Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

With Each Flicker...

With Each Flicker...

Kristie Nguyen

Year 10, Canley Vale High School

His flame resembled the glow of a vintage lantern, one with rusty metal latticework and smothered in peeling paint. It was a fiery tenacity that overlooked a meadow, and if it wanted, it could devour the field in an unfettered burst of destruction, twisting and swaying in a dance without rhythm, a freight train heaving black charcoal upon dead grass. But as quickly as a flame erupts, it chokes on its own thunderous crackle. I was there when Grandpa's flame flickered out.

In my period of grieving, I was consumed by nostalgia and found myself revisiting memories that became more vivid and pronounced after his death. I remembered the humid afternoons spent on our patio when the air vibrated with the cicadas' soulful melodies, a chirping on every register that merged into a deafening hum. In front of the patio was a small area of grass and vegetables, neatly trimmed with a row of hedges next to the fence. That was where Grandpa's blue tongued lizard lived. Well, it wasn't really his. It was probably there before we even moved in, but it seemed to enjoy Grandpa's company and it'd often come out of its hiding place to sunbathe. He'd light a cigarette and usher me to come and observe the lizard resting in his palms before mocking me for being afraid of holding it myself.

My memory faltered and the thought of those afternoons sunk back into oblivion. As I picked up an album that used to be his and browsed through the photographs, one particular image piqued my interest. My sister and I were standing with Grandpa beside a small timber structure with arched doorways and a charming attic.

My own memory flickered again: a dollhouse memory.

I received new dolls as a birthday gift a few years back and had been begging my parents for a dollhouse for weeks. Eventually, Grandpa grew tired of my constant nagging and built me one himself. I had followed him into his toolshed and watched as he expertly assembled the pieces of wood together before painting the walls a winsome pastel pink. The last thing I remembered from that day was the smoke emanating from his cigarette and emblazing my lungs as I eagerly waited for the paint to dry.

Again, my memory fumbled. I could not recall what his laughter sounded like. The colour of his eyes. His smile. Was he left or right handed?

I furrowed my brows and willed for my flame to grow brighter. It flickered and faltered. Compared to Grandpa's, mine was a soft, egg yolk flame that quivered precariously, threatening to blow out any second. It was a light to illuminate my garden of memories - the meadow and the patio and the tool shed that were Grandpa's. But I didn't have the shovel to plough through the garden. Just a light.

I didn't know at the time, or rather, I didn't want to believe it could happen, at least not to him of all people. In retrospect, I suppose the cancer was inevitable. I may only remember snapshots of his lifestyle rather than him, but that's okay because I still have my flame, weak, but a flame nonetheless. A reminder of Grandpa's, and what matters is that a life lived with Grandpa is better than one lived without.