The Special Gift

Her grandmother´s house always smelled of delicious, home-made food that her grandmother prepared in the large kitchen in the basement. The dining room was in the basement as well, large enough to seat the entire family, which counted 43 when all of them gathered. These family gatherings were rather rare nowadays, the cousins, aunts, uncles and nieces and nephews had moved away, one after the other. Myra never fully understood how a family such as hers that seemed to be so close would simply scatter the way it did. She hadn´t seen her cousins in a long time, had only received a card for her birthday from her favorite uncle and couldn´t remember the way her auntie June looked when she told a joke that no one but her would find funny. No one but her – and Myra.

Myra´s small family still drove out to see grandmother every week, an open invitation uttered in soft whisper by her grandmother in the dark hall of the morgue where Myra´s mother were to pick up the urn after the cremation. Myra had curled up in the far corner where the light of the lamp didn´t reach and she heard her grandmother and mother talk, Myra´s sister Luna standing close by, seeing and not seeing, listening but not hearing a word.

Luna had changed dramatically since the accident and now she never said a word. She never participated in conversations anymore, never bothered to listen or to pay attention, yet she remained a functioning link of the family structure, as steadily working as if she were still normal. It´s a new normal, Myra, her mother said to her, and she is still your sister.

Her grandmother had the gift, just like her mother and her sister, and Myra thought that with her, the bestowing of the gift had ended. Even Luna, with her mind in a sphere unreachably for anyone around her, had a  gift. Myra, however, was quite ordinary.

With her grandmother, it was the talent to make you feel at home. She always knew what to say and what to do, always knew what kind of food you needed to feel better. She was a homemaker through and through. Once, when Myra was younger, she had to help her grandmother peel potatoes and chop vegetables and when she asked why – they had just eaten – her grandmother looked at her and said, Auntie June´s coming, sweetheart. I think she´ll need this. Any Myra went back to her work and Auntie June came and she was crying and she felt better after she ate something.

Myra´s mother knew things before they happened. She knew about the changes of the weather, knew when to stay in and when to go out and most importantly, she always knew when someone was in need of help or assistance and that knowledge spread far across the borders of her own family. Myra was terribly afraid of her mother´s gift. One day, Myra wanted to go out with her friend to see the felling of the old massive oak in the Mythic Forest, which was just a small arrangement of oaks on the outskirt of town, when her mother came into the room and told her to get dressed and be ready to leave in five minutes, and Myra was upset and didn´t want to go with her mother, but her mother kneeled down in front of her, put her hands on Myra´s shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes. Your father had an accident, love. They will come to pick us up any minute now. Myra had never been this scared in all her life, but of course her mother was right. The police rang the doorbell eight minutes later, talked to Myra´s mother in the open doorway in hushed voices, not wanting to let the kids know what had happend, while at the same time, Myra and Luna were sitting in the kitchen, dressed and with their shoes on, holding hands and already crying.

After that day, Luna turned completely silent. She stopped talking the moment their mother walked in, the door open to show the two police men in the door frame turning their hats in their hands as if nervous. It is time, she said and Myra asked if it was true, clinging to that last bit of hope, but Luna remained quiet. It took a while for Myra to realize that she had lost her sister right there, sitting in the living room all dressed and ready to go, holding hands. It was the last time she had talked to her, the It´s going to be fine whispered into Myra´s ear.

After the funeral ceremony, Luna discovered her gift, a talent to express everything she couldn´t put into words through colors bend and twisted and rearranged on canvas. She had the gift to talk about fears and anxieties and secrets and dreams and wonders through colors and silence. Her loneliness was less pale, less pronounced when she was holding a brush, listening to a soft music, a familiar sound only she heard, humming along softly while creating a world on the canvas that spoke of her own understanding of the world, even though she never uttered a word.

Myra watched her family fall apart and yet trying to hold together, her grandmother growing old, her mother growing bitter, her sister forever remaining silent and distant to all world´s events, and she wondered if there was anything she could do to help. Every week at her grandmother´s Myra watched her relatives, trying to find a change in their routine, trying to understand how they got to be the persons they now were. Years passed and Myra left her home to go to college and returned home every week to eat with her family and to be wrapped up in the unique warmth of her grandmother´s home, now falling apart.

When she couldn´t figure out what to do, she fled into the world of books, drowned in worlds similar or different to hers, got lost for hours, days, weeks in the depths of someone else´s mind and returned unsatisfied, hungry for something else, for more, for the one book that would fit her mood, that would mirror her own sad gloominess and would help her calm down the inner echo of her fearful timidity. And when she coulnd´t find the book, she dreamed of the story she needed to read and found the book a few days later in the small bookstore in town.

The first time it happened, she put it down to chance, to luck, to coincidence, but it happened again and again, with every change her life took, she thought of the perfect story and found it written a few days later. She learned to trust her instinct, let her fingers run over the backs of the books neatly lined up on the book shelves and picked a book at random, which always turned out to be the one book she needed in that moment.

And she found books for her grandmother and her mother and even put books on her sister´s scaffold, would find them gone the next day and then read, the pages turned, the back broken, a couple of days later, the book sitting on her desk as if Myra herself had put it there.

Years after Myra discovered her own gift, her mother remarried and Myra now had another sister so much different than Luna, outgoing and loud, always chatting about things, always butting in, always sticking her nose into anyone´s business and Myra realized that her gift might have helped her mother and grandmother and had done a great deal for herself as well, but that Luna remained unchanged. And Myra got angry with herself, cursed her own gift, yet couldn´t stay away from book stores and even in her rage, even with all the madness racing through her head, she found the book she needed to give her a new perspective.

Myra had a family of her own and saw different gifts in her own daughters. She grew older and mourned first her grandmother, then her mother. With her mother´s death, Luna moved in with Myra and occupied a room on the first floor, which she rarely ever left.

And one day, Myra returned home from work, tired of work, tired of life, tired of keeping up the pretence, missing her late husband, missing her daughters, one abroad finding herself, the other one married, to find a beautiful picture sitting on a scaffold in the middle of the hallway, illuminated by the lamp hanging from the ceiling, carefully arranged for Myra to discover and understand. And Myra stood and took the painting in and she found herself in the darkness of the earthly green and celestial blue and in the brightness of a golden yellow and soft orange, saw her life spread out in front of her, all the twists and turns, all the anxiety and fear she had faced and the roads she had wanted to take but didn´t.

Next to the scaffold, she saw a high pile of all the books she had given Luna over the years, leaning against the banister of the stairs, arranged by color. When she stepped closer, she saw that they had not only been arranged by color, Luna had put them in the correct order they had been given to her and that the color order ranged from the black and blue books of their own mourning period over green and brown to red, orange, yellow, golden and – finally – silver and white.

On top of the pile – Myra had to go up three steps to reach it – was a small piece of paper on which two words were written in Luna´s childish handwriting. And when she read them, she knew that Luna was gone and strangely enough, for the first time in a very long time she felt more connected to her sister that she had ever felt over the past forty years, a bond that transcended life and death, a bond so strong that she felt it even now, as if unbreakable, as if it had always been there.

Myra pressed the note to her heart and sat down on the stairs. From the corner of her eye, she saw Luna´s final gift, her way of saying goodbye, and Myra closed her eyes and steadied her breathing and even with her eyes closed she saw Luna´s painting. Myra started to think of a story, a story that would capture everything she felt right now, everything and everything she had felt in her life, everything Luna must have seen and heard and understood. The note dropped from her hand, stopped for a short moment in midair ais if deciding whether to fly up or fall down, and then it slowly sailed to the floor, softly circling and then gliding over the floor to land in front of the scaffold.

Thank you.

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