This story, in its entirety, is full of grief, anger, and regret, with pockets of happiness, here and there, and I’m not sure how to tell it. I wanted it to begin with happiness, but I’ve found that only leads to a rut so…
One night, there was a storm.
It was loud and wet and the lightening struck more than once. The little girl and the little boy were far away from their mother and their home and were sitting up in a bed that had belonged to someone else a long time ago. Their grandmother entered and repeatedly told them not to cry; that, no, it was not ok that they call their mother so late at night, and that they were safe and they were fine; and, eventually, the children did sleep and the storm did pass.
The next morning, sunshine filled almost every room of the old small house; trapping dust in sunbeams and sparking wild imaginations. The children were delighted. They ran around, inside, outside, in again! They hid in the pantry and came out again, transporting themselves to a distant place and time. They tumbled and crawled around the unused guest bedroom with the broken elliptical, turning its gears and ducking beneath cobwebs. Their grandmother was patient, but furious. “Quit runnin in and out my house and get in the car! I gotta go and pick up some fish for dinner tonight.” So they quit runnin in and out of their grandmother’s house and got in her car, and they went to the fish market and stared at the eyes of all the dead fishes.
The linoleum was slick with water and scales and the children delighted in that too; slipping and sliding about while the grandmother examined the fish and spoke with the man behind the counter. Blood stained ice, oil greased the air, and the girl poked one right in the pupil. Then another man came out from a room behind a door and piled more fish on top their fishy brethren and the girl wondered, ‘what’s going to happen to all these dead fishes?’ But then she remembered and thanked the fish for their bodies and bones and wished them a happy afterlife.
When they returned home, the grandmother ran a warm bath in the pink tub at the back of the children’s bedroom. She filled it with bubbles, just how the girl liked, and offered a rubber ducky to play with; but the business of washing must always come first. So the grandmother ran the washcloth over the girl’s face, arms, around her neck, and down her chest and back, she lifted each leg and scrubbed her toes, ran up her legs, and told her to wash her bottom. The girl sang sweet nothings as she washed and played, and the grandmother laughed and smiled and hummed along. Then it was the boy’s turn.
After all the washing had been done that night, the children played on top of the tall, wide bed. They raced the boy’s Hot Wheels and whispered stories and shared secrets until the boy tucked himself in. But the girl was bright-eyed and grabbed a blanket and pillow, quietly left their room, and entered their grandmother’s.
She sat herself down at the side of the bed, the TV casting quiet shadows and a blue-gray glow over everything. The girl looked up at her grandmother, her eyes were open to slits, her breathing long and silent and her body practically still. “Grampy?” The girl called up to her. The murmurs of voices from the TV grow louder and louder and the girl turns.
The scenery has changed.
The girl looks around at the people slouching and standing and pacing in the waiting area of a doctor’s office. She stares for a while, then recognizes her brother sitting next to her. But he too has changed. His body is bigger; he wears glasses on his face and plays a game on his Gameboy with the kid sitting next to him. She regrets not having something, and is disheartened by the lack of a someone to talk to, as a commotion of voices barrels down the hall, through the closed doors, and her grandmother storms out, followed quickly by her mother. She calls, “Mommy!” But this is a memory, and nothing changes here, except for the scenery.
Her brother, eleven or so now, kneels on the floor next to her. She slowly kneels beside him and stares ahead. Baby pink flowers on a white comforter cover a twin-sized bed, tucked in the far left corner of a child’s bedroom, now occupied by her grandmother. She mumbles and chuckles in low jumbled sounds, then looks at them with distant, fading eyes. “God doesn’t like bad children. You goin go straight to Hell.” The girl whimpers and stumbles back, falling into darkness and wondering, ‘what’s happened to Grampy? Why is she acting like this? Where has she gone?’
But morning comes.
Morning comes and brings with it another time, another place.
The girl sits in a hard-backed chair, staring at the elderly people, their voices and machinery collective babble, their smells pungent. Her mother, older now, sits beside her, enunciating her words as she recounts old memories to her mother, feeding her pureed food. The girl looks away, sobbing, as anyone would do. Someone touches her shoulder and she finds herself in a dream, a boundless white room.
Her grandmother’s boat of a car idles before her as her grandmother packs the trunk. She is old, but she is young. Her hands are hard and knobbed; her eyes are clear and sharp. She is so beautiful here. The girl calls to her, finally she answers, “Can’t stay! I gotta go.”
“Go where Grampy?”
“I gotta go now, I’ll see y’all later!”
She gets in her car and disappears.
The girl is both happy and terribly sad, “See you later.”
The murmur of voices returns as the girl turns away from the TV and looks at her grandmother. Her snores rattle her ears and her room is warm. The girl climbs onto her grandmother’s bed and curls up beside her.
The golden dust from several years past held a magic I have yet to feel again; so I saved it in my memory, along with the pink tub and yellow duck, Hot Wheels on a tall, wide bed; a dusty old bedroom, unused with a broken elliptical in it, a pantry that teleports you wherever you wish to go, a storm that was loud and wet with lightening that struck more than once, and a smile that warms and hums wordless hymns to keep you from crying when the storm comes.