First Chapter: “The Blue Iris: A Profound Obsession”
Please note: this first chapter is based on work I have previously submitted on the writebuzz website.
“Picture this,” Blondie sang…
Iris lounged, languidly, on the chaise longue. It was the one that Mario had obtained for them on one of his trips into an ancient world. Their whole apartment was furnished with the antiquities Mario had either not yet been able to sell, or had not yet been able to part with.
Mario had good taste and an eye for a bargain. Although he always hinted he had too little money, he never actually seemed short of it. Of course, selling antiquities to middle class Europeans was a challenge these days. The younger ones preferred to buy new, especially when it was cheaper. They did not seem to have the same desire as their parents to own a scarce item of tremendous beauty, created by quality artisans. No, they were happy with their minimalism, their IKEA, their unoriginal originality.
They were not like Mario at all. He was proud of being different to the herd. That was why he had married Ivana. She, too, was different – especially in Cyprus - a relatively tall and beautiful woman, possessing both class and style. He smiled with immense satisfaction when he thought of Iris following in her mother’s footsteps. His Cypriot relatives and friends – the male ones - were definitely jealous!
Mind you, there were things about Ivana that had driven him to misery and desolation at the time of their marriage. Ivana had liked to drink and smoke. And she had liked to speak the truth, especially when she knew it was hurtful to do so. She was very much frowned upon by the local Cypriot females and Ivana had taken a great dislike to his mother and her sister, in particular, because of their strong views on what women didn’t do. That made things difficult for Mario!
Sometimes, even now, when Iris did things her mother had done, Mario felt a sense of hopelessness and impending doom. Had his little princess inherited her mother’s disposition as well as her features? He hoped not.
Iris liked the chaise longue. Not just for comfort, although it supported her tiny frame rather generously, but also because of the softness of the textile used in refurbishing it, and for its exquisite colour. Mario excelled in obtaining the right fabrics as cheaply as anyone could. Yes, selling his antiquities, despite the lack of interest, was his pleasure. It also boosted the income he received from his work in his father’s business. As eldest son, of course, he was likely to inherit all, sooner or later. At the moment, his labour came cheap.
The chaise longue was a deep, celestial purple-blue, complementing her namesake – that stunning painting of irises by Vincent van Gogh – perfectly. On a small table beside her lay an empty and crumpled packet of Marlborough Red (they always brought her mother to mind – she who could only be seen by Iris through a glass, darkly) and an ashtray full of stubs and ash. In her hand, keeping her company whilst watching daytime TV, was a frappe. Iris enjoyed frappe in the hot Cypriot summer, especially if it was laced with Bailey’s.
Iris thought. She thought about how a recent, and unexpected though frequently longed for, event had impacted on her life. She was a deeply emotional young woman and, her emotions had been heightened by the visit of her Auntie Sophia, her mother’s sister. She was the only maternal relative Iris had met in the whole of her eighteen years of life.
She and Auntie Sophia had so much in common – a passion for writing for a start, and a love of frappes, too! When they first met at Larnaca airport, Iris had felt small and scared. However, when Sophia had squeezed her tightly in a huge hug, Iris knew she’d be OK.
Iris took a piece of paper from her bag and unfolded it. It was a copy of one of the first poems Auntie Sophia had written for her:
For Iris (she liked that bit)
Are you feeling lonely?
Are you sad and blue?
Do not be disheartened –
I’ve got news for you.
Look up at the sky at night,
See the stars twinkle, oh-so-bright!
Take the same view in the morn
Just before the sun is born,
And hear the birds sing out their song
How could anything in the world be wrong?
Watch the River flowing by,
It will listen to your sad sigh.
Marvel as the clouds form mystic scenes –
How are they able to interpret your dreams?
Then, when the sun’s high in that sky of blue,
Remember this: I care for you.
Oh how she loved her Auntie Sophia. She understood, and Iris wished they could be together forever.
“Auntie, always old people they are strange!”
Thus had pronounced Iris on hearing about the strange and peculiar habits of her (until now, relatively unknown) grandfather, Ricardo. Ricardo was mean and aggressive; he’d probably kill, if he had to. In fact, he had already threatened to do so on several occasions that Sophia could think of, including that one which had terrified her. She had tried to explain to Iris why visiting Ricardo when she came to London was not a good idea.
Iris’ statement fitted Ricardo like an overcoat. You know, one of those ones you’d had for years. So long, in fact, that it seemed to be a part of you, and you’d forgotten you were still wearing it.
Sophia had sat in what was then her favourite branch of Ponti’s in Victoria and pondered on the statement. Most perceptive for one so young, she thought. And yet at what point did people become old? Why did they become strange? What constituted strangeness? Were only old people strange?
She, nearly old enough to be considered by Iris to be in the same category, felt even now just as she had always felt. So much so that when she looked in the mirror she was often shocked by the stranger she saw looking back at her.
That word again! Yet she wasn’t aware of any integral strangeness in herself. Perhaps it could only be detected from without? By others, perhaps?
Sophia had slowly sipped her black, unadulterated, Italian coffee and observed. People of all ages could be found here at Ponti’s although, age-wise, they tended to congregate at different times of the day. And their habits (as well as their purchases) differed, too.
Young people on their way to work called in for bacon sandwiches to sustain them during a hard morning. Older customers – the long-time employees not quite ready for retirement – did the same later (even police officers, laden with guns and other technical bits of equipment, could be seen carrying out such treasures as muffins and trays of tea).
And then there were the truly strange: the old, retired people. The café acted as a sort of club, or day centre, for them. They all knew each other, and collected in the “no smoking” corner, eating salads and other healthy morsels. Young people could eat dangerously if they wished. They wanted to live for ever, or as near to it as possible.
Some shuffled and shouted, greeting their friends loudly. One old chap had come in with carrier bags, wearing old, dirty clothes. Yet he was not a street person when you observed closely. In fact, he looked quite the intellectual. Given the area, he probably was. Like you and I might do, he insisted on drinking his tea “in”, despite the grimaces and un-realising looks from customers not in his group.
So, what was this “strange” thing all about, then? Sophia would have to look the word up in the dictionary when she got home.
In the meantime, Sophia continued to think more about her trip to Cyprus, and about meeting Iris for the first time. Well, it wasn‘t really the first time as she had already seen her as a small baby and then later as a toddler, when they had played games together. How sad she had felt then because her sister was starting to descend into herself and into her extreme sensitivity.
She remembered how she had felt so much pain for Iris when she had gone to hug her mummy, only to be prevented access to her mummy’s heart by her mummy’s arms being crossed in front of her body. Why did Ivana require such protection from her own small daughter?
Sophia remembered, too, how desperate Ivana had been to have children, and how ecstatically happy she was, after twelve years of marriage, when Iris was born. Pictures of Ivana and Iris at bath-time floated in and out of her memory; it was almost as though she were re-living the scenes, or was watching them on the silver screen.
How beautiful Iris had turned out to be, although Sophia had already seen the germ of manipulation in her character, and that troubled her.
Meeting her brother-in-law again after all these years was not without its surprises, either. She smiled, wryly. He seemed so small and old, she had thought he was the grandfather at first. No, he was not at all as she had remembered Ivana’s husband. Back in the eighties he had wild, glossy black curls and swarthy skin. He had been quite handsome. Now he was merely grey, staid and middle-aged.
Sophia remembered the poem Iris had penned for her before she left, and delved into her handbag to find it. She read it again:
“I am here without you!
I miss you and when the night comes, I miss you more.
You are my half part, and my half heart
And when I am having thoughts about you, I wish you were here with me.
The night, without you, it makes me feel lonely sometimes.
When a star falls, I am wishing to be there with you.
But you have to know that you are,
And always will be, my shining star.”
Sophia sighed. What exquisite words so beautifully put together by one so young. So sad, But wouldn’t you feel sad if your mother had seemingly abandoned you when you were only two? One day soon she would have to tell Iris more of the truth.
Iris was desperate to find her mother, to ‘be’ her mother, even. It was Iris’ way of getting closer to someone she couldn’t quite remember, someone she didn’t yet understand, and whom she would not forget. At times she could talk of little else than finding Ivana. She wanted to know everything about her mother. In her every day life she imitated Ivana as much as she could – the cigarettes, the drinking, the hurtfulness. Although Sophia also reflected on the fact that she had – at times - a certain look, a determined look, which Ivana had also possessed. That could never have been copied.
Sophia had brought with her to Cyprus the few family photographs she had managed to salvage after Nicoletta’s death. Iris took great delight in showing Sophia her own photographs. She told the story of every single one; she knew the story by heart. It soon became apparent that, after her mother, the one person of importance in her life was herself. The next was Victor. But that was only because he adored her, and did as she required him to.
Iris treated each photo of her mother as if it were more precious than gold. She, in particular, liked the one where, as a toddler, she lay sleeping in her mother’s arms. What startled Sophia was seeing for the first time such a proud, maternal Ivana. She had never been like that in London. It was as though, in Nicosia, Ivana was a totally different person. It was scary.
© Bella Fortuna®, 2009. All Rights Reserved.
Published on writebuzz®:
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