Rosewood Chest, by Madalena Daleziou (Lucent Dreaming Issue 13)

My great-grandmother’s chest is swollen. It is rising and falling fast tonight.

My family says it’s never done this before, not since she brought it home on her market tray in 1963. The tray broke down afterwards, its right wheel rolled away in disgrace. Not that it mattered much to her. It is not every day that you find a rosewood chest in the wasteland.


My great-grandmother always thought she’d been born too late. Her aristocratic name was too long for the family cottage with the carnation bushes. Too long for the graveyard it became when flattened by bombs, too long for the pot over which she tried to feed nine children and three baby ghosts with a handful of rice. Afterwards, in the cotton factory, her name had to be clipped to a single syllable, two at most. Anything more would get lost amidst the machines’ screeches and screams.

How can you make amends for such things? She would coat white bread with two blankets of butter after the Occupation and it was never enough. The grandchildren she fed it to were sickly thin in her eyes. One fridge would not suffice, never mind that her cupboard had been a cave all these years. When the neighbours threw their old fridge away, she commanded her eldest son to carry it inside.


She would have spoken Latin in another life, in the villa she dreamed of, her cheek against a rock instead of a pillow.

Forty years later, her grandson told her that boys burnt their textbooks when summer came. Aghast, she lingered long after he’d passed the school gates. In her grey hair and grey dress, she was one with the building’s wall. She waited, creaking bones against stone, wondering what she wanted to give those boys: a slap or a lecture about the book burnings back in her day?

Instead, she collected all the unburnt Latin textbooks she could find and spent three nights on her knees pasting the torn pages together. When her grandson told her she had gotten the same copy six times, she shoved four in the rosewood chest, threw one in his direction and learnt the other by heart.


Dolls that were missing a hand, blind stuffed rabbits, socks to be mended one day, mittens for the chill that never came back for her, the molten coin ring that was too proud for the black market.

Nothing was too much for the rosewood chest. She had to make amends to the nine children and the three babies that hadn’t managed to survive on a handful of rice. She filled the bottom drawer with flour and sugar for them. The cracked wood took in every scrap and licked its lips. While my great-grandmother lived, it was swollen with her possessions. Afterwards, it swelled with her ghosts.


When I tried to search inside my great-grandmother’s chest for trinkets, it bit my hand, finding it perhaps too curious, too tender. Too late, it whispered with its sugary lips. This one never touched the wrinkled hand that fed. This one was born too late.

Night after night, I dust my Latin textbooks and alternate rosary beads with burning incense. I kneel by my great-grandmother’s chest and wait for her ghost. I wait for the bats that fly against the wires and the sweet rotten scent of long-dead carnations.

One day, I will ask her ghost: what do I quest for, what do I pile up to make amends for being born too late?

Madalena Daleziou is Pushcart and Rhysling-nominated writer from Greece. She holds an MLitt in fantasy literature from the University of Glasgow. Her work has previously appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy of Science Fiction, The Deadlands, and other venues.
T:@LBooklott I: @madalena_writes

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