"Are you scared?" I ask Dad over the phone.
"What do I have to be scared about?" he says. "We're locked in our rooms."
He's always been tough like that, stoic, but I wish I could see his face, hug ... [+]
"I'm alright," I called back to her, tugging at the neck of my varsity jumper. I'd realised on the drive over that I'd forgotten to take the tags out.
She shuffled into the living room a few minutes later. Her knees shook as she slid each foot over the carpet: the material, once a deep blue, was worn lighter along a specific route, from the kitchen to the sofa to the television, then out towards the stairs, where the bannister was still wrapped in green tinsel, though Christmas had long been and gone.
"When do you start, then?" She asked as she passed me. "I remember your grandfather's first day at University. It was all flapping capes and dog-eared books. Not many photographs from back then, though."
As she shuffled back and forth, I noticed that at some point I'd grown taller than her.
"Tomorrow. Mum and I are driving down tonight though." At my response, she drew her shoulders up to her ears in mirth and smiled.
I watched her settle down into a cracked leather sofa that exhaled as she sank into it. It was meant for two people, and I saw that the adjacent seat had the same wear as hers; when she shifted her weight, it shifted in the same way, and when her cushion breathed out, so too did the cushion of the unfilled seat.
"I found this when I was packing my things into the car," I said, reaching into my pocket. "It fell out of an old Dickens that Grandad gave me when I was little."
In my hand was a crumpled black and white photograph of a man and a woman standing in a train station concourse. The man wore an old pork pie hat and was tilting his head down to speak to the woman, whose face was obscured by blur. I handed it to Granny Marion, and as she looked at it, she closed her eyes, as if she were trying to recall a memory of a dream.
"Goodness," she breathed, opening her eyes to a squint. "I wish I could remember where this was." She chuckled. "A gentleman from the newspaper asked us to pose together. It looks as if we're meeting for the first time, but we'd been married for years."
Rays of sunshine from a high window cut through the station's gloom like a spotlight, casting two sharply-defined shadows on the ground. Those shadows stretched out beyond the frame, just as their lives had stretched out beyond that captured moment.
"I had so much ahead of me then."
She was looking through the photograph now, staring inwards, watching a Super-8 reel spin and spin before ticking, quietly, to its end. I wondered, was she looking back on her own life, or gazing down a different, untrodden path that had once laid before her?
For a moment we were silent, the both of us staring at the woman in the photograph. I thought then that if I could peer behind the blurry veil covering her face, I might see myself.