A lot of things ran through my mind at the moment she passed. I looked at my great-aunt standing at the other side of the hospital bed and wondered what she was thinking as she looked upon her younger sister. Was she remembering the times they had spent as girls, then as young women, chock full of hopes and dreams? Or was she thinking of their last game of dominoes, trying to accept that they would never again play their favorite game together? Then I asked myself what would my own children would think when I told them great-grandma was gone for good.
You think a lot when someone you love dies.
My grandmother was a fun lady. She loved people, loved a good time and she was constantly saying things that put us all in stitches. I have a roster of ‘grandma-isms’ that never fail to bring a smile to my face. Luckily, my mother does a great Barbadian accent so when she quotes my grandmother she reduces us to tears of laughter, and my step-dad can cook some of her greatest dishes—grandma taught him herself. But more than all that, on a deeper, visceral level, I remember her as strong woman, dedicated and committed to her family and to other people, too. She raised her own children and was a ‘surrogate’ mom to other people over the years. Growing up, I was always amazed to meet people at family gatherings who always spoke about her with the deepest respect and, even, love.
We are influenced by the people around us. I know for a fact that she was one of the greatest forces to influence me. If I believe I have the brains and strength and ability to do anything in this world today, it’s largely from watching that humble lady do the simplest but most important things every day—everything she did spoke of her love for her family. Life was not always easy, but she never quit. She never turned away from the task at hand. She was steady, keeping on at life daily, until the very end.
That’s a real woman.
So how does this relate to writing? Well, it goes back to influence. My grandmother didn’t buy me books, or pay for writing classes or do anything to directly influence my writing. But her values and example did. I also know how proud she was when she learned I had published my first book—I remember the look in her eye and the smile on her face and the resulting pride and joy I felt. As a parent, everything I do serves to help raise my children right: I sacrifice and do anything I can to protect and to support them, just like any good parent. Even things like getting my book to print, taking them with me to the stores where it’s on consignment, and visiting their schools to talk about writing were done with the intention of showing them that every day, regular people can accomplish their dreams if they work hard. Kids need to dream. And they need examples, models, to help them believe they can achieve their goals. Grand-parents have the same goals as parents, and I believe they hope that their legacy will serve to lift up their grand-children. When I told my grandmother about the book, I think she felt that she had contributed to something wonderful—something that had enabled her grand-daughter’s dream to come true just by her being. And she was right.
There are few things in life that help put things in perspective quite like the death of someone close. Sitting beside her bed today and thinking about all this, I felt a sort of stirring inside. Aside from her illness, these last few weeks have been generally challenging. There were moments when it was hard to keep writing or blogging: “Blogging takes up so much time”, “Anyway, nothing worthwhile is happening in my writing life right now so why bother posting at all?” Or the classic, “Ugh, I just don’t feel like writing today. Or any day.”
But life is short. What we don’t do today might never get done; we have to use the time we have to the utmost. The words you don’t put to paper might be forgotten, or that book you are too afraid to submit might never get to that agent or editor and fail to be discovered. The story on your heart you don’t think is very good might go unwritten and so miss touching someone’s life. Or a struggling blogger might find his second wind because you left a few encouraging lines.
Folks, you matter. Your life and your words matter. What you do or don’t do, matters. What legacy do you want to leave behind?
I’ve been away for a while and I’d love to hear from you. 🙂 Drop me a line and say hello!
It’s been a while since I posted a story, but I’ve still been writing. I decided to post Grandmother because it might be the last short I post for a while because I’m hitting the editing of my third book pretty hard. Anyway, this story was inspired from a prompt by one of my buddies, Adrianna Joleigh, who seems to enjoy pricking at my darker side, lol The prompt started as an exercise on telling a story from multiple POVs (I, you, he), which I interpreted into this story.
Dyane Forde-October 2013
Damned if the girl wasn’t looking out the window again.
“You know he isn’t coming back,” I said, coming up beside her. My bones ached with arthritis but this foolishness was just enough to get me hobbling across the room. Once there, I fiddled with the curtain sashes until they loosened and the blue panels fell into place.
Linda pursed her lips. The beginning of a frown crinkled her pale brow. With her face scrubbed clean and devoid of make-up, she looked more like a child than the grown woman she was. Right then, she was preparing to argue, something I didn’t like. Conflict upset her so much. Then the headaches started. I hated to see my baby in pain.
“He just might,” Linda said, pulling her shawl tighter with one hand while opening the curtains a tad with the other. I marked the small act of defiance. This wasn’t going to end well. Without looking at me, she added, “Danny did promise, after all.”
I scoffed and crossed my arms across the front of my starched blouse. “You’re in denial, little girl. That man is never coming back.”
She opened her mouth to protest but then closed it. I knew she was thinking it over, trying to understand—or remember—the meaning behind my words.
Linda turned to face me but kept her eyes downcast. “What do you mean? He said—“
“Linda, the man talked too much. That was his problem! Every word out of his mouth was a damned lie. Like that time he said he’d left town to find work and you found out he was shacking up with that other woman, you still believed in him.”
Linda was defending him and it made me sick. It went against every fibre of my being, and she knew it; the fact she did it anyway make me sicker. And angrier.
Linda’s heart-shaped faced flushed deep red and her brow shone with the sheen of perspiration. “Yes, but—“
I pushed harder. “What about his promise to be there when the twins came?”
She looked up. Glared.
“Or when he promised to lay off the liquor? Or that he’d stop wailing on you and the kids every other day? Stupid little girl! When will you see the man for what he was?”
I was on fire, inflamed because after everything I’d done, she chose to believe in him rather than me.
Blood stained her lip from where she’d bitten it through but she didn’t seem to notice. Suppressed rage lit her eyes and her fingers twitched, temped maybe to wrap themselves around my neck. Only Linda couldn’t lie, not to me. I knew her intimately. I sometimes knew what she was thinking or feeling before she did herself.
“Why’d you have to go there? It’s all in the past. I keep trying to forget it but you! You keep bringing it up! Danny’s changed. He promised!” She turning away to walk towards the bed.
“Linda! He hasn’t changed. He’s dead.”
She didn’t want to hear so I had to lay it out for her. I pitied her ignorance, and actually felt partially responsible for it. Perhaps, seeing she was so weak, I’d sheltered her too much. But she was grown now, and much too determined to believe in fairy tales for my liking. She had to see things as they were; living in the dark was no way to live. Besides, if she fell down under the weight of the truth, I’d be there to prop her up. I was her crutch and she knew that too.
“My dove, I’ve been warning you your whole life that the world is full of monsters. People are nothing but predators. They gain your trust and when you least suspect, they turn around and cut your throat. Or they beat you and take your money and leave you and your children to starve through the winter. Or,” I paused, only second-guessing my next words for the span of a breath, “they steal what’s most precious.”
“Tell me I’m lying! Tell me!”
“Stop it! You’re being cruel!” In a flash, she had swept her hands across the card table and sent the tea set flying. The pot and cups exploded into colourful pieces when they hit the floor.
“I’m protecting you from yourself! That’s why Danny had to go.”
Shocked, she stood stock still. “Gram, what do you mean?” I watched while she turned her palms upwards to study them, and then as her brow creased with concentration, or maybe confusion. Then she put a hand to her head and closed her eyes.
Again, moving my body painfully across the room, I joined her by the bed where I poured her a cup of cold water from the nightstand. Her hands shook so hard she had to cup them together to take it, and even then the water splashed over the edge.
“Tell me the truth. What happened?” she asked.
“I took care of it.”
“You? But…my hands! I remember washing them in the kitchen sink. There was a knife too and it was—“
Covered in red.
“No,” I said gently, taking her hands to steady them in my own. “Not yours. Mine. My hands were stained red.” I folded her into a hug. The truth was too much; she was breaking and I had to hold her together. At first, she stayed rigid as a board within my withered embrace. Still, I kept at it, holding her and stroking her long, brown hair until she finally gave. She always did.
“I-I can’t understand this…I feel a head ache coming on.”
“There, there. Why don’t you lie down?” I turned her around by the shoulders and set her down on the edge of the bed.
“Gram?” she asked, “Are you sure? I mean, I could have sworn the last time I saw him he said—“
“That was months ago,” I snapped. “He’s gone.”
With a growl, she suddenly pushed me, sending me into the wall. Righting myself, I brushed my skirt back into place and reset the pins in my hair, every last one.
“Why do you do that?” she demanded. “You always take away the things I love!”
“Because no one is good enough for you.” I kept my tone calm but decisive, necessary to regain control of her.
“He wasn’t all bad! What about when he brought me flowers, or a new dress?”
“You mean those guilt offerings?”
“I loved him!” Linda screamed.
“Because you’re a fool! All people do is to tear you down, especially the men. Or have you forgotten?”
“No,” she whispered, her sudden flash of anger crumbling under the weight of my righteous stare. I had her now. She was ready to listen.
“They come for their victims late at night when everyone else is asleep. Everyone except you because you know what’s coming down the hall. A ghoul, no worse, a devil. He comes down the corridor, taking his time to avoid the creaky floorboards. And when he arrives, he steals. He kills, destroying everything that is you.”
“Your father wasn’t the only one. Every one of them ripped you open and broke your heart. That’s why you’re sick! That’s why you’re broken! It’s why you need me, why you called me in the first place!”
Linda gripped her head, her fingers disappearing in her full head of hair. She fought the blinding migraine as hard as she fought my words. But for the love of God, she had to learn! To see I was her only hope!
“My head…I can’t think….I need to rest…”
“You have to understand how the world works, Linda. Remember how we met! It was the first time you heard him in the hall. You remember, don’t you?”
Linda started to cry. She reached for and gripped my hand in hers. “I do.”
“When the door opened, cold with terror you looked over and saw me. And I took you to a far off place with sunflowers and tall grass. Where the sun shone and the air smelled of apples. We had a picnic.”
“With ham sandwiches and homemade lemonade. My favorites.”
“Every time he went to you, so did I.”
The poor girl was all out blubbering now, great big sobs tearing through her tiny frame. Streams of water ran from her eyes and soaked her white gown.
“Danny needed to go, didn’t he?”
“Yes, dear, he did. I wasn’t going to let anyone hurt my sweet baby ever again.”
“I’m sorry,” Linda said. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you. You’re the only one I can trust. I-I just get confused sometimes.”
I pressed on her shoulders to get her to lie down, and then lifted her feet into the bed. I tucked the blanket in all around and lifted the guardrail. I flinched a little when it snapped into place. Linda stirred so I ran a hand over her face, smiling when the tension melted away. I even hummed a little tune. A lullaby. She always liked those.
Linda opened her eyes at the sound of keys jiggling at the door. It swung open and a man dressed in a crisp, white uniform entered. “Is everything alright in here? I thought I heard shouting.” He looked down at the broken china littering the floor.
“Everything is just fine, Marcus. A little accident is all. Just get a broom and I’ll deal with it later,” Linda said in my raspy voice. “Linda has everything she needs.”
Marcus was used to this. He crossed his arms and tilted his head to the side. “Does she now?”
Linda pushed herself up to sit, her back and shoulders ramrod straight and her chin lifted. She pushed a stray hairpin back into place. Eying him with an air of distrust, she said, “Yes.”
“Dr. Wiseman will be stopping by in an hour, Gram. Why don’t you tell her that for me?”
“I’ll do no such thing. The child is far too fragile for his probing questions and ridiculous judgements! The man is always digging into places he’s got no business going, never leaving well enough alone. How does he expect her to get better? No, you tell him I’ll be waiting for him today.”
“Be nice if someone could talk to Linda for once,” Marcus said under his breath as he ducked out of the room.
“Gram, I need my pills.” Then seeing she was sitting, Linda asked, “What am I doing up? Last I remember, I was lying down to sleep. I’d even started to dream of sunflowers and apples.”
“Hush, hush, silly girl! Don’t worry your head about such things! You leave everything to me like you always do.”
Linda settled back into the blankets. “Thanks, Gram. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Soon she was breathing evenly, her face utterly relaxed. That’s how I liked to see my baby girl best.
The poor thing never stood a chance before I came along; life had her marked to be devoured. And just as I’d thought, she still wasn’t strong enough to cope. But who really was? The world was a dark, evil place, unsafe for delicate souls like hers.
I sat down on the comfy armchair, ready to watch over Linda while she slept. I sighed and shook my head, pitying all the children, both young and old, who must suffer through life without the protection of a Grandmother like me.