Copyright 2004 by Nannette Mickle
When you are nine years old and are faced with the
knowledge of a death in the family, how do you react? What
about the reaction of the adults around you gives you the answers to what you are searching for? Perhaps they
are unsure as well.
I remember Mom and Dad standing in the kitchen after dinner talking to each other in a low whisper. It was Friday night and normally I was allowed to stay up late, but I was sent to bed early. I hadn't done anything wrong that I could remember. Mom was doing the dishes and Dad was leaning up against the fridge, drinking a beer. He always drank a Schlitz when he came home from work. Dad had just hung up the phone a few minutes earlier. I had an idea it was something about Nana. I knew she was sick with cancer in her stomach. Just outside the doorway, I could hear Dad say something to Mom about maybe seeing Nana for the last time tomorrow afternoon. It took me a while to fall asleep.
When I woke up the next morning, I went into the living room to watch cartoons. Tom and Jerry was coming on. I always hated that Jerry won in the end of every show. Jerry was kind of a jerk. On the way to the couch, I saw Mom and she told me to get ready to go to the hospital. I wanted to complain and whine, but the stern look on her face said I should shut up and get ready fast. We stopped at the hospital store on the way to Nana's room and picked up some flowers. They were yellow roses and they smelled just like her garden at home and Dad let me hold them in the elevator.
Nana had the most amazing garden. I didn't know anything really about gardens, but I learned what a snapdragon was from her. She also had tortoises in her back yard. She used to let me feed them huge lettuce leaves and it could take all afternoon for one of those little guys to eat one leaf. She also had two cats that followed her around all the time, Irving and Snickle Fritz. She had another one named Josie, but I never saw her cause she hid under the bed in the spare room.
When we got to Nana's room, we walked in and I hardly recognized her. She was so thin and her hospital gown barely hung on her bony body. Her hair looked dry and I thought it was a wig, slipping back on her head. When the nurse came in to move her onto her side to give her a shot, Nana smiled at her and said "Hello, dear." She was always so polite, but I don't think she knew what was happening, or who this lady was. Did Nana know that she was dying and we were all watching her? I knew. I kind of wanted to tell her, but I was afraid. I just stayed quiet. Nobody said so, but I could tell you weren’t supposed to talk about things like that around the person that’s dying.
When the nurse moved her, Nana's gown flapped open but the nurse didn't seem to notice. My eyes worked up her body, starting at her spidery legs. I could see her hipbones jutting out. I could also see her private parts and it made me feel ashamed. I didn't want to see Nana like that. Dad pulled her hospital gown down and covered her up. He started crying and Nana patted the top of his head.
We left soon after that. I wanted to stay longer because I knew how much Nana loved me. She was going to feel so alone once we had gone. Mom, Dad and Pops took me downstairs to the cafeteria. I was the only one that ordered something to eat. Everybody watched me carry my tray to the table.
"Don't spill it." Pops snarled at me.
"She won't." Dad said in my defense. “Give her a break, Dad.”
"Look at all the salt she's using. Don't let her. Hey! Don't salt your meat loaf." Pops snapped his fingers at me. His face was red.
I started to cry. Dad put his hand on my shoulder and told me to go ahead and eat my dinner. I could only hear the whooshing of my heartbeat in my ears. I took another bite of meat loaf. All I could taste was salt. I couldn't swallow it. I didn't think it could get past the hot lump already stuck in my throat. It was just like the time I was over at Pops and Nana’s house and Nana did something to make Pops mad. Sometimes he would get mad over nothing, but I think it was because she forgot something for dinner. Pops had a really nice steak and Nana was eating spaghetti with me. Maybe he didn’t like the way she cooked the steak. I don’t know. I had a hard time loving Pops when he was like that. Nana picked up my plate and took it into the living room and put it on a TV tray. She hugged me and told me that I could watch TV and eat dinner tonight if I wanted to. I never got to do that, so it made me feel pretty special. I just wished Nana had sat down next to me instead of going back into the dining room and sitting next to Pops.
That night I was afraid that Nana was going to die by herself. I was in the dark in my bedroom. It was past my bedtime, but I was trying to listen in on the conversation my parents were having in their room. The phone rang and I could hear Dad pick it up and start crying. I walked into their bedroom and stood in the doorway, watching Mom hold Dad on their bed. Mom saw me and kneeled down I front of me, holding my hands. She told me Pops called. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but she didn’t say anything about dying anymore. It was called passing on. Nobody ever said the word dead after that.
I lost track of time after that. Maybe it was a day or a week later, but when we came home from the funeral, I went straight to my room. After closing the door, I pulled out the one thing I took from the funeral. Actually I stole it, but I didn't want to think of it that way. I imagined Nana would have wanted me to have it. She used to give me little presents when I visited her and spent the night. I thought it would somehow protect me from anything bad happening to me. It was a small white statue I thought might be made of marble. I took it from an arrangement of flowers sitting on a table at the funeral home. Nobody saw me take it. I didn't really know who the she was since my family didn't go to church. I used to get the Virgin Mary mixed up with Mary Magdalene sometimes because their names were both obviously Mary. Whenever anybody spoke about Mary, I'd blush or shut up because I was afraid I'd use the wrong name and that would be blasphemy or sacrilegious or something embarrassing. All I knew was that the statue was one of the Mary’s.
But I honestly thought that this little statue held just a tiny bit of my Nana's soul in it. And I hoped that if I could pray just right, she would speak to me. I didn't quite know how to pray since we never did that, but I knew I should kneel and put the palms of my hands together and try to be pure and humble when I spoke. I was sitting on the edge of my chair at my desk, staring at the statue and I started. I wasn't exactly sure why because I was supposed to be relieved that Nana was in heaven and she was no longer suffering. I cried for a long time anyway.
I looked at the statue for a long time. Mary just looked back at me with empty eyes and said nothing. I'm not sure what I expected to hear, but I hoped that I would hear the gentle voice of my Nana. I grasped my hand around her waist and she felt cold and smooth. I threw her in the garbage can and put some papers on top of her. I was afraid I made her mad and now God might punish me. But I didn't care. It didn't feel right for Mary's eyes to look so empty and dead. Maybe I was just scared cause I stole her. I'm sure that was a sin.
I wondered if maybe there was a devil. He was supposed to be tricky. But I thought the young and innocent were supposed to be safe from Satan. Maybe I was wrong. I didn't want to mess with any of this God stuff. It seemed like the more you think about God, the more the devil was on your heels. I'm going back to how things were before. I'm sorry if I threw away a part of your soul Nana. I didn't mean to.
Nannette Mickle is a writer living in San
Francisco, CA working on a series of short stories as well as her
forwarded by The Preservation Foundation.
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