Touching Grandma

SIXTY-NINE: Sacked with a circumstance hanged around a good woman forced to wail so loud she lost government over herself: GRANDMA.

I saw grandma in pictures after she went to prison.

Mama wouldn’t let me go to see her. Said seeing grandma in prison “was bad for the imagination. Just didn’t taste right either,” she said.

So I settled for the pictures. Smiles with a hand waving between an iron bar: what grandma had become.

Eventually I did get to see grandma; she was a corpse by then—filled with formaldehyde, with eyelids that turned black from lack of sun.

Question: “Grandpa, how it happen’?

Grandma wasn’t a soiled woman; she was a school teacher.”

Grandpa rocks: toothless: black tar gums. Grandpa speaks: “How it happen’ to my wife.”

I stare at him. The sun slides down across us. “Remember.” He leans back in the chair to rest his stomach, rest the beer that had made it fat and hard like mortar. “Remember.” He waves the flies busying around us away with brown callused hands. “Remember, she shot ‘dat guard with de metal leg.”

“Yes Grandpa, I . . . .”

“No you don’t. You just a young un’ then. You just eleven. You ain’t smell nothing ‘bout how life serve to cause a good woman to become hard. All you see is outcome.”

He swallows back in the chair; he does not rock. He holds his body: stiff; still.

“Grandpa,” I say trying to understand how the sums are served, ‘can’t you tell me what I could not see.”

He chews his gums a bit. Rocks: stiff like dried cement.

“I’m here.” His voice. . . his voice is not his voice. It is Grandma’s. “My husband told me once men hurt, too. I watch his eyeballs saunter as he says this. And behind his eyes I see our boy crying from a prison cell. I begin to map out my boy’s life. And I think of how they were holding him in a prison cell because they say he killed a policeman. He didn’t kill no police; he was a dreamer. I think about my son and how he died. He was in cell block number two. I hear his laughter.”

Grandpa stops. He holds his stomach as if he is constipated with laughter.

“You okay Grandpa?”

“Yeah. Don’t interrupt me no more. You gonna’ miss the seams.”

I lean against the porch rail; he continues:

“I imagine that as he laughs, his guts are toiling inside and I know the laugh protects him while he is behind bars. My son was almost ready to come home until that day. It was cell block number two and the way I heard   it is that when the fire started the old guard with the metal leg stood. . . the cell block is on fire and my boy locked in. I imagine his hands pushed up against the cell; I imagine his hands turning blacker, blacker as they burned. I hear my boy die before me.”

“Wooden tears gathered in her eyes after we buried the boy. She seemed strange, like she was bleeding the kind of tears that always with you. Next thing I know . . .,” Grandpa whispers her words. . .

I’m at the guard’s house. He opened the door and my eyes, my eyes. . . .

Grandpa stops speaking. His voice, her voice, his voice: silent. I lean towards him. “They say she shot his other leg dead.”

Silence. “Miss her Grandpa.”

“Just the part I ain’t able to touch.”

Can I touch what you can touch Grandpa?

“You her granddaughter ain’t you. Ain’t you girl.”

“Yes Grandpa.”

“Then you touching her.”


I Am Black America:

One Comment Add yours

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