The two of them hadn’t talked in a long time, and Tierney had almost forgotten the sound of her grandmother’s voice — the accent, the tone, and how she used to move her hands toward the end of every sentence, almost as to invite the dialogue. Many were the things about her grandmother that had slipped away from her memory, but not her smile, her wit, and how perfect she looked in her kitchenette making gnocchi.
Tierney called to her grandmother on a sunny afternoon of March, from the kitchen of her cottage in New Harbour, Nova Scotia, where she had lived for the past ten years. Her grandmother would have loved the little town, the color of the sky at twilight, and the smell that the salty sand released every evening, when lights came on and the sea turned dark.
It was her day off, so she had decided to make a dessert with the few apples left from the Sunday farmers market.
“They look just like grandpa’s,” Tierney whispered, hoping her grandmother would hear. She rinsed two of them, and as the cold water ran over her hands, she called to her grandmother again.
“Did you hear what I said?” Silence.
Tierney cleaned the white marble countertop with a damp cloth, then she picked a knife from a drawer. She had chosen a small one with a red handle, just like the one she remembered her grandmother would use the most. She sliced one apple in a half, and then in quarters. After removing the center, Tierney paused: “Like she’s ever going to talk to me again…” she thought.
“You know,” she said then out loud, “I read about the hospital, and I had no idea you hurt, when I moved here.” Her grandmother was still silent.
With a mandolin, Tierney sliced slivers of apple, and then she set them aside in a yellow bowl where she had earlier squeezed the juice of one lemon, sprinkled with one teaspoon of finely minced rosemary, and one of brown sugar.
“Do you remember how much I loved watching cherries melting on the fire? You cooked them for hours, with just a little bit of sugar; it wasn’t preserve, simply cooked cherries.” Her grandmother, who had been standing behind Tierney like a ghost, nodded, smiling. She looked like Elizabeth Taylor, even though her eyes were brown, not violet. They were able to look through you, at once gentle and austere. She was happy to see that her granddaughter remembered.
Tierney melted a little nugget of butter in a small saucepan, and then she poured in the apple with the aromatic juice for sautéing.
While the fruit cooked — just for a few minutes — Tierney rolled out two sheets of puff pastry on the lightly floured countertop and cut them into several 3-inch strips.
“I read that the food was awful at the hospital; I can’t believe they gave you turnips almost every day. And that fish soup you hated…I am so sorry for not knowing…”
Her grandmother sat at the kitchen table; she looked thinner than Tierney remembered, her hands were very pale and full of wrinkles, but they gave Tierney a sense of home, of grounding, of truth. Just like always, her grandmother looked impeccable in clothes that were not expensive, that she had mostly bought at the local market, and yet that, on her, looked like haute couture. On this occasion, the deep red color of the flowers on her blouse blended into the slightly lighter color of the skirt, creating a shade of dark orange that Tierney had never seen before.
She removed the apples from the stove, and then she spread a thin layer of orange marmalade on every strip of dough. Tierney loved to cook; the dish was coming out just as it was supposed to, but she was sad, tears and regret couldn’t find a way out. She had never forgiven herself for waiting all those years before telling her grandmother she was sorry. Every time she had tried to talk to her, the sound of her grandmother’s voice had become increasingly unfamiliar, something that Tierney had understood as a form of punishment.
“Alice visited today,” her grandmother had written on a page of diary from when she had been hospitalized for severe depression, “and that made me so happy!”
“But I only came once, in over two months.” Tierney said. She knew her grandmother was listening. “What right do I have in saying that I loved you like a mother? What do I know about love?”
She dried her tears and lined the slivers of apple on the first strip.
She was moving in slow motion
Everything was the same,
Except that everything was different
In that very moment, everyone was silent
And everyone was friendly,
For the first time in years,
Everyone was smiling
Though their pain was apparent
And the floor was wet and slippery
With the tracks of their tears
The radio played Stevie Nicks’ Touched by an Angel…every word seemed one that Tierney might have written herself. She felt the touch of a reassuring hand on her shoulder, and when she looked outside the window she noticed that the sea had already changed in color.
After inhaling the smell of salty sand, she rolled up the strip of dough on which she had just place the softened apples. When she was finished, she placed the little roll in a muffin pan. The thin red peel of apple that peeked out of the rolled dough reminded her of her grandmother’s lips.
She did the same with the remaining strips of puff pastry, and then she placed the muffin pan into the oven, which had by then reached 400 °F.
After 25 minutes, she removed the pan from the oven: the roses were beautiful. Their edges were golden and crispy, and the apples had really turned into rose petals.
“I am sorry, grandma,” Tierney said when she took off the apron and sat at the table, where her grandmother had been just a few minutes before. The day seemed to have slipped away, just like the ghost. She opened one of the diaries and ran her finger over the words from January 25th, 2000.
When she was about to close it and powder the roses with confectioner’s sugar, she heard a voice and felt her grandmother’s presence: “Tierney, my joy, you never left me, since the day I died. And you are here now.” All of a sudden the night had fallen on New Harbour, and a sense of quiet peace reigned over the cottage by the sea.
The roses were so good that she had two, one for her and one for her grandmother.