Flicker

Andrea Noël
Featured image: Peacock glare © A. Anupama 2019

“Here comes the candle
to light you to bed.
Here comes the axe
to chop off your head.
Chip chop, chip chop,
off goes your head.”
                  —Unknown

She used to hide in showers spreadeagled:
hands and feet squeezed tight into corners,
back pressed flat against cold, hard tile.
Her arms and legs quivered,
strained past collapse but conditioned to endure
through the wait;
pale face flushed with anticipation,
lips taut with glee.
My mother would find her there,
smiling her Joker smile, eyes wide and burning.
Imagine the screams,
how grandma must have laughed,
full-throated, unrepentant,
as her teenage daughter fled terrified.

My mother still remembers,
can recount every detail to its finest point.
Making light of grandma’s madness is her therapy.
She passes it to us
in elaborate, story-teller fashion,
recalls how grandma would put her little girls to bed
quoting omens of death with nursery rhyme enthusiasm.
Imagine the eight-year-old’s vivid terror,
the visions of candles and hatchets
floating unhurried, deliberate,
their task to ensure that little children
sleep soundly.

Now imagine the old woman,
back bent under the weight of age,
mind wandering and broken.
The light she follows now is fractured,
the product of a fevered mind flickering madly.
Her shuffling gait is slow;
the light glows and gutters, impatient,
grows dimmer still.
Come, grandma, take my hand.
Let me lead you to bed.