"Throw it over your shoulder it’ll fall into the first initial of the person you’ll fall in love with".
We’d been peeling apples my Nanna and I, with me peeling one whole apple without the skin falling into bits.
"That’s good luck" she smiled slicing calmly.
I remember being with my Nanny in her house by the sea, gentle sweet days of school holidays where life changed with seasons, summer beginning on arrival and ending as I returned home a few days before a new term. Home to my parent’s house, where silent gloom hung heavy, like old drapes.
"Go on" she laughed "Throw it over your shoulder and it'll form into a letter from the alphabet , you’ll see." She nodded confidently.
I was standing on a couple of telephone directories to reach the table, an apron tied around my waist touching my ankles. Not quite tall enough to roll out pastry or stir rich cake mixtures for summer fetes.
Lying there before me the apple peel, a discarded snake’s skin, amongst all the rest for pig swill waiting to go down the road to Docherty’s farm. A mountain of apples to cook, the pigs would be grateful for our efforts she said. There were blackberries to drain, soaking in a mild salt water to rid them of sneaky grubs. Pleasant memories of the picking caught in my stained fingers.
"Is that how you came to know it would be grandpa you’d marry?" It was an innocent eight year old question, still warily sizing up the rapidly browning skin before me, worried if it would retain its all important length.
"Did mummy throw apple skin over her shoulder?"
"Oh yes she did." She sighed turning to fill a large black pan with the sliced apple, sprinkling brown sugar over each layer before splashing on small drips of lemon and water.
"Let them cook in their own juices" she muttered more to herself than me.
"As did I, and which letter do you think I had?" A secret smile on her lips as she reached for the heavy iron pan lid.
Grandpa Jo had died when I was only six. Mum has groaned impatiently how Nanny had never been the same and needed to move on. She had remained unchanged and constant to me, if at times a little sad, staring through the window onto the garden or out to sea her arm draped over my shoulder like a silk scarf. Her loneliness in every out-breath.
"Was it J?" I ventured.
"Indeed it was" she chuckled, I loved to hear her laugh.
"Eye, it was a J when I tossed the skin at your age, and every time thereafter till I met your grandpa."
"What letter did mummy see when she made apples with you?" I traced my finger along its edge still fretting over the responsibility of handling it.
"I don’t remember now." Her face was hidden, and something funny in her voice unnerved me. Surely she knew my dad’s name?
Why do things matter when we’re little? Her denying my question changed my perception of life’s certainties. My mother had married a Leonard, but the letter mustn’t have been an L. Why couldn’t she tell me? In my eight year old mind doubts about life and love fed on her vagueness. I didn’t need answers, her hesitation confirmed my own uncertainties of my parent’s relationship.
Nanny didn’t need to disclose anything, only transported reality into my awareness on that lovely day. Bringing me back to what was waiting for me this term? Shaded dread returned with visions of their silent looks and false embraces, their stilted conversations. Whispered phone calls out of earshot, sharp words across the dinning table exchanged through gritted teeth, no laughter shared over apple skins or rolling pastry. As an only child with a vivid imagination I was able to conjure anticipated unhappiness.
I picked up the apple skin and flung it quickly, hearing it flap like a dead fish onto the kitchen floor. Our laughter echoed against the hanging jugs and pans, taking into custody my creeping anxieties which I was not quite ready to accept. Fantasies about happy ever after days aligned best with wishing apple skins and dreams of future love.