The last time Anna’s hands had touched this wood she had been sitting beside her Grandmother ten years ago.
Eight year-old Anna had been scraping into the top layer of the curiously soft wood, only halting to flick out the remains from underneath her fingernails. Her mind had wandered as the monotonous voice of Murwillumbah’s parish priest filled the air, punctuated by his hoarse cough, like a bark, Anna had thought. Every time he coughed like this, her Grandmother’s eyes would flit to Anna’ busily working fingers and she would perse her lips in annoyance. Anna was sullen with frustration and boredom as her blank gaze drifted from her handiwork to the priest in response to her Grandmother’s disapproving eyes. More than anything Anna had wanted to be back at home in Sydney with her friends.
Anna sighs, she had been such a brat when she was young. She pulls back her legs to make room for her Auntie’s boisterous figure as she bustles past her to sit next to her Dad and the strong scent of gardenias fills the air. Anna twists in her seat to peer at all those who have come. There are plenty of people, most of whom Anna doesn’t recognise; some aged with years of rough laughter and crinkled smiles, others’ skin still smooth and sombre. As the organ starts up, Anna turns back to the front in time to stand with everyone else. But the faces linger in her mind, they are friendly faces, she thinks.
Twelve year-old Anna had been tugging absent-mindedly at her lower lip with her left hand, while her right arranged and rearranged the seven lettered tiles in front of her. GF IAYLM. MAY.YAM. LAY. MAIL. GAILY. FAIL. Anna frowned at the last option as her eyes flicked towards the score board; she was coming fourth...
“Come on, Anna.” Her Grandmother’s words awoke her from her reverie,
“I’ll just be a minute,” she had muttered; discouraged by the impatience and her own low score. She glanced at the tattered paper again before scoping the cramped board for spaces.
“Well, I should hope so. At this rate we’ll be here ‘til Christmas.” Anna looked up at her Grandmother for this snide remark, but it was softened by her smile, as she leaned in to offer Anna some advice, her hands deftly moved the pieces. FAMILY. “If you place it here, you can get 22 points.” she whispered discreetly, as Anna’s Dad came back from the toilet and her brother walked back with a wooden bowl of Smith’s Crisps.
It had taken her another four years until she had finally won a game of scrabble without any help, Anna muses. The priest’s voice is ringing out through the church and Anna keeps catching phrases, “you may not grieve as others do who have no hope…The word of the Lord”. She nibbles her lip as she fails yet again, to join in on the congregation’s response: “Thanks be to God” they murmur, unified.
Fourteen year-old Anna had been lying with her left cheek against the itchy carpet of her Grandmother’s flat against her left cheek, as she gazed blankly at the television screen which had been playing cricket for the last four hours. She sighed heavily and her grandmother had taken pity on her and suggested she read a book. After much persuasion Anna had unenthusiastically began reading Pride and Prejudice. But by the end of the week, Anna had clutched the faded copy (now her very own) to her chest as she had finished reading the Darcy’s letter. A new fervour could be found in her eyes.
As the organ and congregation wobble into Psalm 23,Anna’s mind returns to the present and her hands, sticky in the north-coast humidity, gripped the bench’s edge; she can hardly believe what she saw on the back of the pew. It is still there…the furtive and wicked ‘A’ she had carved there ten years ago. Anna surprises herself by suppressing a smirk that quickly evaporates as her eyes are drawn once more to the mahogany coffin on her left. Anna thinks about her Grandma and Murwillumbah and a part of her feels like if she leaves the town tomorrow afternoon, she will have finally lost her grandmother. As the priest’s parting words ring out through Saint Patrick’s, Anna’s hand finds her mum’s.
Afterwards, Anna once again sits down at the empty pew, her fingers trace the rivets and she leaves, feeling satisfied. But only after carving her grandma’s initial beside her own.