Your ex-boyfriend gave you a solid brass Buddha, one foot high. You hate to think what he had to pay for it. Not knowing what else to do with it, you place it on your bookcase. You must admit that it’s a beautiful object, that it inspires a certain peace. But it leaves you cold, just like the crucifix hanging in your parents’ bedroom always left you cold. Only when you sit in your dead grandmother’s chair and rock yourself into a trance can you reach your world of wonder, that green and gold place where May sunshine washes through newly unfurled birch leaves, where shadow and light dance on the white bark you peel off like onionskin. Long ago, you think, people worshipped their ancestors.
You wake up to cold and gray, to a day so drab that it hurts like a permanent migraine. On the bus ride to the office, the commuters in their career clothes are scrying into their phones. No free seats so you grab the handrail and gaze out the window. Instead of city buildings and dirty snow, you see an old farmhouse at the edge of an apple orchard. A gaggle of geese guards that house. They rush towards you, flapping their wings and hissing. But you walk resolutely on until you reach the veranda, and then the front door, propped open by a pair of gardening shoes. Stepping into the hall, you breathe in the mixture of baking bread and boiled coffee. A woman comes to you, a woman like your grandmother, but older. Her thin silver hair reaches her knees. Her face is so wrinkled, you can hardly see where her glittering eyes end and her crow’s feet begin.
Cocking her head, she says, “What took you so long?” And taking your hand, she marches you into her kitchen where a cat sleeps on the windowsill. She sits you down and serves you elderflower wine in an old jam jar. You take one sip and the kitchen reels around you.
You hear a rushing sound, a pounding, and then you are alone on a beach holding a piece of driftwood shaped like a goose in flight. A strange new weight pulls at your shoulder blades. Craning your neck to investigate, you see the wings sprouting there, blue-black crow wings. Of their own volition, they stretch and flap until you are airborne. Heading out over the waves, the tips of your bare toes graze the water.
“You dream too much,” your ex informs you. “You live on another planet. When’s the last time you watched the news? When’s the last time you voted? You can’t just spend your whole life with your head in the sand.”
Your ex is an activist. He majored in queer theory. He worked on Bernie Sander’s election campaign. He buys everything organic and volunteers one day a month at the soup kitchen. You are humbled by his social engagement, but when he sends you links to articles and videos overflowing with the world’s misery, the weight is too heavy for you to bear. You find yourself wondering how many homeless people he could have fed for the price of that solid brass Buddha.
Your grandmother lived until she was ninety-nine. She quarreled bitterly with everyone who came to visit and expressed concern about the farm falling into disrepair around her. She told them she just wanted to be left in peace. Then one day she died of a stroke while chopping wood on that old farm where she had lived alone for fifty-six years. She died instantly—no lingering pain, hospital gowns, or stench of bedpans or disinfectant. That’s how it is on your mother’s side of the family—the women are widowed early and seem to live forever until the day they suddenly drop dead.
After her death, her children sold her farm to a developer, who tore down her Victorian house to build rows and rows of condos. They left only three of her apple trees standing. Those trees are as old and gnarled as she was when she died. Like old women, they no longer bear fruit but stand and bear witness to what once was, but is no longer.
You pack the brass Buddha away in old newspapers, stick it in a cardboard box. You’ve decided to donate it to a drug rehabilitation center. Maybe it will bring the people there peace and clarity. Then you brew a pot of tea and sit in the rocking chair, huddled in an afghan your grandmother crocheted before you were born. You close your eyes and you are far out over the ocean, sometimes floating, sometimes flying. A blast of salt wind fills your shiny black wings, lifting you even higher. Opening your beak wide, you cackle and caw.
Mary Sharratt is committed to telling women’s stories. If you enjoyed this short piece, please check out her acclaimed novel Illuminations, drawn from the dramatic life of Hildegard von Bingen, and her new novel Revelations, about the mystical pilgrim Margery Kempe and her friendship with Julian of Norwich. Visit her website.