For Abuela

She flipped through the stack of postcards that she had pulled from her suitcase. All written and addressed, but never sent. How could it have already been so long?
Her fingers, stiff with swelling, trembled with the weight of remembering.

The hum of traffic outside the open window of her Viennese hotel room stirred her awake. Rising slowly to take the strain off her swelling joints, she made her way to the bathroom and splashed herself fully conscious. The efforts of last night’s endless tossing and turning were no longer visible in her eyes. Her mind wandered to the day she departed Sydney International Airport for Vienna, a trip intended to revisit his favourite places; a way for her to accept and continue on. As she sang softly, searching for some clothes not stained with the remnants of travel, nor reeking of crowds and clammy buses, her hands vacantly spun the circumference of a potter’s wheel. Spinning, shaping, crafting: it had been many years since she last had made art, and whilst slipping on a fresh pair of navy slacks and a white button-down, her hands moved so easily she forgot her age.

All at once, she was back on a stool – slightly wonky so that she dipped at the left – but she never faltered in her throwing, never once did the rib make a dent that she did not intend. This particular afternoon, she had been crafting in her workshop by the orchard, and barely noticed the new boy her father had employed to help harvest the apples. They had, once he had picked all he could for the day, and after introductions left her reeling, talked late into the afternoon until the sun was all melted honey and fading gold. They reveled in the dreams of adventure that they shared, and, even then, despite their home being here – in the warmth of the sun and so close to the mountains that split Australia almost in two – she could see he only wanted the cobbled streets of Vienna. Years later, as the same night sky slid around their bodies in the dark, and the light from their porch illuminated his face that already seemed to sing of a love for a place more than this, she knew that wherever he chose to be in this wild, wide world, she would be right there beside him, her clay-stiff hand locked into his.

Her head snapped to the window; the sky, so clear when she began dressing, had bruised into a swell of purples and greys. Her hands had forgotten their past of birthing beauty out of clay, and now gripped onto the postcard of Schönbrun Palace she had kept in her pocket. She forced herself to clear the fog of remembering from her eyes. Remembering his face and his laugh was well and good, but she could not think of his hands, the curvature of his spine, the way he said her name. As she focused on dialing the taxi number the hotel had provided, she pushed her incentive for revisiting Schönbrun out of her mind, and let the slow amble of forgetting run through her veins, like maps under her paper-thin skin.

The taxi driver murmured a soft hello as she eased in to the back seat.
“Where are we headed?”

The smell of the looming storm slipped into the vehicle as he opened the driver’s window, and then he was there, replacing the bearded chauffeur with his clean-shaven jaw and twinkling eyes, his hands clasped tightly around hers. The rain always smelt like him, and he always smelt like her: smelt more of dry summers and her than he ever did of man. As though he had spent all his life leaning into her, his whorls and loops and arches fusing into the inside of her wrist, the dip of her shoulder; those places he used to ghost over now ached more than her swollen joints, for they were bruised with longing and absence.

“To Schönbrun Palace, please.”

She stepped out of the taxi after paying her fare and held the postcard up to the skyline. It was identical – nothing had changed. Except now she was nursing a dozen postcards written only in her shaky hand and addressed only to him, instead of those the two of them had written in prose full of joy and “wish you were here”s and addressed to all their closest friends. The palace was murky underneath the beaten sky and her heart cracked. The sky was his eyes, deep grey, almost blue. It was as if everything she had never felt about his absence had come to gather on the blurred line of the horizon, slowly approaching, about to break open upon her.

She remembered how he painted her vases and bowls with vermilions and blooming shades violet and a blue that he said reminded him of Haydn. She remembered how, at first, he could not look away from her, and then, decades later, how he could not understand her adoration for his naked body: all bones and mottled skin and cracking. How his face lit up when his gaze first touched the statues that adorned the roof of Shönbrun. How alive he came as soon as their plane landed on the tarmac of Vienna’s International Airport. She could feel his fingers laced between hers, his breath hot on the back of her neck as he quietly thanked her for coming all those 15,877 kilometers with him.

The clouds began to take the shape of soft bodies with limbs intertwined, but the charcoal grey of their appearance cast shadows that buried themselves deep in the soft crevices of her body. His trembling breath that filled the ward the last night she held him was in the wind. The sky cracked and then she could hear nothing but the throbbing of water in her eardrums, falling and hitting the earth, over and over, a million times. How when she woke in the darkest hours of the next morning, she could feel him gone before she even opened her eyes. She cursed herself for trying to forget.

Her body echoed with the loss she tried so long to suppress and it roared alongside the thunder that pulsed through her bone marrow. The postcard was limp in her hands, ink running through the cracks in her hands, bleeding into her skin. His eyes were still there, seeping rain like tears.

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