In Collecting Feathers, Daniela I. Norris blends pitch-perfect storytelling and a keen spiritual awareness to bring us a beautiful and haunting set of tales from the beyond. A feast for the heart, mind and soul, each story is layered with unfolding intrigue, and each one will stay with you long after the pages have been turned.
I hadn’t seen my grandparents in over ten years. As a child, I spent many pleasant afternoons and weekends in their small apartment, which always smelled of my grandmother’s baking and my grandfather’s Old English cologne.
My parents were young, hard-working and ambitious, and they counted on Grandma Ana and Grandpa Jacob to help look after their only granddaughter.
They hadn’t changed; they looked just as I remembered. Grandpa Jacob held his arms out and I rushed to embrace him. He kissed me on both cheeks. His kisses were wet, and as a child I often squirmed away from them, but this time I didn’t.
He was still using his Old English cologne. The smell tickled my nostrils. I sneezed, and rushed to embrace Grandma Ana. We didn’t know what to say. It’d been so long.
We sat down at a small table at the café they’d suggested, little lanterns on every table, giving the impression of being in the dining room of a cruise-ship or in the restaurant wagon of a train. The background music was mellow and the waiters glided around quietly, serving a handful of other customers who whispered to each other, afraid to disturb the silence and the misty ambience.
“So, how have you been?” asked Grandma Ana. Her green eyes sparkled behind her reading glasses, the same ones I used to try on in front of her mirror fifteen years back.
“I’m good, really good,” I said. “Lots of things have happened since the last time we met.”
“We know,” said my grandfather, smiling proudly. “We’ve been following your progress.”
“Would you like to order?” asked a waiter dressed in a white shirt and black waistcoat and trousers. He handed us three menus and floated away.
“What would you like? The chicken with potatoes or the beef with rice?” asked my grandmother, just like she used to do when I was ten or twelve years old.
“I would like an aperitif, if that’s ok,” I said. “Maybe a glass of white wine?”
“Good idea,” said Grandpa Jacob. “Let’s have a bottle.” He ordered a bottle of Chardonnay and some nibbles — olives, small squares of feta cheese, a plate of fresh cut vegetables and a dip.
I studied the menu and noticed a particularity about it. “Please limit your stay to two hours,” it said on the back of the menu. “Those who overstay will not be welcomed back.”
How strange, I thought, but didn’t mention it to them. After all, they had suggested this place, and anyway, Grandma Ana started telling me about her sister Ella and what news she’d had from her over the past ten years. Ella always loved cats; now she had lots of them, said Grandma Ana.
It was wonderful to listen to my grandmother talk, and it suddenly felt as if the ten years had vanished and we were all just like we were when I was a girl and they were my favorite, loving grandparents.
I had a son of my own now, but Grandpa Jacob and Grandma Ana had never met him. They wanted to hear all about him, about me, about my husband, about my life.
“We already know most of these things,” said Grandma, “but it’s wonderful to hear it from you.”
After our wine and snacks we ordered the meal, which was quite tasty. Grandpa ordered a chicken dish and Grandma ordered fish. I went for the beef with rice. I told Grandma that what I really wanted was a taste of her cooking, the clear chicken soup with bits of carrot that were crunchy and salty, those delicious sweet cheese balls with crème fraiche she used to make for my dessert.
“You remember,” she said happily.
“Of course I remember, I’ve been dreaming about your cheese balls for years!” I exclaimed. She smiled contentedly.
We talked and talked, and I noticed that it was now past midnight. We’d surely stayed over two hours, but who cared? It’d been years since I’d seen them, and we had so much to talk about.
“We should probably go,” said Grandma Ana. “It’s getting late for you.”
“I’ll pay for the meal,” I said. They didn’t object, so I stood up and walked towards the bar, to take care of the bill.
“Can I pay, please?” I asked the gentleman behind the cash-register. He flipped through a little receipt book and identified the right one. He then looked at his watch.
“You overstayed,” he said gloomily.
“You can’t be serious,” I said. “I haven’t seen my grandparents for years. If you are so strict about this time limitation, next time I’ll take them to another restaurant.”
The man looked me straight in the eye and didn’t say a word. He handed me the bill, which I paid silently. His dark eyes followed my hand as I collected the change and put it in my pocket. I dropped a few coins in the tips jar on the bar.
“Thank you,” I said, “and goodnight.”
He nodded and turned away.
I returned to the table and helped my grandmother put on her coat. My grandfather hugged me and wanted to kiss me again. I allowed him.
We stepped towards the exit, and got ready to leave.
“When will I see you again?” I asked them.
They shook their head and pointed at a small sign by the restaurant door. It said exactly the same thing as the menu — meals were limited to two hours and those who
overstayed would not be welcomed back.
“I’m afraid we won’t be allowed to return here,” said my grandfather in a sad voice.
“So we’ll meet somewhere else!” I exclaimed. “This time-restriction is totally unreasonable, and there are plenty of other good restaurants.”
My grandmother shook her head. She then took my hand and together we stepped back, to look at the neon sign above the restaurant’s door. It said “Café of the Deceased”.
I wanted to protest, to ask why they didn’t warn me, but then I woke up with a start. The fragrant scents of Old English cologne and warm, sweet cheese balls still lingered in my nostrils.