Blood Red Lips

Mumma dresses up in shimmery clothes,
And paints her lips bright red.
Grandma, half-blind, half-mad,
Rocking back and forth rhythmically
Like the hands on the old giant grandfather clock,
Standing tall and proud in the hall
That always keeps good time,
But the wrong time,
Mutters that it’s the colour of her son’s blood,
Smeared across her lips.
I wonder, every time she smacks her lips,
Does mumma taste him,
Cold metal and stale sweat, all tinged with
A frothy sweetness bubbling underneath.

Grandma clutches me in her arms,
On the days when I am too tired to run away,
And tells me stories.
I tell her they give me nightmares,
And I can’t sleep at night,
But she pays no attention.
She tells excellent stories,
Maybe because she’s lived through them all.
She stopped trying to separate,
Real life and fiction ages ago,
When the walls of her mind began to crack,
And her dead father loomed over her
With his leather belt swinging in his arms,
The heat where it crushed her flesh,
Searing in thunderbolt scars.
Sometimes, she falls asleep in the middle of a tale,
Leaving me to deal with her demons,
Hiding in the shadows.

Mumma says I mustn’t mind too much
Of what she says,
She’s old and broken.
If you listen carefully, you can hear,
Her bones sighing everytime she moves,
As if they have had enough.
Her hair’s silvery white at the roots,
Like her eroding white matter has found pores
To seep through.
She says, it’s because Grandma spent
Most of her life being a shadow,
Stifled all her screams in her throat,
Muffled all her tears before they could fall.
So now, she’s scared of going away,
Forgotten like she never really existed at all.
Can you imagine a fear like that,
Mumma asks me as she washes
Her husband’s blood off her lips,
Stale sweat and cold metal,
A frothy sweetness beneath it all.

Grandma uses a strange set of expletives
For Mumma, even though Mumma never responds.
On the days when Grandma is extra loud,
And the neigbours peep out,
Acting like they don’t care at all,
Mumma ignores her like she’s already a ghost,
Trying to be heard through the void.
It’s as though they have a secret language
No one else can decipher, not even me,
The next in line to own their secrets.
Maybe that’ what happens,
When you find out your daughter knows,
What her father tastes like,
And of all the demons in the world,
The one you have to kill,
Lies next to you every night, smiling.

Grandma remembers the silhouette of trees,
Who stood silent spectators as she dragged,
Her son’s corpse, through the mud,
Screams stifled and tears muffled, one last time.
Sometimes, they mix with the shadow of her dead father,
Swinging his leather belt, on their scraggly branches,
And scream in her ear,
“Whyyy… . Whyyyy… whyyy.. ”
Mumma wiped the blood from the floor,
How fast tears act on blood stains,
All gone by the time Grandma returned,
The last time Mumma ever cried.

Now Mumma dresses in shimmery clothes,
Though everyone asks her to wear white.
White doesn’t look good with blood red lips,
She says, bouncing me on her knee.
Grandma sits, muttering to people from her past,
That only she can see.
Mumma’s lower lip quivers at the sight, sometimes.
Is she afraid, that when Grandma’s gone,
The ghosts will want her to keep them company?
Is that why they never taught me the secret language,
So the cycle could be broken,
And at least I could be free.

Lekshmy S. Nair can be found on Instagram @shadows_and_smiles.

Featured image credit: Pixabay