Author: Anna Russell / Labels: ,

My Auntie Margaret reckoned people with hazel eyes are not to be trusted. She told me this one day whilst pouring tea stewed to within an inch of its life into the cracked china cup on the table in front of me. The teapot was ensconced in a knitted shade of yellow that can only be described as urine-coloured, the shape resembling either dog or cat, depending on the light. I remember ordering tea in a café once and being shocked by the nakedness of the pot; it seemed indecent somehow.
“I’m telling you Lisa, it’s not right. Now, your blues, your greens, your browns – you know where you are with those colours. But hazel? Greedy enough to want a bit of all of them, too flighty to pick one and stick with it. Hazel eyes!” And with that she’d given a snort like a horse, disdain rippling through her enormous mono-bosom. “Biscuit?”

Mark had hazel eyes.

I’d called her Annie-ma for as long as anyone could remember. It was one of those cute kid-talk things that seemed to have stuck. Sometimes when I heard other people refer to her as Margaret, I would look around, confused, wondering who they were talking about. But Margaret she was, to everyone else (never Maggie though, that would just have been asking for trouble), and Annie-ma to me.

Mark had hazel eyes, and when he told a lie, a tiny yellow fleck would appear to the north-east of the pupil in his left one. Towards the end, I stopped searching for that yellow fleck and starting praying for its disappearance instead.

“…I’m telling you Lisa, it’s just not natural.” A chattering of birds sailed through the open kitchen window. Annie-ma could have told you in a second what kind of birds they were; I know what a seagull looks like, and that’s about it.
“No thanks Annie-ma, I’ve had three already.” I said as she lifted the plate of digestives from the centre of the doily-smothered table and clattered them down in front of me, casting a disapproving eye over my disgracefully skinny size 12 frame.
She continued talking without missing a beat.
“I mean, face, arms, shoulders: fine. But feet? Nothing good could ever come from a person with freckles on their feet.” The birds were silent for a moment as Annie-ma looked down at her own feet with a nod. “Tea?”

Jodi had freckles on her feet.

Annie-ma was rumoured to have a thick notebook full of hazel eyes and freckled feet and all the other genetic imprints of a
bad sort. My mother swore she’d seen Annie-ma writing in it when the two of them were teenagers and had often begged to be allowed a look. But Annie-ma would tut-tut and hide the book somewhere my mother never, ever managed to find it, though she scoured the house and garden on more than one occasion. She had given up looking after their parents and died; she’d met my dad, had me and then Jodi, and the notebook had been relegated to the part of her brain that told her she should get a new coat, or remember to phone such-and-such. Meanwhile, Annie-ma had stayed on in the house, alone save for the birds at the window, myriad doilies and several tea cosies of questionable taste.

Jodi had freckles on her feet, one on each, about a centimetre downwards from her big toes. She would tell me that was where God had kissed her when she was born. Sometimes would forget that I was supposed to be the older sister and would stomp off in a huff when she said this. I told her it was because I hated having her feet shoved in my face, but really it was because I couldn’t contain my jealousy: God hadn’t seen fit to kiss me.

I’d asked Annie-ma about the notebook myself one day, not long after my mother had told me about it. I was desperate to see what might be contained within its pages. I remember it being very windy that day, the sort of wind that threatens from corners then attacks with a slap, leaving you breathless in a way that seems unpleasant until you realise it wasn’t.
As soon as the question about the notebook was out of my mouth, Annie-ma went completely still. I had never seen her still before, she was always tapping or bobbing or busy, but yet here she was, her back to me as she stood over the kitchen sink, pouring away the last dregs of tea: still. Even the tea seemed to freeze between the teapot and the sink. The stillness lasted only for a split second, then she came and sat beside me at the table, covering my hand with hers.
“Lisa, that book will come to you. It was always for you. Not yet though.” She sighed softly. “It will come to you when you are ready for hindsight, and only then. But,” she tapped her right temple with her index finger “I’ll tell you something girl, you pay enough attention to hindsight, and you can avoid having to suffer from it in the future. Your old Annie-ma’s learned a few things that way, I’ll tell you that for nothing.”

I handed Jodi the all the money I had in my purse. This was wrong, I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t believe I had the reserves left to hear her taunts if I refused. Did she think I didn’t already tell myself these things when I should have been working, eating, sleeping?
Her face was gaunt, her pallor a limpid grey. The defiance in her eyes as she demanded money and the trembles that racked her body, I recognised from Mark. It took me too long, far too long, to admit to the signs from him, but now I was like a satellite poised for a signal from anyone, anywhere. Jodi’s signal was loud and clear.
I saw Mark leaning against his old red car, drumming the door impatiently. He was looking very deliberately in the opposite direction, a sure sign of guilt. But which did he feel worse about? Jodi, or what he’d done to her? Jodi, with her need for newness, her zest for experience could not withstand the temptation. I could. Filthy stuff. But not her.
I was about to beg her not to get into the car with Mark, plead with her that he was in no fit state to drive, but then I saw her catch the glance I’d made from him to her, and, mistaking it for something else, she gave me a smirk of satisfaction. It was a smirk that said
you see? I’ve won. I said nothing.

Annie-ma went as I would like to – quietly and in her sleep. The birds still come to the window every day and I feed them crumbs from the toaster. I’m sure they had a better diet under Annie-ma’s care, but I’m still learning. I have the book too; Annie-ma was right about the hindsight thing. Oh well. I haven’t moved a single doily.

Jodi stole my favourite doll when I was eight and she was six. I screamed and raged and took the issue straight to my mother.
“Jodi, why did you steal Lisa’s doll?”
“Because I like it better than she does!”
My mother nodded her head slowly and that seemed to be the end of it. I never did get my doll back.

I’ve read through the notebook five and a half times now, and I think I’ll start to add to it myself. I may even need to buy a new one. People think I must be lonely here, but I’m not. Annie-ma’s life is still all around me and it’s comforting in a way that I doubt anything else could ever be. All I need is to be here, to feed the birds, and to have the notebook.

Jodi’s body was easy to identify. Because of the freckles. Mark’s was more difficult, I had to ask them to open his eyes. The yellow fleck was gone. I wondered if he’d offered up his honesty to Death, or if Death had demanded it of him regardless.

The man at the door is what my mother would call
a lovely young man for you to settle down with, dear. She would have been right. He’s handsome in a gently reassuring way, articulate and seemingly a pretty good sales rep. I can tell when he starts to blush that he’s about to ask me out.
But I shall have to refuse him. His earlobes are not separated from his head, and that can only mean trouble.