Obituary Pages

There is a small-big house, in the middle of the street, right of the village “square.” A small garden, a big yard, lots of wood, and yellow flowers to the left of the clothesline. A peach tree, as old as my aunt, housed in front of the orange walls of the small-big house my great-grandfather built. There is a “kitchenette” behind the fig tree, and an old wood-fire oven outside, in front of the basement. A big table, dressed in a tacky oilcloth, sometimes blue, sometimes green, if I close my eyes, it could have flowers. My grandfather is sitting on a plastic chair in front of the basement, reading through the newspaper articles, his fingers stick to the obituary pages, like nostalgia on a tongue. Like tears in between the creases of the nose and the mouth. Faces in black and white melting on the pages; the fear of reading a familiar name, a name that sounds like a friend, family, home. Self. I fear the obituary pages, not because I fear death, I am 8 – I know nothing about it. I fear the familiarity the feeling of paper gives me. I can taste the sadness, lick my teeth dry, bite my cheeks raw, search for the fear within myself. I watch my grandpa read the pages like words of a language he doesn’t understand. Pretend he doesn’t know them, the faces are merely photos, the names are simply words. He licks his fingers, unsticks the pages, turns his head. I mimic his movements, his poise, I bury the fear deep inside of me. The pages are paper, the faces are photos, the names are words. The nostalgia melts in my mouth like medicine, the bitterness seeps deep into my organs; there is a lump in my throat. He fears – I fear – the inevitability of finding himself – myself – inside the obituary pages one day. Then, the pages are no longer paper, and faces are no longer photos, names are no longer words. The obituary pages now covered by the sports section, he clicks his tongue, mutters a swear word, whispers a “Tisk-tisk.” I swallow it all down, watch his fingers stick to the paper, his pointer still creasing the obituary pages. Nostalgia crawls up his – my – throat, demands to be released.

Iva was born in Belgrade during the simmering down of the political upheaval in the Balkans.  A sophomore at Bennington, studying politics, identity studies, and languages, she hopes to bridge the gap between diaspora, belonging, and home. 

Artist statement: “Obituary Pages” is an ode to my grandfather, who passed away in December of last year, three days before I left home to come back to the Sates. It focuses on how his presence has permeated every part of my childhood and how I feel about home. Even though my childhood home was in Belgrade, so many of my core memories and learning experiences happened at my grandpa’s house when I was very young. I grew up taking in everything he did – how he spoke, how he carried himself, even how he read his morning newspaper. This short piece only captures the smallest fraction of his influences and how much love and care went into raising me. 

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