When I was young and stupid, every Friday mom drove me on a two-hour trip up north to Manhattan where Grandpa lived. He lived in a four-story apartment building with thank goodness, a working elevator. The building was old and painted a bright yellow. But old age was beginning to have at it, because now large squares of paint were chipped off beginning to reveal the red brick underneath. The windows were always muddy because of low maintenance from the landlord. Sometimes the water didn’t even come out of the sinks.
Grandpa was eighteen when he moved here. Back then it was nicer. The walls weren’t chipped; the water flowed through the pipes. The kids from two blocks down the street didn’t pelt rocks at the windows. A girl named Sherri lived next door. It was perfect. Even now, he had me. We’d play chess every Thursday and scrabble every Friday. He always some how manages to win. Every Saturday he bakes brownies. For Gramps, I saw no reason for why he’d want to leave.
Mom thought otherwise. She never really seemed to like Gramps, even if he was her father. I don’t know why she always dropped me off at his house if she disliked him so much. I begged her everyday to come in and not just drop me off. One day, she came into the house, grudgingly after I had begged her for weeks. That tipped off Grandpa. We ate dinner that night in silence. We didn’t play chess which disappointed me. I had been practicing the entire week.
That night Grandpa sent me to bed early that day. It was the first time mom hadn’t just left after dropping me off at Grandpa’s and it upset me that grandpa didn’t want me there. Nonetheless, I went upstairs. I awoke from their voices. They were yelling. I opened my door a crack to listen.
“Jenny, you can’t do this. You can’t!” Grandpa shouted. “What about your kid.
“Dad, just leave me to be! You don’t know how it’s like to have somebody to
walk out on you. When you’re pregnant. When you know he doesn’t want you. I want to start over!”
“And get walked out on again? You’re walking out right now! You’re leaving Meg!”
“Shut up, Walter!” Mom screamed. I heard her curse. I heard her come upstairs and into my room. I pretended like I was sleeping. She whispered words into my ear. I heard her march back downstairs. I heard the door slam, and the car pull out of the driveway. From then on, I lived with Gramps. We never talked about mom again.
I was sitting in the corner, reading magazines. Maybe I should’ve been doing the pile of unfinished homework that’s been growing hungrily on the dinner table for two weeks. Possibly packing my bag for tomorrow, so I wouldn’t be tardy. Instead I read the magazines that just came in the mail. Josie says I should do my homework. I ignore her. Josie is Grandpa’s “helper”. I know that Grandpa was sent a “helper” from the retirement home or he’d have to move there. Gramps says he hired a maid. Josie laughs whenever he says that.
Right now, she’s cleaning the dishes. And scolding me at the same time.
“I’m serious, I can’t cook like this!” She points to the stack of homework that sits in the corner of the counter.
“You have plenty of space!” I called back. She ignored me. I know she’s going to tell Grandpa though, once he comes back from his doctor’s appointment. Josie can’t keep anything to herself.
“Whatever,” she muttered. I laughed and continue flipping the pages of the magazine.
She cooks soup that night. I think she made it extremely tasteless to tell me that she needs more space to cook. Grandpa doesn’t seem to mind.
“Delicious!” He cried. “Excellent Josie! You should make this more often.” Josie seems defeated.
“So, Grandpa how was the doctor’s appointment?” I ask, slurping on my soup.
The entire room went quiet. Josie turned pale, and takes Gramps’s soup bowl.
“I’ll get you another serving,” she mouths. Grandpa stares at me.
“I don’t want you to worry,” he says. The words slam into my head.
“Is something wrong?” I ask. Josie stares at us from the kitchen. Gramps lets out a big sigh.
“They said I have a tumor.”
“A tumor,” I repeat.
“A tumor. Are you sick?” I ask. He shrugs.
“Emotionally, great. Physically, not so great.” I stare at him. I feel sick. “May I be excused?” I ask. Josie opens her mouth to say something, but
without waiting for an answer I head to my room.
The next few weeks weren’t great.
Gramps went to the hospital more often. Josie was the only one allowed to go and see him. She was older than eighteen. Most of the time, I just slumped on the couch and watched TV show reruns while being extremely depressed. That pile of homework just kept getting bigger. I didn’t do much. I skipped school, even though Josie scolded me every time. I ignored texts from my friend. I didn’t go outside too much. Most nights, Josie and I eat dinner in silence. She offers to play chess and scrabble. She even buys brownies. They don’t taste the same though. Too sweet. Salty. Burnt. I give her the credit, though. She’s really trying. Gramps writes letters. Most of them told stories about when he was a kid. When his teacher’s would get mad at him when he switched a and d at school on purpose. How he ate a cricket when he was younger. I know he doesn’t write about what happens there because he didn’t want me to worry. I wish he did though. But I still write back. In the recent one, he wrote that he would come home in a few weeks. I’m almost passed out. He was finally coming home. Even if it was only for a few days. For the entire week, I baked brownies from the recipe book in grandma’s loopy slanted handwriting. I set up the chess and scrabble board. I set pillows outside, so we could sit and watch the stars. On the day of his return, I sprinted from the bus stop home. I opened the door. The entire place was empty.
“Josie?” I called out. I heard sobbing. I walked into the living room. Josie was crying on the couch. “Josie?”
She stared at me. Her eyes puffy and red.
“Where’s he?” I asked. She put her hand on my shoulder.
“He had an emergency, sweetie. He might not make it.” I stared at her. Grandpa I think. She means Grandpa.
“Josie, drive me there. Please.” I said.
Josie didn’t argue. She drove me to the hospital and waited with me. I watched reruns in the waiting room, with little captions on the bottom. I don’t know how long we were in there. Maybe five minutes or hours. They came out and said he was done. I walked in alone, lying that I was eighteen. It worked. I walked into his room.
I stared into his eyes.
“Hey, baby. “He grabbed my arm and kissed it. “I suppose Josie told you the news.”
“Grandpa, you’re not going to die. “ He chuckled.
“Butterfly, I’m not getting any younger, you got to know that.” I stared at him.
I smacked my hand of the bedside table. It made the vases of flowers and cards on the table, from nurses and doctors, shake.
“GRANDPA! “I screamed. I couldn’t take it anymore. “Please. Tell me, you’re going to get better. Tell me you’ll come back home one of these days, and you’ll play scrabble and chess with me and win. Tell me you’ll come home and bake brownies with me. “I pleaded. I was desperate. “Grandpa, tell me you’ll be my grandfather. “ He stared at me with his teary eyes. He was blank. He was clinging on by a thread.
“Baby,” he whispered. “I love you.” He shut his eyes. I stared at him. The monitor recording his heart rate went blank. A terrible, horrible screeching sound filled the silent room. He was gone.
“NO!” I screamed. I smacked my fists on the table. The vases fell shattering to the ground. But I couldn’t care less. My lungs felt like they were about to explode. I felt hazy. My body shook violently. He was gone.
“Grandpa,” I whispered. I touched his cold, wrinkly face. I sobbed and dropped onto his chest. I couldn’t believe it. I took his hand. “I love you too.”
I ran to the docks after that.
It was past eight when I did that. They were looking at grandpa. Studying him. I didn’t want to see it. I ran to the docks and looked into the darkening night. I stared at the stars that were beginning to show up in the sky. I thought of my mother. How she loved the stars. She loved me. Yet she left me. I remember what she said, word for word.
“Baby,” she had whispered. I remembered that day. Mother was small. With brown hair and blue eyes. She’d left that day, promising to come back. “Baby, my baby. I will come back one day. We will eat the most delicious bread in the city. We will live as queens. I will come back, baby. My beautiful baby.”
I believed mother. I believed in her lies for so long. It’s been four years since she had said that. She never came back, though. Mother had died. She’d promised that she would come back. Anger filled my veins.
“You promised!” I screamed. Only a cricket’s chirp replied. I could feel my fists beginning to clench. Mother had promised. She had died. Now, not even the soul of another would bring her back. My legs began to buckle. I could feel them dropping. I sobbed.
“You promised!” I screamed again. I felt crazy, like a maniac. I punched the dock. I punched it over and over until my hand began to bleed. I cursed. I swore and punched and screamed over and over, until my hand felt limp and my throat became sore. I fell onto my back. I stared at the stars.
“Grandpa’s up there,” I whispered to myself. “And so will I one day.” Mom was up there too. Watching me. Caring for me. She came back. Just like she had promised. Could she hear me? Tears filled my eyes. But I wouldn’t let them pour over.
“Mother,” I whispered with my raspy voice. “You came back. “ I stared at the sky. The sky that was home to my family. To me. That was the day my mother came back.