Iris by Anita Tavendale
Short story of the month, Jan/Feb 2023
Becky shuffled to turn and walk through the doorway backwards. Pushed her backpack on the flimsy security door, to bump the door open. The flurry of jasmine enticing her with its familiar scent. The warming welcome of her nan’s front porch. She was slightly flushed and always enjoyed the sound of the door swinging behind her and shutting.
“I’m here, Nan! Volleyball training just ran late, then I tried Mum and can’t get hold of her. Dad was ringing me, but I was playing volleyball for the senior team.”
Becky flopped in her favourite armchair with the crane cushions. Her nan loved cranes.
“Hope you don’t mind, Nan. I used my key to let myself in. I knocked, but I thought that you might not hear me if you’re busy in the kitchen.”
Becky’s nan had been a nurse in the war. When it was over, a friend gave her a small crane statue, for being brave. That’s what her nan would tell her. This started the passion for that elegant bird.
Becky loved the symbol of the bird. Often just disappearing into the dreamworld of sunsets and cranes heading off into the sky, their long necks holding their own against the twilight canopy. Their wings stroking powerfully against the arriving night-time hour.
Nan’s house was also full of clocks; they had stopped years ago. Becky’s granddad had loved the tick tock, tick tock of a grandfather clock and four smaller clocks around the house that were still of quite significant size.
“They drove me nuts, Becky,” her nan would say and she would say this often. Probably after all this time finally glad to have ears that listened to her stories and listened well. Becky was always keenly listening.
“At first I had loved the grandfather clock. The way it binged and bonged. Over the years I had admired it and then all those clocks, it just started making me feel differently about the clocks. Our four kids had grown and I think when they were young and rowdy I just didn’t really hear them ticking. But then, well with everything that happened a few years ago and with your uncle Mitchell taking his own life I just couldn’t take it. All that noise, it just didn’t let up, like some type of torture!”
Becky would sip her grown-up tea and eat her shortbread from the biscuit tin with the cranes on it, then she would pick another biscuit and nod.
She could always imagine her nan standing in the hallway with the wooden floorboards that had developed creaks, loving the sound, initially of small shoes on the polished boards. The laughter, the ticks and the tocks, the tucking four kids, two sets of twins, into beds and hearing bongs at midnight.
Then Mitchell dying and Granddad passing away and the floorboards never getting a new polish and the ‘tick tock, tick tock’ getting on her nan’s nerves. Time never, ever went back. The clocks mockingly went forward and the only thing that gave her nan comfort was the day she adopted a lizard.
“I put the lizard on the floor, he looked up at the clock with its curious face, his eyes were blinking, and the clock stopped, just like that! I couldn’t believe it, Becky,” she said.
Since Becky was five years old at the time she had said, “Tell me the story about Baz, Nan! Tell me about how he stopped the time!”
She loved the stories about the cranes, about the clocks and about how Baz finally brought her peace from her woes.
Becky saw a flash of her Nan’s body in her floral dress swish past the pantry.
“How was your day, Becky?”
“Well Nan, my teacher said to us in maths, ‘Do you all get it?’ Heaps of us I reckon, said ‘NO’ and she goes, well she didn’t even care, she just said, ‘Well I’m not repeating myself again, you can look up this website’ and I’m like, ‘Isn’t that a teacher’s job to teach and repeat until we get it?’”
Nan walked in through the lounge door and smiled, carrying her biscuits and was returning for the tea.
Becky was 14 and an only child. She loved it. Her cousins had to fight for everything and never got the ‘nan alone time’ as three kids under five meant they picked Nan up and went to the park.
Becky’s mum had told her that her nan and granddad had had her last and she had been a pleasant surprise. So it was like she had been an only child in some ways, with 11 years between her and Mitch.
“I liked the war, Becky.” Her nan would dip her gingernut in her weak tea and would tell her the war story.
“My dad was a hard man. He had remarried when Ma died and my stepmother treated me like Cinderella! And there wasn’t a prince. There was war that got my two feet out of there from those two and I signed up at 17. That gave me a ticket out of there and that’s where I met your granddad. Back in those days, Becky, things were simple. You don’t need extra lips or fake chins, we just looked into each other’s eyes and had love. I used to write him letters and he sent me a handkerchief … I’ll never forget pulling it out the envelope with a beautiful scent on it.
“I lived on the farm and we had nothing like that. We wiped our nose on our sleeve or put a bit of rosemary or mint leaf behind our ears. We were in love Becky, we didn’t need what you poor kids think you need.”
Her nan popped her head around the corner of the doorway.
“I’m just putting the kettle on, I forgot to turn it on. How about that.”
Becky smiled back: “That’s okay, Nan, come and put your feet up.”
She watched her nan sit down in the green rocker.
Becky pulled out her phone. “I’ll just try Mum again, I’ve tried four times. I said I’d meet her here.”
“Sorry, I’ve just had to organise a few things. I’m very sorry, I’ll be there soon. Did you speak to Dad?”
Becky looked at her nan who was rocking in her favourite chair, her thin smile with the same pink lipstick. Then her phone cut out.
Her poor nan who’d had to say goodbye to her husband from a cancer that made his life end before he actually took his last breath.
“I don’t mean to sound cruel Becky, but I wish he’d just had a big heart attack and died. Watching the one you love suffer like that was not nice.”
Becky could just see her nan standing in the hallway, the dim light that cast shadows. When Becky had been very young and they had to shut the lounge door to keep the heat in she would
run fast to the bathroom. The sun never quite warmed this room, ever. The grandfather clock at the end looming over everybody with its big hands.
Becky would run in her slippers into the comfort of the bathroom with the crane pictures and crane soap dish. The pale pink toilet seat cover. She loved the bathroom. There was no warm fluffy toilet seat cover on her toilet seat lid at home! The smell of lavender and the old stained windows. But then she had to shut the door and sprint back.
She could see how her nan would have stood in front of the grandfather clock, looking at it while it looked back with no expression, just that incessant ticking when time had just done awful things.
Then she was given a lizard of all things. And the reptile that seems symbolic of an old age and time had arrived and the clocks all stopped.
But she left them there because Eric had loved the clocks. He’d told her, “I like the sound of the clocks. It reminds me of how lucky I am to be here. I hear the sound because silence makes me think too much, ‘I’d never seen anybody more beautiful than Iris.’” Becky’s granddad would smoke his pipe and smile at her.
“I was a mess, me arm shot off. I felt like I wasn’t a full person. I was lying there for days feeling sorry for myself and she came along, I saw her green eyes and thought of home.
“Thought of the paddocks in the sunlight with the wind going through it. That beautiful soft look and she said, ‘What are you looking at?’
“And I said, ‘The woman I’m going to marry.’” Becky always giggled at that story.
“I said, “I’ll love her for every second of every minute of every day and I bought a clock for every room of the house to remind her.’”
Becky heard her mum’s car pull into the drive with a certain urgency. Even from the lounge room she heard her mother wrench on the handbrake.
‘Is that Mandy?” Nan enquired.
“Yes, Nan, I’ll get another cup out.” Becky walked through to the kitchen and saw her nan had again forgotten to tun on the kettle. She was going to joke about it but decided not to. The front porch door slammed shut.
“I meant to be here early. I’m so sorry, Becky.”
Her mum came in, walked into the kitchen and gave her a tight hug.
“Are you alright, Mum?”
Becky looked at her mother’s red eyes and her mum looked at her quizzically.
For some reason she realised her nan had forgotten all of the cups. Becky felt the cool breeze of the window wide open, above the sink .
“I spoke to your dad, he said he’ll get Chinese if we even feel up to eating.”
“What’s wrong, Mum?”
“Why are you making three cups of tea? Did you speak to Dad at home after volleyball?”
‘No. I was running late so I just came straight here.”
Mandy let out a small ‘oh’ and took her daughter’s hands.
“Nan died, darling. This morning her neighbour who was picking her up for shopping found her.”
Becky stared wide-eyed at her mother and felt like all the ticking clocks had revived in her chest. She let her mother hug her tight.
Then she looked behind her mother into the lounge. The late afternoon sunshine was casting a glow over two black glossy cranes on the mantelpiece. Their beaks turned up to the skies and their necks proudly arched in grace.
The rocking chair her nan sat in was empty and there was no plate of biscuits. Baz the lizard was sitting in his cage blinking out at them both.
“We’ll still have a cup of tea, then.”
“No! I don’t want to!” Becky ran from the room and into the hallway and past the grandfather clock that stood stock-still in mocking silence.
Her shoes loud on the floorboards that was filled with the echoes of cranes’ wings taking her nan’s soul to join her grandfather where they did not have to worry about time.
But her nan was in the kitchen, smiling and sitting next to her and – !
Becky walked out into the backyard with the marble statues her nan had loved. “Goodbye Iris,” she whispered, using her nan’s name.
About the author: Anita Tavendale
Anita is a mother of two daughters who hails from Christchurch, New Zealand but lives in Adelaide. Her passion is writing short stories, poetry and picture book stories. She has been writing from a very young age and used to contribute to the junior press section of The Press newspaper when she was younger.
She enjoys hearing of real-life animal rescue stories which have inspired her to rescue a few of her own cats from local shelters. She also loves caring for her garden. Her passions are what inspire her to create stories so she can share her love for writing and for others to hopefully learn to love the art of story-writing as much as she does.