Last week we visited The Briars and came across a window filled with paper cranes. It reminded me of something I had written years ago and I have finally hunted it down. Although it is a story of grief, I thought I would offer it up to the universe today to give thanks for my two tiny wishes-come-true.
One Thousand Cranes:
I used to live in a block of four flats in a wide, tree lined street; just a stone’s throw from the park where I got married. Not too far from the city, quiet enough to be called the suburbs, a network of speed bumps and canals and art deco buildings bleached white with salt and sun.
My neighbours were great. Over the fence there was a turtle and two cherub faced kids with earnest eyes and creative parents. In the front flat, down the bottom, sharing a wall with us, were a couple about my age. They made music and art and a teeny little baby boy who would sit in the washing basket while his mum pegged impossibly small singlets on the communal line. Upstairs was a single guy who wore a lot of black and worked from home. Above us, another couple with a child. One night we heard banging and then the police came and one half of the couple was not seen again. Then there was us. My husband and I. Filling our home with furniture from our former share house, the whirl of the juicer signalling morning, our little cat-child sleeping on the end of our bed.
In March 2009, my mother-in-law took her own life. During that period I spent a lot of time walking those tree lined streets. I’d walk past the park even though it hurt sometimes to be reminded of the other side of the coin; the joy of our wedding day, so bright and gorgeous, made the darkness of our first wedding anniversary, the day she had died, so horribly devastating by comparison. I’d walk up and down the roads, around the block. Sometimes I’d collect Autumn leaves or notice FOR SALE signs attached to fences and imagine the lives of other people. I’d create dramas around the reasons they had to move, a marriage breakdown? Financial ruin? Moving to France? I guess it made me feel connected to imagine that it was not just my own life that was imploding.
Often, upon my return from these walks, I would find an origami folded crane sitting on the letterbox or fence post or halfway up the driveway. The paper was embossed and colourful and seemed expensive. The cranes were perfect, tiny, beautiful. I’d pick them up, secreting them into my pocket, then on to my shelf, on the coffee table or a window sill. They seemed so precious, surely someone was missing them. Was I really allowed to keep them for myself? I wondered where they were coming from, if it was a message, a sign that things were getting better. I’d always loved birds and those cranes were a silent, fragile reminder that the world was still wonderful.
On the weekend that we went away to spread my mother-in-law’s ashes in the Blue Mountains, we asked one of the neighbours to feed our cat. It was the single guy, the one who wore black and spoke to our kitty in a soft voice as he scratched her head. The weekend was fairly strange. I came down with a head cold that made the flights excruciating. We stood in a cemetery, silent, except for the guttural sobbing of my sister-in-law. No one spoke but the voices in my head were so loud and my concept of time so warped that I wondered if I had spoken out loud and if so, when? And why didn’t anyone respond? Why wouldn’t he hug his sister? I could feel my shoulders burning in the midday sun and I truly wished to be anywhere, anyone, other than here with what seemed like the broken fragments of our family. That’s where we were at during that stage. Standing together by some gravestones, tied by blood and wedding vows to a situation that no one should ever be in.
When we got home, my head cold cleared up and one morning in the kitchen, while making juice, I found a crane in a tea cup. It was the same as the others; perfect, blue this time, fitting on the palm of my hand. Laughter caught in my chest. It was him! It was my neighbour all along, planting little birds about the place when no one was looking. He must have popped it in the tea cup when searching for a spoon for the cat food. I thrust it into the face of my husband, Look! It’s a tiny, perfect, beautiful little folded bird! And it’s in a teacup of all places! Isn’t that marvellous? He looked at me blankly for the millionth time that day.
They say that if you fold a thousand cranes, you get a wish. I had collected about 10 thousandths of a wish then.
I later found out that our neighbour, the cat lover, the guy who wore a lot of black and kept mostly to himself, had had a girlfriend, maybe a wife, who had gotten very, very sick. One day, despite the cranes, despite it not being fair, despite Karma and will and the sheer force of love, she had died. I wondered if he had planted the cranes because he recognised the grief in our eyes. If he saw something that was broken and thought we could do with a wish. I wondered if once she has died, the cranes reminded him of too many broken promises and he wanted to be rid of them. I think maybe though, he thought the cranes were like tears, that he had a limited number to shed and that once he had gotten rid of the last one, he could finally move on.