“A battle between the light of remembrance and dark of forgetting; the burden of tradition, and the cost of progress. This is an existential fairy tale, told for those of us that may have grown up, but still remember the uncertainty of a world steeped in the occult logic of dreams.”
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One day there came a knock on the door. Stern, like wood rapping against wood, but it seemed to ring out like the tolling of a great bronze bell at the beginning of a ritual. And there was Gran, a thing of legend, yet also a stooped old woman with a broken face and hair like roots.
Her frail form was a knotted tree trunk carved by vulture’s claws, grown firm and terrible from staying upright through sheer will, even as she hobbled through the coldest hell. Or so I now imagine her, and so she may as well have been. Such is the power of stories.
My mother’s hair was already run through with grey when Gran arrived on that doorstep, as if time knew the secret we had not yet heard. In just seven short years they would both be gone. The air inhaled them, though it left the faintest whiff of their presence, so I couldn’t sit in any room of that house without feeling haunted by their absence. Is haunting what’s lost or what remains?
My mother was surprised by Gran’s arrival. It had been years since she had looked upon her.
“I wasn’t expecting you,” she said, trying to sound happy but looking like it was not her mother but instead the very specter of death that stood before us.
“Of course you weren’t,” Gran said, eyeing me as if her daughter wasn’t there. “But you were expecting. And you didn’t even tell me. What a dear old burden I must be to you, but look at her. So beautiful! That’s the face I’ve long dreamed.”
“I’m Ayta, and I’m seven!” I proclaimed. The first words I said to her.
She squinted with her one good eye and chuckled. “I am Ayta also, little one. Seven is a good number. Seven is a very good number.” Just like that, she shuffled inside, never to leave alive.
I felt lovelier than ever, then. A fairy princess. Gran would tell me I was needed at the palace, and whisk me away!
Did I not notice my mother standing in the foyer, weighed down by Gran’s pack? Or the look she wore, like a lifetime of needle pricks had finally let loose a torrent.
Years later, when I looked down on my mother’s tired body, I realized the burden of expectation she must have felt; one she could never live up to, and never escape. She fled Siberia to live in New York, married an outsider, and still when she looked up to the skyline at night, behind it she must have seen a long shadow with shoulders like fluttering feathers, and the face she had gazed upon as a nursing infant, even then saying, “You shame me, daughter.”
By birth alone, I have always been exactly what Gran wanted. Maybe my mother somehow knew before Gran’s arrival, when she chose to name me. Was that merely a cruel trick? Was I a gift or a punishment?
Finally, I see her clearly, now that all that remains is a sad plot of ground that the grass hardly grows upon. She tried to flee her own mother’s legacy before it could crush any hope of having her own. Still it caught up with her. Now, she might sleep. May she find peace in her forgetfulness. It is my curse to remember for all eternity. I may never escape. . .
Read the full introduction for free on Modern Mythology.