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Grampa Smith

Ariana Uding

It rained for two weeks and four days this summer in Albuquerque. From Friday October 13th all the way to Halloween. Melody told me the sky was crying for Grampa, but I didn't believe her. She had a knack for story telling—and for superstition. I was happy that it stopped raining in time for November. I've heard it's a bad sign for it to rain on the first of the month. November 1st was nice.

I hadn't really been sleeping much; the rain had been keeping me up. I'd taken refuge on the couch. There were fewer windows in the living room and it was a closer distance to the small yellow kitchen than my room was. It had a bit of a musty smell in the air, but no one was bothered by it, not even me. 

I crossed the room in seven seconds, maybe less, to go into the open kitchen. I could see Melody sitting on a stool that was pushed up against the island in the middle of the room. She was getting big and sometimes it blew my mind how quickly it happened. The nightgown barely touched her knees, but her swinging feet were nowhere near the floor. Sometimes I feel like she changes overnight.

"Good morning," I said, walking towards the fridge.

She looked at me and smiled.

"It's about time you woke up. I've been waiting for hours!"

I looked at the stovetop to read the numbers. "It's nine. A.M."

 "I've been waiting for minutes!"

"Why?"

"For you, duh." She said it so matter-of-factly that I felt stupid for not knowing what was going on under the blonde knots.

"Why?"

"I have to give you something." 

"Yeah, okay. What?"

"This!" She outstretched her arm across the marble top to hand me a giant, granny smith apple. It was so shiny I probably could have peeled away a layer of wax and still have needed to wash it several times.

"Umm, thanks. Do you want me to cut it for you?"

"No!"

"Why not?"

"Because." Her face took arms; eyebrows narrowed and chin defiantly high, as if to challenge me.

"Because why?"

"Because that's Grampa!"

Melody always made things up, even as a little kid: outrageous, but generally cute and well-meaning things. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt most of the time, but there was no way I could pretend to believe her about this.

"Mel, stop kidding around."

With the apple in my grasp, I walked around the island to the counter. Our mother always kept a white plastic cutting board there. I set the apple down and went to find a knife in a nearby drawer.

"Asher, stop!"

"Why?"

"It's Grampa!"

"No it's not. Stop."

"Yes it is!"

She slid off the stool and ran towards me with all the speed she could. Her fingers jabbed me in the ribs. It wasn't a tickle like she usually did when attacking me but a sharp and meaningful pierce. I held the knife down to the counter. In one movement it could so easily fall and cut her head or throat on accident and it would be my fault. She wouldn't give up, so I pushed her away with my hands tight around her shoulders so she couldn't squirm.

"Please?"

I looked into her eyes, pleading grey eyes. I couldn't hold my own against her.

"Fine. If it means that much to you."

She smiled and moved past me to the counter so she could get the apple. When she walked back, the fruit was cradled gently in her arm and she watched me with caution.

"You have to get Grampa to his chair."

I sighed, glancing across the fifteen yards to his old semi-permanent residence.

"Why can't you do it?"

"Because you have to."

"What if I don't want to?"

"That doesn't matter."

"Why not?" I thought I was stubborn, but she was something else. The more we fought, the more it seemed to me that she was turning into someone new.

"Because you have to do it, okay? Sheesh!"

"That doesn't make sense."

"Stop being a baby." Her eyes were beady as they looked up into mine.

"I'm not being a baby. You're being a baby."

Mel stuck her tongue out at me. 

"Fine, I'll do it." I was being a baby.

"Promise you won't hurt him!"

"I promise."

Melody hesitantly placed the apple in the palm of my hand.

"How do you know?" Her head tilted upwards as soon as I said it.

"Know what?"

"That this apple is Grampa."

"He told me."

"The apple talked to you?"

"No, stupid. I had a dream and Grampa told me that he left something in his chair and you needed to take him there so he could get it."

"So let me get this straight. Grampa came to you in a dream and said ‘I'm an apple have, Asher bring me to my chair?'" I couldn't control the suspicion from forming on my face. 

"You don't believe me?" Mel looked at me, disappointment taking over her expression as she looked down.

"Well, why didn't he just tell me?"

"I don't know."

I looked down at the granny smith. Why didn't he just tell me? I was more responsible than my sister, five years more responsible. I was in algebra, she was learning how to multiply and divide. I just knew more. And, if it was my hand that had to deliver him, shouldn't I have been given a choice?

With Melody a step behind me, we walked from the kitchen into the living room. The chair was past the couch in the corner of the room, right next to the windows. It was nothing special. Just an old, beat-up brown leather recliner with an orange and white wooly blanket draped over the back. Standing inches in front of it, a sudden discomfort I hadn't felt since his wake engulfed me. I looked back at Mel, who nodded, and placed the apple in the chair.

Nothing happened. I had told myself from the start that nothing would, but the acidic taste of disappointment still sat on my tongue. It was too bitter to talk. 

"Do you miss him?" Her face looked up at mine with complete sincerity, like she needed me to reassure her that it was okay to feel sad.

"Yeah, I do. Not his snoring so much, that was worse than the rain," I swallowed my instinct to chuckle, "Do you?"

"Yeah. He made the best grilled-cheese. Don't tell mom, but she really stinks."

I laughed softly. 

"Why didn't you cry at his funeral?"

I looked down at my sister. She was looking at the apple on the chair still.

"Because I didn't say it."

"Say what?"

"On the day he died, the last day we saw Grampa, before school, I running late. Remember? We were in a rush. I didn't tell him I loved him. I didn't hug him. Mel, I didn't even say bye. What if he didn't know?"

Her eyes traveled away from the shaded space to my face, holding that same warmth and glow as the granny smith. "He did."

"You can't know that."

"Of course he did. He was our Grampa."

She reached for my hand and tugged until our bodies collided. I wrapped my arms around her shoulders. She wasn't as big as she had looked in the kitchen; her head rested near the lower part of my chest. It was hard to imagine this Melody was the same one whose life goal was to annoy me. The sides of our bodies faced the chair now.

"How do you know, though?"

"Asher, don't you remember anything mom told us, you know, right after he died?"

-

On October 13th, we walked home from school because Mom forgot to pick us up. It wasn't a far walk, maybe a mile or two, but on that Friday, it felt much, much longer. It was the first day of a rainstorm that would last for two weeks and four days. We trudged through it, shivering and miserable the entire way to our house. If we hadn't been together, it would've been way worse.

The bed the hospice had brought for grampa was gone when we came in. The only piece of furniture left was grampa's chair. The TV, stereo, and coffee table were all pushed against the far wall which made them seem like they weren't even a part of the room. Mom was sitting on the sandy carpet in the living room, in the empty space where the couch should have been, crying.

I loved Melody more at that moment than I ever had before. She sat down, threw her short arms around our mother's smallness and whispered, "Don't worry mom, it'll be okay. What's wrong?" I'm not sure if she knew he had died yet, but I did.

While Melody and Mom started hot chocolate, I spread out all three of our sleeping bags on the floor, unzipped them completely, and lay them out side-by-side-by-side. Mom lay on her back on top of the middle one, for a long time just staring at the ceiling. I did too; I looked at all the cracks, Grampa said plaster does that. Melody was on her left, snuggled against her side. I wonder if anyone else noticed how breakable my mother had become, so thin and fragile looking. I lay on her right. I would've rather slept in my room. I already knew I was too old to cuddle with my mom. Thirteens, turning fourteens, are teenagers and shouldn't still want that. I didn't need to be treated like a kid, but I thought Mom would have cried much harder if I had chosen not to stay.

We had no pillows, so I could easily imagine how our hair must have blended together: Melody, the blonde and then Mom's and my matching brown. Her hand stroked the pushed back strands away from my eyes. "You need a haircut. Aunt Karen thought you were a girl when she picked us up to go to the zoo last week." I liked it better long, but stayed silent. I doubted she had thought that, because it wasn't even past my chin. That wasn't long.

We both stilled and listened to Melody breathing steadily. "It'll be hard. But we'll get through it. We have each other." My mother had paused before moving the back of her hand so it rested on my chest. She waited a while. "Asher, you may not understand this right now. In fact, I'd be shocked if you did. But I need you to know something. Family is unconditional. Okay? No matter what." The rain pattered against the window. I wanted to say something, but I didn't know what. It was like all of the words I had ever learned were just not good enough. Maybe she didn't need any words. 

I knew Mom had fallen asleep before me that night. The soot colored eyes were mostly shut, her hands balled into fists. It seemed like she was still fighting, even in her sleep. She looked younger, less worried, though. As if it was okay to let go for a few hours. 

For the first time in my life, I felt old. I looked at her face, which must have resembled what it had been a long time ago and felt protective. Grampa had been the man of our house, and without him I would have to be. It was as if a dumbbell of stress and fear had attached itself to my back and forced me to be more like a grown up. Streetlight colored droplets had gathered on the glass. There were a lot of long nights after that.

-

          I hugged my sister tighter.
 

"She said family was unconditional, Asher. I think I know what she means. I think she's right."
I thought Melody had been sleeping through what Mom said. It seemed strange that she should know so much, when it like I knew nothing at all. Looking at her now, though, was like growing down. I felt more like a child than ever. My 3rd grade sister, face far below mine, telling me not to worry. She held onto me like a guardian but she had it turned around. I couldn't have been the one to protect us. She was my knight, my shield, as reassuring as our mother. I wasn't sure why, but our embrace held with it something strange: a sort of living, breathing irony.

"Melody, do you think anything else is going to happen? With the apple."

Her hands dropped from my waist to her sides. We both turned, just a bit, to stare at the fruit. The entire living room: the couch, television, and stereo, everything, soaked up sun. Everywhere was lit up except for that corner where the chair was. The bookshelf kept it blocked—a shade of classic novels. But the apple seemed to maintain an unnatural twinkle, a sunny glint it cast in the darkest part of our house.

"Grampa didn't say."
 
"Did he tell you anything else?"

"That he loves us."

I could feel my lips curve up towards the ceiling like an involuntary smile.

"Really?"

She smiled back. "Of course."