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Morning Lessons

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The room filled with the scent of morning, and Nona opened up the folds of her smeared apron to reveal a dark oblong shaped cigar.

Frances had never told her parents about Nona’s fondness of cigar. She was afraid that if she did, they would send her away, like the way they had sent away a cook once after Edmond had complained that he had found hairs in his broth. Instead Frances learned to put up with the mustiness of the cigar, and eventually she began to grow fond of the bitter acidic smoke.

Frances did not tell her parents about many things that Nona did, for Nona had done many things. Brave things. Awful things. Things that made her grin and shake her head. Sometimes Nona would tell her stories of the days she had been young and beautiful, and her first husband had been alive.

“He had died during the harvest, during the time of abundance” Nana had said, her words slightly distorted by the cigar between her teeth.

“A sickness made him unable to eat and his body withered away like an autumn leaf. His face turned yellow and translucent and lined, and his body had withered away like an autumn leaf until all that was left was dust.”

Frances sat upright in her bed. “Its possible then? For someone to just disappear?” She said, imagining a shrunken body becoming less and less substantial.

“Oh yes!” Nona had said with a surprisingly uplifted chuckle. “Its entirely possible for someone to just disappear. All you have to do is imagine your wold as an ice crystal. Perfection. Smooth places. No stains. All you have to do is imagine yourself out of it. A piece of dust blown away with the wind.Dust to dust, didn’t God say it himself?”

And then Frances had started crying, she hadn’t known why she had been crying, and she had been furious with herself for doing so.

“Stop that nonsense child” Nona had snapped, tapping the cigar intertwined in her fingers on the window ledge so that the ash would fall out of it.

“Why?” Frances had retorted, diverging her anger towards the cleaning girl.

“It ruins your eyes” Nona had replied simply and matter-of-factly, as if she had received her information from an expert. “You have such lovely black eyes.”

Frances smiled slightly. Nona was always talking about her eyes. She would talk about how they were black like the coal dust that her second husband had mined. The coal dust that had stuck to his lungs and killed him. She would talk about how they were black and glossy like the hair of the Metis women that Fran’s mother would speak of with a muted dislike.

“My baby had black eyes like yours, true black eyes, not the dark brown everyone gets confused with. Her eyes had been black like the night time, like the dark grave that I had to burry her in” Nona had told Frances in a quiet and subdued voice.

It was when Nona spoke of Frances’ eyes that she would guiltily find herself wishing that Nona were her mother. And she found herself wondering sometimes if Nona wished that Frances was her child, but she knew that it was not possible. They were equals after all. The differences in their ages hardly mattered.

Occasionally Frances told Nona about the bad things she had done, about the time she had spit into her fathers water just to see if he would notice. He hadn’t. It was like a game. Stories of various misdeeds lingered in the morning air. It was a sin for a sin.

Nona had many sins. They came in the forms of life lessons.

“These are the things that you should never do, but that I know you will do anyways” she had said to Fran in a voice that sounded almost like a school teacher. In a voice that sounded like the morning.