Today there was no school for Grace, so she relaxed and tidied up her room. Her house was quite big, with yellow flowers that framed the large windows and white columns. Since it was only Grace, her mother, and her brother, other people came to the home to live with them as well. As Grace peered outside, the rays of sun shone through the window. She went outside to go for a walk, but stopped abruptly because her neck began to hurt, most likely from sleeping the wrong way. Shaking it off, she continued walking because it was a beautiful day, the birds chirping above. She walked slowly across the sidewalk, inhaling the fresh air and watching squirrels jump from branch to branch. A smile spread across her face until she saw one of the squirrels head toward the woods. An uncomfortable feeling settled over her after she watched the squirrel, as if she had forgotten something and it was related to the woods. As she walked further down, she realized with horror that she hadn’t walked her brother back home from his school while her mother was at work, even when she had specifically asked Grace to. Her pace quickened and she took the shortcut through the woods.
Grace found it rather eerie to have to go past the dark and shadowing trees. Perhaps what she found even more unsettling was the thick branches that had grown out and blocked the bright sun from shining through. Her feet crunched the fallen brown leaves and the rotting trunks filled the air with their heavy, atrocious scent. Trying not to pay attention to her surroundings, she walked briskly, knowing that the school was near.
Once she was out of the woods, Grace looked up and saw that she had arrived at her destination. Relieved to finally be here, she ran in hoping that the teachers would’ve waited with Marcus until she arrived. She groaned with exasperation, for nobody was there. The brick school looked empty and without a doubt, Marcus had left. Grace assumed he had walked home alone after she didn’t come for such a prolonged time and a feeling of guilt crept up. Her mother would be furious if she knew that Grace had left her much younger brother to walk home all by himself. What if he didn’t know the way back to the house? She ran back to the woods rapidly, praying he would be home safe and waiting for her to come home.
Grace was becoming more concerned about her brother with each step. He was only six years old; how would he be able to find the way home by himself? What if he was hurt or injured? Grace recalled the time when Marcus was just three and screamed in the middle of the night. Grace and her mother came rushing into his room.
“What’s wrong?” their mother asked frantically. He couldn’t speak so he pointed up to the ceiling. Grace saw a small, black spider.
“Marcus, are you afraid of a tiny, harmless bug?” she teased.
“It’s scary! It has eight legs!” Marcus yelled, shaking from being so terrified.
“All we need to do is bring the spider back to its natural habitat,” their mother said. She cupped the spider gently with her hands and slowly let it out through the window.
“If you’re scared of spiders, they’re ten times more scared of you,” she said.
Grace could feel tears pricking in the corner of her eyes.
She became determined to see her brother again. He was probably just safely waiting for his sister to come home. She had to get there as soon as possible. Right when she was about to run, Grace’s legs began to cramp painfully. Standing still and looking around, she took in her surroundings because they looked unfamiliar. A wave of anxiousness filled her when she figured out that she was lost. She started to walk again, ignoring the cramps. Frustration built up inside her. She couldn’t even see a way out of the woods anymore. Without a clue, she walked around until she reached a bright maple tree. From there, she saw the sidewalk and a big white house surrounded by yellow flowers. Relieved, she headed to the house and upon arrival, a woman with a white dress came running toward her.
“Ms. Frances! Where have you been? The nursing home staff has been looking for you everywhere in the woods!” she exclaimed.
“Excuse me? How did you know I was in the woods? I was just trying to pick up my brother up from school. Is he here?” Grace asked. She didn’t understand what this woman was saying, nursing home staff? This was her house and some guests, not a home to care for elders. Why was she calling her Ms. Frances instead of Grace? Ms. Frances was her mother’s name.
The woman looked at Grace and sighed heavily.
“Ms. Frances, this is a nursing home. If you are to leave, please notify me so I will not be worried about your whereabouts,” the woman said.
Grace gave her a blank stare, then dismissed the strange things this woman was talking about.
“Where is my brother?”
“I must do this again, mustn’t I? Ms. Frances, your brother has passed away,” she said. The silence between them thickened and Grace stood there shocked, her whole body numb. She opened her mouth in an attempt to speak, but was unsuccessful and instead tears filled her eyes, blurring her vision.
“This is all my fault! He must have gotten injured after I didn’t pick him up!”
Grace felt her whole body heave from crying.
“Is mother okay? Oh, is she furious at me?”
The woman watched her sob. Her hand went to her temple and she rubbed it slowly while she took a deep breath and exhaled. Her gaze fixated on Grace’s eyes.
“No, Ms. Frances. Your brother died in a car crash thirty-seven years ago and your mother died seventeen years ago,” she said pitifully. The woman felt melancholy when she broke the news and she began to crack her knuckles out of habit, breaking the silence.
Grace stood quivering while she let the news process through. How had she not known that her family, the people she cared about most, had died? Surely, she would have remembered: this was a misunderstanding, a large one.
“My mother reminded me just yesterday evening to pick up Marcus from school while she was at work, she could not have died sixteen years ago! My brother is only six, so how could he have died twelve years ago?” Grace shouted.
The woman’s eyes softened and filled with pain to see Ms. Frances like this.
“Please come with me.”
She led Grace to a cemetery, and they stood in front of two tombstones
In loving memory of Mariah Frances
A mother who worked so hard to raise two children alone
You will never be forgotten
A loving son and brother
You are always in our hearts
“I can’t comprehend this. The dates are wrong, it isn’t 1980 yet, or 2000. It’s only 1962,” Grace said.
“No, the dates are right. Ms. Frances, you are not fifteen years old, you’re seventy. You have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, which tricks your mind into thinking you’re much younger because it makes you think that you’re living in the past. This is why even though your brother and mother has passed away, you can’t remember,” the woman explained.
Grace was unable to believe what the woman in front of her was saying until she looked at her hands, which she had thought were soft and youthful, but were instead cracked and wrinkled. She couldn’t even recall the burial of her family members and cried for her loved ones next to their tombstones. The woman waited with Grace, not leaving her side even when it became cold and dark. The woman was her nurse, who took care of Grace when she was sick or hurt, and to leave her during such a hard time would be amiss. Once no more tears could fall down her cheeks, Grace stood up and walked back home with her nurse, hand in hand.
The next morning, Grace woke up and cleaned her room. Later that day, she went outside to pick up the mail, but realized in horror that she had forgotten to walk her little brother back home from school.