Gramma slept. In fact, she had spent so much time sleeping over the last few months that my folks and the people in the home were convinced that she was “slipping to the other side.”
They didn’t understand her but I did. She was actually my grand-aunt, or something–my mom’s mom’s sister–but I’d always been closer to her than to mom Bea, my actual grandmother. That’s how I came to call her Gramma, but I only said it when the two of us were together because for some reason it made everybody else mad. But I knew it made her happy because she’d not married or had kids, so I was the closest she’d ever get.
One day I went to visit Gramma and asked her what she wanted to do more than anything. She told me that she wanted to ride out to where she grew up, which was not far from the home. How could I not oblige her, right? I went to the nurse’s station to find out what I needed to do; they had me sign her out for the afternoon, packed us a lunch, and told me that I had to have her back by supper (evening med’s and all, you understand). As soon as we got outside in the home-approved wheelchair, Gramma turned her face to the sky with her eyes closed; you could tell that she hadn’t felt the sun on her in far too long. When we got over to my little hatchback and out of sight of the main windows and doors, Gramma hopped out of the chair, helped me fold it to get it into the back of the car, then looked at me with a twinkle in her eye that I hadn’t seen in ages. “Can you get this thing moving or do you need me to push it?” She asked with a laugh. We jumped in and for good measure, I made sure to backfire at third gear on my way down the long driveway away from the home. Gramma had rolled down her window and at the Bang! threw her arm out into the wind and laughed like a school girl.
Once we got to what she referred to as “the old homestead,” I pulled into the rutted drive and went until she told me to stop. “Be careful if you walk around; there’s snakes in the grass. Oh, and somewhere over there,” she pointed to the west of where the house used to stand, “there’s an old well.” I asked her if she needed the wheelchair and the look she gave me could have stopped the heart of the stoutest man. I let her be and she wandered off, sure-footed and secure. I sat in the car and read a few chapters of text I needed for class the next day. An hour or so flashed by and I got a bit worried. I set out in the direction Gramma had gone and found her crumpled at the foot of the biggest oak tree I’d ever seen; it must have had a tap root a mile long because it was full of fat, green leaves while everything around it was an uncut brown shag rug of weeds and grass gone to seed. At first I thought she’d fallen because she was sobbing, the front of her sweater soaked a darker shade of blue by her tears. I cried out and she sat right up with a most beautiful smile on her face. Startled, I stood there, not knowing what to say. She invited me to sit beside her and then she pointed out the two sets of initials in the heart carved into the tree right above her head. “Do you know what keeps this tree so alive out here in the midst of nothing?” I shook my head. “Love,” she smiled. “My boyfriend carved our initials into this tree, oh, about 60 years ago now.” I was amazed, having no idea that Gramma was so old. “Your great-grampa found out and almost killed him for doing it.” She paused to look up at the tree and to feel the rays of sun dapple her face through the thick canopy. “The tree was much younger then, and so was I. The summer after he carved that and said he would always love me, he went off to war.” Another tear silently slipped down her cheek. “I couldn’t read the letter the lieutenant brought for me; even though we never got married, he’d insisted on notification coming to me. No next of kin and all.” She angrily wiped the tear, which had reached the corner of her chin, with the back of her hand. “My sister said something about a gunfight in enemy territory. I told her to burn it.” She looked me straight in the eyes and I knew better than to look away. “That would make it not true, you see. If the letter was destroyed and I’d never read it, then he’d come back to me. That’s how it’s supposed to work.” She emphasized her words with fist strikes to her narrow thighs. “I’d sit up on moonlit nights, staring down at this tree; sometimes I could almost make him out, standing right here.” She sighed, stretched, and made getting up look easy. She then looked at me tenderly. “I know I don’t have much longer, dear.” The look of upset on my face made her grab me and hug me tight. “Oh my beloved, I hear your parents and those silly nurses talking about how much I sleep. But you know better, don’t you?” She stepped back to hold me at arms-length. “I haven’t been sleeping but I have been dreaming. Of him!” She pointed to the heart carving. “I just came to say good-bye because I can’t keep pining away for him like the young girl I was when this house was still standing. I do know that when I do close my eyes for the last time, I want to meet him on the other side so I can tell him about all the things I did over the years and how I tried to keep the feel of him right there with me. Oh, I wish I could tell your mom Bea that I’ve known all these years that he was really dead, but I’ve had so much fun making them all think I was a bit nutty that I decided to just keep it going.”
She laughed, full-mouthed, and grabbed my hand to pull me back toward the car. “But now dear you must take me back. Tomorrow the home will send me for tests and they will find that my health is worse. Be ready: your mom Bea and the rest will probably try to say that you wore me out by taking me away today. Tell them I asked you to take me by the lake, that I didn’t get near the water, that we just sat and talked, okay?” I told her I was worried about lying. “But you are about to drive me by the lake and I won’t get out,” she winked.
We did as she said and she played the role to the hilt when we got back to the home; she told everyone how lovely the boats were as they skimmed across the lake and made sure to describe a few for those in earshot who would know if she was lying. As she said, the doctors delivered the terrible news the next day and before month’s end she was gone. Mom Bea was mad because Gramma’d left me her favorite shawl and her scrapbook. She would have been even more upset if she’d known about the money Gramma left for me too, but that came after and in secret. She loved secrets. I found that out when I opened the scrapbook and the note from the army fell out.
Okay, okay. So I wrote a zillion words for this prompt.
Part of it was because it really touched me. The other part was because I was neck-deep in Camp NaNo that I skipped the 9th Prompt (you should never, ever, EVER, skip the 9th prompt. What?!) and I wanted to make up for it. Anyway, click on the image above to go read more about this episode’s prompt and add yours soon.