There are suitcases everywhere. They cover the country. Little brown suitcases on trains, and on carts – suitcases strapped to the top of buses. There are suitcases being carried along old country roads by women, by men, dragged by children. There are suitcases abandoned in ditches, suitcases left broken in stairwells.
People carry little brown suitcases.
Inside, all they can hold. A set of warm clothes, a photo- graph of loved ones, a treasured book. They carry little suitcases to imagined safety and hope to find a place where they can put their suitcase down and unpack.
You must become a little brown suitcase.
You must close up tight, protect your most needed possessions – all you can hold. Your heart, your mind, your soul. You must become a little suitcase and try not to think about home.
Our footsteps echo as we climb the stairs. My grandma holds my hand.
Shhhhh – be quiet! My grandpa is sleeping.
The third floor flat, the heavy wooden door, and, inside, the smell of warm pipe tobacco and homemade cakes. Home.
Take your coat off – hang it on the coat rack. Take your shoes off – put them in the shoe rack. Put on your slippers. Mine are red and my grandma’s are blue. My grandpa’s are brown, but they are in his room where he is sleeping. Down the hall, past my grandma’s bedroom and past my grandpa’s bedroom, past the green-tiled bathroom, and into the small, light kitchen. My grandma puts the cloth shopping bag on the table. It has flowers on it and zips up into a small leather wallet when it’s not being used. It is a good bag and it holds a lot. It comes from Czechoslovakia.
I unpack the shopping. Three Kaiser rolls. A wrapped paper parcel with six slices of Swiss cheese inside. A paper parcel with six slices of Pariser sausage inside. A loaf of rye bread with caraway seeds. A jar of Nova gherkins. One round black and green tin – Dr Pat pipe tobacco for my grandpa.
My grandma fills up the kettle over the sink and sets it on the stove. She lights a match and the gas ring explodes blue – pooof. That sweet smell of gas. My grandma blows out the match, then breaks it in half with her fingers. She drops the broken match into a glass ashtray. It’s full of match halves – one half clean; the other blackened and burnt.
I hear the toilet flush. My grandpa is awake.
My grandma scoops loose tea into the shiny teapot. She smiles at me and then begins to sing.
‘One-two-three Grandma caught a flea Put it in the teapot Made a cup of tea
The flea jumped out Grandma gave a shout
Here comes grandpa with his shirt hanging out!’
I join in with the last line, and just like that – my grandpa opens the kitchen door. He’s wearing his white singlet and striped pyjama bottoms and his brown slippers – his face still puffy with sleep. I laugh at his crazy sticking-up hair, at the way he always looks so surprised to be alive. He sits down at the green table next to me. He pats my head.
My grandma makes the tea.
I’m sailing across space – far from Earth – and there is nothing but black and the distant light from stars that shine. But I can see her now, just in view – the little bright-blue planet. Neptune.
A flute plays. The keys of the celesta chime.
I fly faster, I move with speed and the planet gets bigger, brighter, until there is nothing else but blue.
High voices begin to sing, a dream calling me – pulling me in. I reach out my arms, my fingers. Closer, closer – I try so hard to touch the surface, but the celesta chimes again, and Neptune begins to fade. She becomes see-through, translucent, and my hand slips right through.
The singing becomes softer, quieter – softer, until there is no longer any difference between sound and silence.
Dappled light through the lace curtains. The ticking of the Smiths clock.
I’m sitting on the upside-down cream footstool – my spaceship. Three wooden legs stick up in a triangle around me, little metal feet on the end of each like antennae.
The tape in the stereo runs fast to its end and clicks off. Everything is still. The coffee table, the TV with the lace doily on top, the sofa underneath the double windows, the gas heater, the mantlepiece, the framed tapestry of a city far away – with bridges and a river and a castle and a dark sky. The third storey flat.
My whole world.
My grandpa’s heavy breaths. He is asleep in his armchair. I stand up and look at him. So peaceful, his face smoothed down with sleep, his arms crossed on his lap. I don’t want to wake him, but he opens his eyes.
‘Malá Liška,’ he says. That’s me. Little Fox.
My grandpa sits up and taps his pipe out in the ashtray
– the contents grey and long gone out.
‘Did the tape finish?’ he asks, and I nod.
Side two – the best side. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age; Uranus, The Magician; Neptune, The Mystic – my favourite planet, and our favourite piece. My grandpa thinks that the celesta is a magical instrument and I always listen out for it in each different track. Holst: The Planets.
My grandma calls out from the kitchen. Lunch is ready, and my grandpa stands up, stretches his back. He takes my hand. We walk together to the kitchen for our lunch – a Kaiser roll with a slice of cheese and a slice of Pariser, a whole dill gherkin on the side. One gherkin for me, one for my grandma and one for my grandpa.
Brand Manager and Head of the Realm at Hachette Australia Books. Mutant power: Aggressive humour. Lifelong Trekkie (I don’t find that offensive) comic book reader and former proud bookseller. Likes: Literary, contemporary and speculative fiction. Dislikes: Haters. Ideal date: My birthday.