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The photo album sits heavy in my hands, growing dewy from the moisture of my palms. Fingers peel back the pages displaying happy smiling faces and sometimes even the pink of an exposed bathing baby. My hands fall still on a picture of a little girl with twisting blonde ringlets and the proud face of her Nana next to her. The curves of their noses are similar and the line of their brow. Happiness meanders along their lips and their eyes sparkle together. The camera caught them, all those years before, and now they wait patiently in the pages of the album. Trapped. Captured forever they wait to be free, but they cannot be free; the wheel of time has continued and they belong to another dimension and another time.

Mascara coated lashes blink away the mist that has slowly formed a fog before my eyes. I am silent as I remember the little girl in the picture, and how she used to be me. Memories sweep over me, from my painted red toes upwards, and just as I begin to turn the next glossy page of the album a glimmer catches my eye. It is a shining stone nestled on the wrinkled ring finger of my Nana. It is a shimmering band of gold and silver ribbons, tenderly holding one near-perfect diamond on its crest. This ring and the warm face of Nana take me back, back to one of the last memories I have of her. So backwards I go, to a time when I first realized that people, like sparkling wedding rings, need to be treasured.

It had been a warm day in the Christmas holidays, dust bunnies had played in the sunshine which streamed from the staircase window, and I remember being happy; my Nana and Poppy had come up to stay with us. But little did I know that this particular holiday spent with them would be the last we would have them both together; Nana’s battle against cancer would soon cause her body to surrender and her life to depart from it. Then again, eleven year old hearts hardly ever ponder such things and the feet connected to my younger body were quick and barely touched the carpet as I descended downwards to answer the helpless cry of Poppy. He was searching in vain to find Nana’s wedding ring which she had lost somewhere in my bedroom, but his diminishing eyesight hindered him. He needed my help, and I was as eager as ever to help him and feel his pride in finding the precious ring shine down on me.

I turned the burnished handle of my door and crept into the darkened room, feeling that age-old need to be quiet in the presence of sick people. My bedroom was crowded with two beds pushed into the space of only one. Teddies and toys littered the shelves and books lay ready to be read on the dresser myself and my little sister shared. The room was girlish and youthful; a shocking contrast to the shell of Nana slumped on my bed. Her body lay white and broken, and I felt pity as she slowly strangled a smile from her lips and held it out to me. But I took it gratefully and whispered a hello. Poppy was there too, with his backside raised in the air and his greying head buried deep within the cave under my bed. “Hannah, can you please help me. I don’t know where your Nana has placed her ring. I just can’t seem to find it anywhere.” His voice was muffled, but held a distressed tone, “I have to find it!” He cried. Instinctively my hand reached out to touch his shoulder, “Poppy you shouldn’t worry. I’ll find it for you.” My answer obviously pleased him as he relieved himself of the pressure of bending down and commanding his tired bones to do things they had not done for a while. Within moments I felt his presence leave the room and then the awkwardness of it just being Nana and I.

Her eyes were closed and a blue merino shawl was wrapped around her balding head, barely covering the remnant tuffs the chemotherapy had mercifully left. Tired and worn she slowly lifted her eyelids and looked at me, her caramel eyes locking with my blue ones. Inside their depths was pain and fear; perhaps she knew she would soon leave us. Time was catching up with her and Death scrapped her swollen ankles with his yellow nails. He whispered enticing words of a peace once she had left her life behind. “Hey Nana,” I mouthed to her apprehensively, “I’ll find your ring for you” I assured her. Bending down I searched the floor, the carpet was scratchy against my knees and the dark light of the room acted like a shroud, shielding my eyes. The silver and gold wedding ring was nestled by the corner of the bedstead and though my eyes could not see in the dim light my fingers soon felt its shape. It was cold and metallic to my touch but I knew undoubtedly that it was her ring. “I found it!” I nearly squeaked, quickly filling the still air with excitement and a childish hysteria-gone where the fears of making too much noise. My palm held out the ring’s circular body to her and she looked at me, and her ring, as if with new eyes. Grasped in her hand she felt its curved edges and brought it close to her. Her white face all of a sudden flushed with tenderness. “Thank you, Hannah.” The words chimed like magic around the room and her voice seemed to be stronger than before. I crawled closer to her bed and took her hand in mine, silent and still but happy at her side; it had been a long time since I had sat with Nana and she had been lucid, able to recognize who I actually was. We both looked at each other, drawn like magnets, and she talked to me with her warm voice like she had when I was a child. My lips moved too and our conversation rolled onwards, but in the back of my mind I knew the momentary settling of the storm in her mind would not last long. It didn’t matter to me though I decided, I would stay with her until her voice faded back into the darkness and she no longer recognized the older version of the little girl with the golden ringlets.

I remember our conversation, of her telling me how she loved me and that she hoped I had been a good girl since she had seen me last. I remember saying I had been, just to see the pride swell and rose tint her wrinkled face for a time, and even though it only lasted for a fragment of time it felt like we were both revisiting the past days of happiness together. I held her warming hand and felt her caramel eyes and gave her smiles, hoping she would take them away with her when she went back into the battlefield of her mind. I reminded her of the days of “Tic-tacs” and secret stashes of sweets. The days of feeding baby lambs on the farm with her hand to guide mine as we filled their soft mouths with milk, of Christmas time together, of travelling around in a white four-wheel drive on family outings, of hearing the comforting tones of her voice as she tucked me in at night. Those days they seem so long ago, but continue to glow in my memory. Unfortunately, it was not long after I told Nana I loved her too that she slipped away again, back into the recess of her own mind. Like water through my hands she slowly trickled away from all of us over the following months. Her lucid moments became less and less, just as the doctor had predicted, and never again did she recall that little girl with the golden ringlets. She couldn’t remember who I was after that last conversation, but I could. I do; it was when I first realized time is more precious than gold.





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