He is grasping for the word for the thing in the picture. The colours in the sky when the rain and sun meet. He knows it, but fog swirls in his mind. It’s rain something… it is arch? He can’t tell if that sounds right. It frightens him that he can’t find the word.
It’s called arco iris in Spanish. Iris is his little girl. He can’t remember where she is right now, but she must be with Molly. He’ll make some coffee while he waits for them to come home.
The colours stand out, vivid against the muted backdrop of the green and granite valley. He names each colour: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. He will tell the boys when they come home; Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain. That’s how you remember the sequence. Those bands are distinct when you look at them here, but that separation is a trick of human vision. The colours are a continuous spectrum. If the picture was black and white you would see them fading smoothly into one another. Molly always rolls her eyes when he says this, laughing at him.
‘I love that picture. Don’t ruin it with that nonsense.’
She put it up in the kitchen, over the table. She always tells visitors that he took it. He squirms a bit, shrugs off their exclamations. She’s winding him up. Just a little.
He took the picture of the rain arch with the first camera he had. The trip to Glendalough where the rain merged with the sun in the misty glen. The revelation of Molly. Her warmth, and her extravagance of speech and mirth. He was awed by her. He worried that he wasn’t enough for her. He is quiet and earnest. But here they are, married for years, with three children.
He takes the can of coffee beans from the shelf and inhales. Coffee smells of mornings. He’s the one who always makes the coffee.
He looks at the picture of the rain arch. He always sings the song with the colours to Iris. The boys are too big for that kind of thing now. He wonders where they are. They are with Molly somewhere, but he can’t remember if she told him. The kitchen is dull without his family.
He listens but he can’t hear them in the house. He misses them. He relishes the noise and chatter of all the family together. From early on the boys were both jokers, storytellers. Little Iris is more like him. She watches her brothers, round-eyed. She smiles at their antics, not always understanding. But there are little jokes that just Iris and he share.
Sometimes Iris asks him for coffee, it’s a routine they have.
She’ll look up at him, gleeful.
‘Daddy, can I have some coffee?’
‘No!’ he pretends shock. ‘You can’t have coffee!’ pretend stern. ‘Coffee is only for grown-ups’ and she giggles.
Iris is only six. Or is she seven, now? Where is Iris? Things he knows seem to escape him. Facts are not solid any more. They fade away as he gets close to them.
He makes himself a cup of coffee, hoping the caffeine will kick his sluggish brain into gear. He buys good coffee; he and Molly love a decent cup of coffee.
He weighs out the beans. He puts them in the grinder. Two spoons. Just so. The routine is comforting. It will help him bring his thoughts into focus.
He is precise about the way to make coffee. The family tease him about it.
‘I have measured out my life in coffee spoons’ Molly says. He doesn’t mind.
He counts out the right time before plunging down.
Coffee will sharpen him up. The tang of it is familiar, brings him closer to what it is he needs to remember. Somebody comes in.
‘Molly?’ But it’s not her. He doesn’t know this woman. She looks upset.
‘Dad?’ she says, ‘What are you doing?’ She points to the full cups of coffee lined up on the counter. Molly must be having friends around.
‘My wife is entertaining guests’ he explains. He can’t bring to mind who it is she has visiting, or if they came in to say hello already.
The woman in his kitchen sighs.
‘Dad. Mum’s dead. Remember?’ And he remembers.
It swims up to the surface of his mind with fresh pain. The hospital. The struggle that reduced her. She had shrivelled into a husk that was not his luminous wife.
He is old, and Molly has left him behind. He can’t remember things. People come and look after him.
He looks at this woman. There is silver in her dark hair. She has pale skin. Not one of the Filipino ladies. Polish, maybe. She looks tired. He wants to thank her, show his appreciation. He can’t remember her name.
‘I know it can’t be easy, looking after me.’ he tells her. ‘I’m really very grateful.’ Her face brightens.
‘We rely on people like yourself, you know. Coming over and taking on this kind of work.’ The smile wobbles. It’s not the right thing to have said. Molly would be so much better at this.
‘Do you not know me?’ the woman says ‘It’s me. It’s Iris’
‘Iris is my little girl’s name.’ He gestures to the photograph. ‘Did you know that arco iris is the Spanish for rain arch? But that effect of those distinct bands of colour is just a trick of our eyes. We can see them, but they’re not really there at all.’
The woman is not interested. She looks worn out. He realises that she’s on the brink of tears. He pats her on the shoulder.
‘I’ll make us a cup of coffee.’
About the Author
Jessica Grene is an Irish writer living in Dublin. Her work has been published in Crannóg and Mslexia. She is working on a novel.
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