Tag Archives: grandmother
A Few of My Ghosts Comment on My Recent Behavior
Bravo! says Father. It’s about time! he says. I was beginning to
think you’d forgotten everything I shared with you.
How could you? says Grandmother. How could you betray me that
way? Everything I believed in, taught you, gone!
This is just like you, says Mother. I knew something like this
would happen eventually. I knew it was just a matter of
Grandfather just looks me in the eye and shakes his head. He
knows exactly how such a thing can happen.
I never thought you’d have the nerve, says Father. I thought I’d
lost you forever, missed my chance.
I never thought you’d do such a thing, says Grandmother. I
thought I’d taught you better manners.
I always knew you’d do something like this, says Mother. You’re
so damned stubborn.
I was just hoping you’d have more sense, says Grandfather. He
still loves me, he always will.
Live as I would have, says Father. Live for me.
No, live as I would have, says Grandmother. Live for me.
Nothing I say will make any difference with you, says Mother.
You never would agree to live for me. I only gave birth to
you. I’m not someone really important, God knows.
Please be careful, says Grandfather. Long ago, he charted the
dangerous waters, entirely alone, no one to guide him.
You must always tell the absolute truth, says Father. It is the
only thing that will save you.
You must never tell the truth, says Grandmother. It is what will
You always were a liar, says Mother. You told the truth only
when it suited you.
Tell only the necessary elements of the story, and then only to
the necessary people, says Grandfather. He is secretive by
nature, and full of legal advice.
Don’t think about things too much, says Father. Follow your
heart. You know, that ugly chunk of muscle in the center of
your chest? It keeps you going, but for what purpose?
Don’t ever stop listening to it, the way I did.
I want you to stop and think before you do anything else crazy,
I know you’ve already made up your mind, says Mother. You never
listen to a word I say. It’s pointless for me to try.
There’s no need for haste, for immediate action, says Grandfather.
Is there? He wants only to protect me, I am
his dear flesh and blood. In all the family, I am the most
You loved me more than you ever let on, says Father. I really
meant something to you. Even though you’re suffering for it
now, I’m glad of it.
You didn’t really love me at all, says Grandmother. Perhaps you
didn’t understand what I meant when I spoke of love.
You only love yourself, says Mother. You’re selfish, you’ve
always been selfish. You’ll never change.
Love is not always the most practical idea, says Grandfather.
Let’s think instead in terms of happiness. He himself was
moderately unhappy for years — though so graceful, so
appealing, so charming in his distress, and every inch a
So, what will you do now? asks Father. He tilts his head and
smiles, and the knowing look in his bright blue eyes give me
I don’t even want to know what you’ll do next, says Grandmother.
Her eyes are red, and I feel myself wanting to cry with her,
cry for her, but I can’t, and this hurts her more than
I know exactly what’s coming, says Mother. I’ve always known.
Whatever you decide, nothing will ever make you feel any worse
than you feel right now, says Grandfather, and then he puts
his arms around me and kisses me with all the feelings he
never, ever would have permitted me to see while he was
Jenny’s hair was beginning to fall out from the radiation treatments. Last night, at a restaurant over on the beach, their waitress had worn a rhinestone-studded baseball cap, and Jenny had admired it. Ellen wanted to buy one for her. In truth, ever since Jenny’s diagnosis, Ellen had been shopping as though her life depended on it, buying all sorts of gifts for her mother, tossing them into her lap, unwrapped.
At the mall, Ellen’s two-year-old, Sarah, was fidgety in her stroller, until she spotted the Easter Bunny — on a raised platform with green shag carpet and an arrangement of painted wooden tulips and eggs. The bunny sat in a white wicker queen’s chair. “Mommy, it’s the Easter Bunny!” Sarah shouted, waving her hands over her head.
“I see him. We’ll go see the bunny after we get Granny’s hat, okay?” Ellen said as they maneuvered around the long line of squealing toddlers, toward an accessory store she hoped would have the hat.
“Okay, Mommy,” Sarah said, craning her head to get another look.
Blocking their path around the long line of small children were a couple of teenage girls. One of the girls was smoking, and as Ellen passed, the girl glanced at her with what Ellen recognized as contempt, flinging her long hair back — the cigarette dangling from her full lips — and prancing over to the mirrored window of the jewelry store across the way to inspect herself. Her bangs were teased to a great height, sprayed so heavily into place they looked varnished, though the rest of her hair hung in a limp curtain over her shoulders.
It was odd how the teenager kept staring at Ellen even as she primped in the mirror — the girl’s eyes were large and black, her face unlined, uncomplicated. Ellen stared back without blinking until both mirror and girl were out of sight.
There was one rhinestone cap left at the store, in the window display. “Do you have any more of these?” Ellen asked, pointing.
“That’s the very last one,” the clerk said. She and Ellen traded smiles.
“I’ll take it,” Ellen said, not bothering to check the price tag.
On the way back, the teen girls were still near the Easter Bunny display, only now they had been joined by a couple of boys. The dark-eyed girl slouched back on the bench, sharing a cigarette with a pale blonde wearing too much makeup.
Ellen watched her giggling daughter run to the giant white bunny. She paid seven dollars to have Sarah’s picture taken with the rabbit, but in the first Polaroid, Sarah’s eyes were closed. “Sleeping Beauties, that’s what we call those,” the photographer told her. Ellen wanted to keep it anyway.
“I want to kiss him,” Sarah said.
“Okay, honey,” Ellen said, squeezing her small squirming body in a fierce hug. She tried to imagine Sarah in another ten years, all pouty lips and thrust-out chin. Cans of hair spray, and unspeakable things like peppermint flavored lip gloss.
The second picture turned out beautifully. Sarah held the bunny’s gloved hand, smiling, eyes open, rapt to the camera. The rabbit got up and strolled down the ramp of his platform, Sarah following, reaching out like a pilgrim to stroke the fluffy white fur.
“I want to tell him I love him,” she whispered to Ellen. “Pick me up.”
Ellen held Sarah up so she could whisper in the bunny’s ear. “I love you,” Sarah whispered into the tattered pink plush. She kissed the nose, patting the wire mesh covering the open mouth, inside which Ellen could see the blurred outline of someone’s face. Ellen turned away, remembering this morning, before she’d left for the mall.
“Give Granny a hug,” she’d told Sarah.
“I don’t want to,” Sarah had whined.
Ellen’s anger had seemed reasonable in one sense, though completely out of proportion to Sarah’s predictable toddler whimsy. How many times were left to bestow such affection. How many times would Ellen be able to bring her mother a daft, pathetic gift from the mall. Just then, the teenagers laughed their little ignorant heads off for the hundredth time in ten minutes, the air ringing with their simple, donkeylike braying, and Ellen stabbed at them reflexively with her gaze. How dare they be so happy. How dare they be so young.
“Why does that stupid bee keep staring at me?” said the dark-haired girl, glaring back at Ellen. The group around her laughed, nodding at their compatriot’s clever wit. Ellen stopped, Sarah heavy on her hip. Bee — for bitch?
“I was wondering the exact same thing,” Ellen said.
The blonde moved several steps toward Ellen then, folding her spindly arms over her chest, shaking her head. “Hey,” she said, squinting her eyes. “Don’t you get fresh with my friend.” She tossed her head back, her stiff bangs remaining frozen, like armor, despite the movement.
Ellen bent to strap Sarah into her stroller. “I understand your type,” she said to the dark girl, her eyes drifting over the entire group. “I used to be a snot-nosed adolescent, just like you.”
“Still need to wipe your nose, if you ask me,” said the dark-haired girl, thrust forward on one thin leg, her shoulder flung back. She looked to her friends, as if for confirmation, and the two boys gave each other sloppy high-fives.
The entire group of teenagers was laughing now, holding their sides, tilting their heads and letting their mouths hang open, their glistening, foamy tongues quivering with hilarity. In a flash, Ellen’s heart hammered so briskly she could feel her pulse inside her mouth, her tongue; her teeth were being jarred out of their gums. Ellen wanted to crush them under her shoes like bugs. “Fuck you,” she said. She noticed, too late, the horror of the other grown-ups as they clapped their hands over the ears of their small children, the parents staring at Ellen, their eyes wide.
“And just what kind of example are you trying to set?” one woman asked. Ellen walked at great speed away from the mob, pushing the balky stroller as fast as she could. Sarah sat in the umbrella stroller, clutching the Easter Polaroids in her tiny hand, her small frame curved into a limp macaroni shape, her perfect, smooth elbows bouncing off her knees as the wheels vibrated over the rough brick floor of the mall. Ellen walked so fast she began panting, her calves starting to cramp as she rounded the nearest curve, heading for the door she had entered, long ago, in another lifetime.
She saw a bank of pay phones. She stopped, looking around and behind her. Fishing in her purse, she found a quarter, then flipped through the telephone directory, looking for the mall’s security office.
“I thought you should know there’s a group of disruptive teenagers hanging out in front of the Easter Bunny,” she said to the voice on the line. “They’re standing around smoking and making rude comments to the customers.”
“Can you describe them?” the voice asked.
She visualized the girls, their long hair, their cheap-looking teased bangs. “They had ugly hair,” Ellen said.
“Could I have a little more detail?” the voice asked. “What were they wearing?”
Ellen could not see anything but the scornful face of the dark-haired girl, the pinched, sour face of the blonde. “I don’t know,” she answered.
“Well, how many of them were there?” the exasperated voice asked.
“Four,” Ellen said. “Two girls and two boys. In front of the Easter Bunny. Smoking and laughing and being nasty to people.”
“We’ll send someone over there right away, ma’am,” the voice said. “Would you like to come in and file a formal complaint?”
Ellen visualized herself in handcuffs, being led away. “No, thank you, that’s not necessary,” she said, hanging the phone up with a bang.
As she tried to push the stroller away from the phone, she saw Sarah was tangled up somehow, her fingers twined through the cord holding the phone book. “Let go,” she told Sarah, light-headed with the panic jigging through her in ragged bolts.
“But I want to call somebody,” Sarah whined, clutching at the metal cord with both hands. “I want to call the Easter Bunny.”
“We don’t have time for that right now,” Ellen said. “We have to take Granny her hat.” She imagined the teenagers telling their side of the story to the security guards. Ellen uncurled Sarah’s fingers and flew toward the exit, toward the safety of the parking lot. No one, apparently, was after her.
Her hands trembled, her arms weak from adrenaline as she unlocked the car door and strapped Sarah into her car seat. Heaving the stroller into the trunk, she got in and power-locked the doors, hearing the dull thunk inside, pressing the button three more times for good measure. As they exited to the main road, she looked back at Sarah in the rear-view mirror, saw her little round face composed and serene, her eyes open but vacant-looking. “Wasn’t that fun?” Ellen said, smiling. “Getting to see the Easter Bunny?”
“No,” Sarah said, her eyes droopy, her head turning to nest against the padded wing of the carseat. Lulled by the car’s rhythmic movement, the child’s lids fluttered closed. Her cheeks were smooth, rosy with health, her lips parted, her pearly teeth visible. One wispy curl of hair clung to her damp forehead.
Ellen’s face was benumbed; she drove home from the mall to deliver her gift to her mother, tears coming to rest in the corners of her mouth — her cheeks twitching from exhaustion as she forced her lips to stay drawn back, her teeth bared in a ghastly smile, a grimace of love. She would deceive no one with such a face, most certainly not her dying mother — but of course she couldn’t allow herself to quit trying.
On rainy days when I was small, my grandmother — I called her Nana Banana – always let me build a fort indoors. She carried her tall kitchen stools out to the living room and fetched the biggest blanket from her cedar chest, which was perched on round feet in the shape of lion’s paws. The blanket was heavy red wool, hemmed on all four sides with shiny satin. Nana Banana had brought the blanket with her from Up North when she moved to Florida, and it was very, very thick and warm. Nana’s wooden stools had flowers and birds carved down the legs, and squeaky cane seats that had been woven by her very own grandfather. The blanket and stools were perfect for forts.
First, I always drew my map. I loved to decide where to build the fort. The furniture had to be all figured out and labeled. Sometimes the couch would be the mountains, other times it would be the forest — or, it might be I was in a big city and the couch was the library or the post office. The shiny coffee table could be the ocean, or a lake, or maybe the zoo. I would crumple up my map and smooth it out and Nana would singe around the edges with a match to make it look old. Then I would go to the building site and lay out the fort’s foundation, which was four stools, one for each corner. Nana would pick up two corners of the blanket and I would pick up the other two. We would billow the blanket up as high as we could and let it float down. It draped beautifully, like an Arabian tent.
I would crawl inside, and underneath the dense red blanket it was dark and quiet and far away from everything. From that place I could go anywhere in the whole world — or, I could stay right where I was if I didn’t feel like traveling. If I wanted to fly, Nana would make plane noises. If I wanted to sail, she would be the water and wind. Always, she was there to help me get to where I wanted to go. Later, if I crawled out of the fort and needed to buy something, she was the shopkeeper; if I wanted to sell something, she would be the customer. It seemed like I could always talk her into buying — no matter what it was I had for sale!
Sometimes, though, when I was tired and cross and just wanted to be by myself, I would take a flashlight into the fort and read. I had pillows and sofa cushions inside so I could be comfortable. Nobody would bother me under there — they’d act like they didn’t even know where I was. On days like that, sooner or later Nana Banana would silently push a bowl of popcorn or a plate of cookies through my door. The whole world shrank down to that warm, dark space underneath Nana’s red blanket; under there, because of her and how much she believed in me, I just knew I was the smartest, bravest, most important person ever born. But the best feeling of all on those long, stormy afternoons was when the rain finally finished — and I realized I was ready to leave my retreat and go back to the bright, quick, noisy life outside. Dinner that night would taste so delicious!
Please, tell me, tell me! Where will you build a fort, next time it rains? Once inside, where will you travel?