It’s just a tape measure. Long, thin plastic. The numbers have a font that is reminiscent of childhood. I wrap it around my waist and grimace, eyes squeezed shut in momentary hope that the tape will be kind. It isn’t.
With a sinking heart I finish my measurements. And then, after winding the tape into a tight curl but before putting the tape safely into the drawer where the buttons and rainbow coloured threads live, I pause. I bring the tape to my nose. I inhale.
My mind expands. My chest tightens and the space behind my nose and eyes tingles. The sensations and images are instantaneous and uncontrolled.
My questioning mind takes over. How? How, after thirteen years, can a scent permeate and remain? How can that same scent transport me body, mind and soul to a house that a exists but a home that doesn’t? As I inhale again, doubting my senses, I see her, hear her. I hear her.. “Wait a minute me-duck..” and she her walk cautiously, her hands searching for each secure resting place a tissue just visable between her clenched fingers. Those hands, powder soft, held you so tight when she hugged you, that you knew what unconditional love was before you knew the word for it.
I was happy when you died. I had put myself through university and through teacher training. I had lost weight. I had a boyfriend. I was so selfish, then.
I didn’t want to let the truth in. I chose not to read the signs. The sudden weight loss. The lack of care in your appearance. The absence of visits.
I last saw you in hospital. The liquid food had put a little colour in your cheeks again. You were sat up in bed. My Grandad, your childhood sweetheart, forever by your bedside, took an opportunity for a cup of tea and a stretch of legs.
At your request, I refilled the vase of sweet peas with fresh water. I sat by your side and held your hand. Not as strong now and bruised from the IV. But still soft and string enough to squeeze your love in my hand. We talked about this and that. You talked about ‘my little Katie,’ my mum, and I understood. You told me that you worried about my aunties. You wanted us to look after each other.
When Grandad returned we talked more, his head hidden behind a newspaper. You teased him about stories that proved his youthful love for you. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t relish in the retelling of them. I understand now.
Before long, I stood up. Time to go. A date later on. I kissed you, felt your hands squeeze mine. As I walked out, I turned to wave goodbye. You waved back until you were hidden from view. I walked out of the ward, happy. Oblivious.
That tape measure, from your treasured button box, brought you back to me. As I inhaled you were there again, alive and with me. Thirteen years since you were taken away. My first taste of grief. My first realisation that life could be unkind.
My beautiful, little Nana, with hands so soft but love so strong. Are you still here? Do you watch me, seeing my pain and my anxiety? Do you stay near me, coaxing me, loving me, lending me strength when I feel darkness? Did I not take heed of the signs that you were around? Did I lose faith?
I believe Nana, I believe.