two thousand followers simultaneously pressing their screens and witnessing her doing her good deed for the day. This was inevitably followed by a dragging sense of uncertainty. How would the image be received? How quickly would her followers swipe their screens in search of something more diverting? Surely this wholesome persona thing could not continue indefinitely.

Then again, she already had plans and would be taking some artfully arranged pictures for her new media account that afternoon. Rosie planned to use those new images to launch herself as a chic interior designer. Her company strap line would be ‘Cabins with attitude’. She had recently completed renovating grandma’s to reflect the current trend for Scandinavian shabby chic. She’d started by knocking down the old dividing walls to create one room out of the space and then added a couple of strategically placed screens instead. Next, she’d installed some brightly painted chairs and rustic tables before distributing mostly faux animal skins to give a cosy effect. Not that her grandmother had shown any great appreciation for what she had done, but then the old woman spent most of her days in bed in the winter waiting for her stock of logs to be replenished by the local woodsman who offered cut price timber in return for cash. In any case, Rosie hadn’t minded doing her bit for her grandmother by transforming the faded chintz decor. And, when she stopped by, she could make use of the off-grid candlelight, snapping her noir self in black and white angled shots taken against the large scroll work mirrors that now festooned the remaining solid interior walls.

Ready for her visit, Rosie let herself in and went straight towards the cabin bed in the far corner of the room to let her grandmother know that she would be taking a few pictures whilst she was there. She sat down briefly on the folksy painted stool by the bed in which grandma appeared to be taking her customary afternoon nap. In any case the patchwork quilts and blankets she liked to use to warm herself had been pulled up high above her chin obscuring her face, so that all Rosie could see was a little of grandma’s hair escaping from underneath the ridiculous floral nightcap she insisted on donning in the winter. That was understandable, perhaps, thought Rosie. It was a cold day, and the stove was not lit to give warmth. She explained to the dozing old lady why she would not be able to stay long at all. She had an important business meeting to prepare for back in town. She had just wanted to drop by with some fruit. Yes, she went on, she knew that grandmother did not particularly like fruit, but all the same, she hoped she would at least try an apple just to please her. Rosie worried about the lack of vitamins in grandma’s porridge -based diet. Anyway, she would leave the fruit basket by the bed and then she would be on her way. She’d just take a few pictures first.

As Rosie stood up and balanced her basket on the rickety bedside table, grandmother suddenly opened both her eyes and stared at her granddaughter before saying rather gruffly,

 ‘Thank you my dear.’

 ‘You’re welcome,’ Rosie replied, feeling a little concerned by the old lady’s hoarse voice.

 She must have got a bit of a cold. She might even have caught a fever, judging by those bright, rather over-dilated eyes. Rosie supposed that colds were almost inevitable when you did not eat the right foods. She also noticed that a little more of grandmother’s hair had come loose from underneath her nightcap and that, even in the dim light coming from the single lit candle, she was sure that the hair was no longer its sparse, wispy silver self. It had become somewhat wiry and was now a kind of steely grey.  How odd, she reflected, but then she supposed that even an old person might experience moments of vanity and seek to change their appearance. Her grandmother must have hobbled her way into the nearby hamlet and subjected herself to a perm and colour at the old school hair salon by the crossroads. Rosie decided that it would be more tactful to ignore the hair and not to rebuke Grandma about the incipient cold. Instead, she bent down to pat her through the bed clothes. As she did so, the old lady stirred a little and began to yawn, exposing to view what now seemed like massive yellow teeth. What was most out of character, was that she also started to slobber. Then she began to make noises that seemed to bear no resemblance to human speech. Could her grandmother be growling at her, thought Rosie? She had been finding it increasingly hard to be confronted by the old woman’s growing decrepitude, but to be growled at seemed to her to be the final straw.  Without so much as a backward glance, Rosie jumped to her feet and hurried towards the door. Flummoxed as she was, she still could not help but notice the reflection of herself in the huge gilt- edged mirror next to the door and, with instinctive approval, she raised her phone to capture a selfie.

At the time Rosie caught only an impression of herself before rushing from the house and back down the track to find her little red convertible. She jumped into the car, revved its engine, and made her escape from Deep Woods. Only when she was safe and sound back in her modern apartment did she look at the photo. She noticed then how the phone’s barely focussed camera had somehow transformed the figure of her grandmother as she loomed up behind her into a multilimbed giant beast, overshadowing her with its tufty hair, fanglike teeth, and a jaw wide open to omit the terrifying wordless screech that had followed the growl and still echoed in Rosie’s ears. She decided that it would be best to delete the photo, telling herself that she did not want to remember her grandmother as a demented howler unable to communicate as she once had by gentle speech and whimsical folk songs. Rosie shivered at the thought of becoming an object of pity, and of fear, if she were ever to lose her reason like that. Still, looking again at the image, she took comfort in her own familiar contours. She could see that her blond hair was as gorgeously plentiful and fly away as ever, her sharp features still just visible in the half light and contrasting well with the rounded shape of the cape. And yet, absorbed as she was in her beauty, she could not help but notice how one side of her hair looked somehow a little flatter and even matted in comparison to the rest. Its texture was more like that of the wolf pelt that she had hung behind grandma’s bed, and which could just be discerned at the edge of the picture. Rosie put that down to the candlelight, but, when she zoomed in, Rosie’s attention was drawn first to her face and then to her mouth, which was slightly open in the shock of the moment. Rosie realised then that, amidst her pearl drop teeth, she could detect the slightest suggestion of jaggedness in the two incisors just visible between her red lips. It was as if they had acquired a new tendency to protrude. She pressed the delete option immediately.

The next morning, Rosie hurried to her car and drove herself out of town fast. She took no selfies as she followed the track she and her grandmother had once taken through the forest to reach the drowned quarry that everyone local knew as Echo Lake. Alone by the water’s edge, Rosie took out her ‘phone and threw it as hard as she could manage into the deepest and darkest part of the lake she could reach. The phone must have been faulty, she told herself, and she needed a new one to reconnect with her followers and her ambitions. She paused for a few minutes longer before retracing her steps. How could she resist opening her mouth to call out ‘Rosie’ as she had done on that childhood visit, delighted to hear her name rebounding round the lake’s steep sided rock surrounds. This time, however, no words came out; instead, she heard a babble, and then what could only be described as a growl, building to a screech whose arc of sound faded only when she drew breath, and began to walk and then to run from its reverberations.

Rosie drove back into town with her mouth firmly shut. New lines of grim determination across her forehead made her look suddenly older, but she made sure to avoid looking properly at herself in the car mirror. Instead, she allowed herself to think only about her immediate plans. First, she would purchase a new phone. Then she would postpone the meeting with her potential backers and make an urgent appointment with her orthodontist and hair stylist instead. Momentarily, she found herself forgetting recent horrors and even musing on how she might pitch her newfangled ‘howling therapy’ to any rich celebrities who might be interested. Suddenly becoming aware that she was rapidly approaching the familiar signpost, she was forced from her reverie and slowed just enough to swerve her car into the turning for Deep Woods. Rosie knew that whatever her dreams might have been, she still had no choice but to return to grandma’s house. How else could she ever hope to understand what was to become of her?

About the author 

 Jane Spirit lives in Suffolk UK and has been inspired to try writing fiction by going along to her local creative writing class. 
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