I was walking down the narrow path overgrown with weeds, wrestling with a basket of food. This long, meandering trip is the only solace I get from the usual storm of stress. It’s difficult taking care of your family when they can no longer care for themselves; it’s difficult watching family age and die off when there is so little to begin with.
I see the willow tree in the distance, the same tree I used to sit beneath as a child wondering why it was constantly weeping though it had no reason to. It didn’t live in the unforgiving world that man does. But, there it sits, weeping and whimpering and longing just like man. Doesn’t it know that it’s etched into an immortal plant safe from us? I wish that I could stop there today, curled into its knotted shoulder so we could cry together… But, what adult has time for that? What adult has time to feel?
There was a slight turn in the road toward a rather large river. If you followed the river, it emptied into a large lake with water calm as silk, calm enough to learn to skip smooth stones that blanketed the banks. There wasn’t much time to skip stones, to gaze pensively into the liquid mirror. I sadly climbed the bowed bridge and ran my hand along the splintered banister.
Almost there, I thought as I decended the other side. She’s so far out of my way… But, this is what you do for family.
The path snakes right, then left, and right again through a valley of sunflowers and into the dense woods that form an arch around any wanderer, protecting them and their secrets. No matter how hot and bright the sun rages, nothing can penetrate these woods.
And it hits me, as it always does at this point in my trek, how fragile and sickly she’s gotten the past few months. She’s not herself, just a shell, an encasement, that’s housing a virus that won’t leave. Death happens to us all. It’s quick and merciful. I don’t understand how she can go on fighting. Why would she want to? No pain, no struggling, and she could reclaim herself from the void clutching her from inside. If I were her… I’m not sure I would…
And me “helping” her by stringing her along, tethering her to a painful world. For what reason?
The bark of a wolf jolted me out of my thoughts.
“Hey, Lupin,” I said, stroking his coarse fur.
Lupin is granny’s wolf. We found him together, foot clamped in a bear trap. That little whimpering pup looked so vulnerable. My granny saved him, unlatched the trap and pulled the broken thing into her arms. She nursed him to health and urged him to leave when he was well, but he eagerly stuck by her cottage, protecting her. No one could get to her, no one, with him on watch.
I climb the rickety steps and step into her small cottage. It used to stay in a frozen pristine condition, nothing out of place. It began withering when she did. I’m not a talented homebody like she was. I do my best to keep it functional. Chaos always moves more quickly than order, so what’s the point?
I walk into the kitchen and unload food and pills from the basket, finding places in almost bare cupboards. I discard the aged and decayed food. It’s kind of amazing how quickly things decay in the forest, leaving no evidence of what anything once was. Here one minute, gone the next.
The glass clinks against the faucet as I fill it with water. I struggle with the caps on the pill bottles and begin the sorting game.
One for me,
Two for her,
One for me,
Four for her.
Daily doses of medicine that keeps us both functioning and here.
The ovens heat is oppressive as I make supper, remembering to boil water for tea after we eat. I obediently load the tray, balancing it in my hip as I open her door.
There she is, fragile and porcelain like. Her eyes are open, so luckily I don’t have to wake her.
There was no response, as usual. I can’t remember when she actually remembered my name much less who I was.
“Granny, time for pills and food.”
I sit on the edge of her bed and it creaks miserably under my weight.
“Granny,” I shake her slightly and still nothing. Her blue eyes are glazed, her hands are cold, her breathing–
First, I have a moment of relief–FREE. Then, I panic, pushing up and down frantically on her ribcage.
What do I do??!
I grab her shoulders and heave, dragging her from the thick quilts easily. Pulling her into the living room, I rack my brain for ideas…
I head there, out the back door, and lay her gingerly up against the wall of the shed, placing her in poison ivy. For a moment I wonder if I should move her, and I realize there’s no point. She’s dead.
Dashing into the shed, my hands find a shovel. Draped over the shovel handle is a pair of cream gardening gloves covered in roses and green vines.
Although it shouldn’t have mattered, I took the gloves, sliding them onto each hand methodically. I shouldn’t get my hands dirty.
I grab the shovel and work on a hole near her garden, one big enough for her. I don’t worry about the sun or anything else. The trees are working overtime to shelter me and protect me from any wandering eyes. Secret keepers.
Lupin slinks over to granny, laying his large head into her lap. He watches me dig, judging me silently with ice blue eyes that match granny’s. His eyes are identical to hers, only his actually hold life. He knows.
My muscles hurt as I dig. I don’t stop until my shoulders are below ground. Not quite 6 feet but I can’t go any farther. Grabbing the soil, I lift myself up and over and slowly walk to granny. I drag her over to the hole and realize I didn’t dig it long enough…
I go back into the shed and retrieve an axe. I’m too tired to dig anymore, so I decapitate her, making her body short enough to fit snugly in the hole. Lupin has gotten up and slipped into the shadows in the woods as easily as a glove. He couldn’t handle the mutilation of his master. But, she’s not his master anymore.
I throw the body in first, bones brittle as old fallen leaves, followed by the head, and begin refilling the hole. So much work!
Shovel after shovel, she disappears. Shaking, I go back into the kitchen, holding my hands over my ears. They ring with a migraine.
Stop it. Please.
The shrieking only grows louder.
I. Can’t. Think.
I open my eyes and realize the sound isn’t coming from my head at all. It’s the tea kettle. The water is boiling over. I start to laugh uncontrollably. Maybe I should have some tea. To calm my nerves.
I take the kettle off the stove and pour a cup of tea. It wasn’t until I was clutching the ancient, cracked tea cup that I realized that I still wore those cream colored and rose petal gloves. They were coated in grit, dirt, and traces of grandma.
And I don’t bother to take them off as I sip my tea.
I don’t take them off.
———– Alexis Smith——–