“You know, Louis,
I’m starting to believe
That I’m living next door to my grandson.
It’s been years since I’ve heard,
Hide nor hair, nor a word,
Since my daughter passed away at thirty-one.
His father took him away,
Said was best they not stay,
But I’ve wondered how long they could run.
I won’t tell you my age,
You’d think I’d turn the page,
But, sadly, time won’t heal much under the sun.”
I nodded at her with a friendly smile and handed over the day’s mail.
“My daughter had the most wonderful imagination.
Alice was her name. See that little boy over there? The one I think may be my grandson? He sits out on the driveway for hours with his chalk, but otherwise all by himself just how my Alice used to play. She loved to draw. She liked to trace the outline of dead leaves on the concrete with yellows and purples. It made them seem almost alive again. And with a long careful line, she’d scoot across the asphalt, connecting the leaves like constellations, transforming them from death to leaves to stars to gods. Pinecones were always placed among the stars and she drew wings on them to make spaceships.
Her planets were the most delightful.
With a rainbow of chalk bunched in her tiny fist, she’d scribble a mash of colors in a big circle, and with a few wild strokes the mass of chaos and color turned into unnamed planets newly discovered. She would run to the hose and wet an old dish rag to smear the chalk so the colors ran into one-another like magical gases swirling around in a far away atmosphere.
She collected cicada shells too.
Those were her inhabitants. She lined them all up on the grass patch by the mailbox as if they were watching her sketch their new home into existence, waiting their turn to shed their gravity-bound fears and take off and fly into her beautiful new universe. Each cicada was placed carefully on the back of a pinecone, the shell of an old bug out to explore their new planet. They all had names, but no vowels existed in Alice’s galaxy, just Ks and Qs and all the difficult scrabble letters.
She played for hours all alone. Every scrap of bark, every pebble, every leaf had a place in her world.
I miss sitting out on the front step at dusk, listening to her little voice narrating her adventures. After a few minutes she’d notice me watching, and smile embarrassed, then lower her voice and keep playing.
I miss calling her inside for dinner and watching her scoop up her little cicada shells, using her dress as a basket, and carefully carry them to the corner of the garage where they’d sit safely until the next morning.
I miss my daughter.
He reminds me of her.
You know, Louise,
I know he’s not really my grandson, but I wonder if he would let me sit by him while he draws.
“Hello, mail lady,
Do you know I think maybe,
That my grandmother’s living next door?
See that old lady?
In that chair, rocking gently?
She watches me draw, then quickly looks to the floor.
Gran was my friend.
We would always pretend,
We were pirates out to explore.
Mom and dad remind me
Grandma died, but she might be
Visiting as a ghost like folklore.”
I smiled, opening the mailbox at the end of the driveway and shoved in a stack of letters.
“My grandma used to sneak me an extra scoop of ice cream after I’d clear the table.
She showed me a tiny hidden room in the back corner of the small closet in the attic. It was our hide-out. No one but me and Grandma knew it was there. In the old days the closet used to protect people if they had to hide from the bad guys. Grandma and Grandpa were good guys. She told me.
She would scoop me some ice cream and whisper, “tip toe quickly and eat it in our hide-out.’
She kept some old coats in our hide-out too. Grandpa’s coats. The one’s Dad told her to throw away when Grandpa died. But she liked them up there and Grandma would always tell me, “I wouldn’t want Grandpa to be cold if he ever decides to come visit.”
Sometimes when mom and dad were gone, Grandma would take me to the beach to look for pirates.
She has binoculars and we would get ice cream from the truck on the boardwalk because binoculars and ice cream help you find pirates. I climbed on the rocks and Grandma patrolled the sand next to me. We liked to sit on the big orange rock at the end of the jetty as long as the tide wasn’t too high. We only saw pirates every so often. Grandma said Grandpa comes to visit her at the beach sometimes. I think Grandma would visit me on the big orange rock if I went at the right time and brought her a scoop of Rocky Road.
I never saw Grandpa come visit, but Grandma did.
She told me that people who die come and visit in their own ways. She said Grandpa comes to say hi in her dreams and sometimes he comes to the hide-out to check on his coats too. She said if you look close enough and believe hard enough, no one dead is really all the way gone. Only partly gone. She said there’s another world where you go when you die. That’s why they can’t be with us all the time anymore, because they’re exploring their new world. But they come to visit. It might take awhile, Grandma said, for them to visit because there’s a lot to explore. I bet their world is big and really exciting. I think it’s like outer space with rainbow planets and big bright stars. We miss them and they miss us too, but Grandma said we have to be patient because they’re probably busy. I think Grandma is very busy exploring. Sometimes I worry though, because she left her binoculars here.
I still go into our hide-out sometimes to see if she comes and checks on Grandpa’s coats. I brought one of her coats in there too. I wouldn’t want her to be cold when she visits.
I think maybe Grandma became a pirate.
Dad gave me her binoculars and next time I go to the beach I’ll bring them so I can look for her.
I know that lady’s not my real Grandma, but maybe one day she’ll bring me to the beach for ice cream and to search for pirates.
I walked back over to the old woman next door and stopped at the foot of her porch.
She released her gaze from the boy and looked down at me.
I flicked my head in his direction and said, “He likes ice cream and pirates.”
I turned, and as I walked back to my truck I thought...
I guess we conceive
What we need to believe
To help us with some of our pain.
Though each experience differs,
Time passes, a voice whispers,
We start to understand all death is the same.
So what we contrive,
We who survive,
Might just be helping us weather the rain.
- Emily Menges