Together but apart
together but apart – in dressing
Grandma dresses in different layers of transparency wrapped over like rice paper, swathed in polyester. She ties a shoelace around her middle. In the past she wore pants tied up by drawstring, and over time it became a habit, so even when she isn’t wearing those pants she ties a string anyway.
together but apart – in taking photos
My Grandma has this habit where she makes my brother take photos of her every time before she goes on an airplane. This is so that we have an up-to-date picture of her, that we can use for the altar picture.
We had that problem with my Grandpa, where the only recent pictures we had of him were in group photos, at restaurants or a family friend’s house. My brother had to painstakingly, trace the outline of Grandpa’s head in Paint MS and crop out the background to a soft lilac. That’s why he’s got those blurred ears.
together but apart – in eating good food
After Grandpa’s funeral we went to the same Flemington Chinese restaurant, nestled inside an RSL, that we always go. Where was not unusual to run into any of my parent’s ages back classmates lured by the combination of fresh seafood and low prices. But this time I barely looked at the chef, holding out the mud crab, that was struggling against the string that binds its limbs. Barely blinked at my mum digging through the noodles, counting each pincer and leg making sure none of them had been disappeared. This was the first time we’d ever gone to a restaurant to mark something that wasn’t a birthday or graduation. The sweetly savoury seafood, chilled. I eyed the angular TV sets, shifting between a Current Affairs and Border security.
together but apart -in presenting gifts
As soon as we got back, my Grandma set about tackling a new project she’d set for herself. I think we were tip-toeing around each other at the time, silence sticking, so I never asked what she was doing, but I recognised it as it took shape.
She first washed these mixed cotton and polyester yarn balls, soaking them in laundry liquid. The string emerged from the water, like the fresh cooked instant noodles, that my parents never let us eat, sprung up in tight curls. She dried them looped around silver arms of clothes hangers.Then she brought out those knitting needles and conducted a two armed symphony, pinkies to the air. This went on for weeks. In the afterschool evenings the sun would darken on the back of her neck, as she worked away on the sofa.
Once completed my Grandma presented me and my brother with deep blue jumpers. The neck hole closed around me, catching at my glasses, the nose-pad running two red rails along the length of my nose. I just accepted it, uncomfortably, unconsulted. I smoothed my electro-charged hair, dispelling static.
together but apart- in forgetting
I’d like to say we grew closer, but really any significance faded. I only ever wore the jumper once, and only in the house. Yet you can never really ever Kon-Maire this jumper, it’d be sacrilege. In the end I folded it up and forgot it in some corner of my wardrobe. I wanted to bring it in today but I couldn’t find it. It had a single stitch for the bulk of it, the closer, smaller the knit the warmer it is. My brother doesn’t remember what jumper I am talking about.
together but apart – in living
Grandma lives underneath us, running at her own schedule. It’s kind of like having a cat. She wakes my mum up at 6 am sometimes with the banging shut of the microwave door. She makes us worry for her when walking down the street with her crooked spine, ignoring the zebra crossings.
together but apart – in meeting Girl-friends
On the train on Sundays, you can see old Asian ladies made up like Opera singers, eyes hidden beneath sunglasses, in brightly sequined tops with decorative scarves. Their permed hair fluffs up like duck down so you can almost not see the white of their scalps underneath. Their husbands nod along with the girl club’s chatter that fills the train carriage. Their attention scatters, pressing me against the window scratched over with youthful willfulness.
together and apart – in talking
When I was younger I listened through the wall at my Grandma talking to my Grandpa. He, ever patient, she insistent. The words blurred and felt unimportant. They always seemed on the verge of an argument, simmering, bubbles rising to the surface before being cut off with a bark of impatience. Silence settles and holds for a moment, before they go on, go at it again.
together and apart- in passing
I’m passing my Grandma in the hallway. She is there and I am here. I’d like to stop but it’s too late, I wasn’t paying enough attention. It’s too late to stop without blocking the way, so I pivot myself awkwardly. My shoulder presses against her’s. Her’s is lower and softer, the skin drier and fatter. Fatter each time after coming back from China, from being passed from family banquet to family banquet, before collapsing in once she’s back. My face strains with a goofy smile. Sheepishly confusedly guilty.
She’s leaving already, stepping with determination. And I’m leaving too, leaving the house, returning to my interiority already, friends, problems and pleasures. But in this moment, her shoulder’s on mine and she’s looking at me. She asks me, where am I going? I say. I’ll be back soon.
This piece was originally written for The Long Table, a collaboration between Weave Parramatta and The Finishing School Collective for Sydney Design Festival 2019 produced and sponsored by The Parramatta Artists’ Studios an initiative of The City of Parramatta.