The Story of Grandma Snow
You’re four, sitting on the kitchen counter and the windows are dark and the only thing you can see in them is yourself. Your father is with you; your mother is at the table. A buzzing starts, like the bee that stung you. It is from your mother’s pager. She stands and walks to your father’s office and makes a call. You press your lips to your hand, to the place where the bee stung you. Your mother comes back to the kitchen; she is looking as though you have done something bad.
Your reflection stares into the room. The dark in the windows are a reminder of what you don’t know.
Days later you crank my knobs up and up and up because I am old and can’t go to channel 3 without going past 16. It is the first time you put your hands upon me. You spend hours staring into my face and I tell you stories. My signal is never as good as the television upstairs, but your mother is watching her soaps so you’re stuck with me.
Years later your mother shows you a photograph of a woman with thistle-down hair and a small baby on her lap. That baby is you.
You sit on the woman’s lap. She is old, grooved, full of secrets. Her skin is paper thin, her smell dusty brown, her hair as snowy as her name and just as soft. You sit with your fingers in your mouth. Your older brothers have taught you the virtues of the Wet Willy. You withdraw a hand from your mouth and point a finger as if to forge a signature, and then you put that slimy finger in the woman’s ear.
You say, “Wet Willy, Grandma.”
Your mother tells you, “Even Grandma Snow.” You think this is a good story because you have no memories of your great grandmother. Only this story. Only this reminder of what you don’t know.
Your mother leaves you sitting on the kitchen counter. You don’t know where she is going, and even though your father is there, you feel alone. Later in the week your mother comes into your room at night. The windows are dark and nothing. She explains she had to leave. She had to see Grandma Snow and hold her hand as she died. This information makes you feel small, like the darkness outside is pressing in on you, and you don’t want her to turn off the light when she leaves.
My first owner was Grandma Snow. Her hair was completely white when she turned 21. You don’t know why your mother keeps me. I know she keeps me to keep a piece of her grandmother. I know Grandma Snow told your mother she could do anything she wanted to do. I know her mother never told her that.
Ten years after Grandma Snow’s death you turn me off. In my gray face your reflection is cold and ashen and maybe you are not who you think. Your mother calls you for dinner. On the table there is Swiss chard and asparagus because your mother believes in eating healthy. She talks about how her father can’t remember who his wife, your grandmother, is. She talks about Great Uncle Jim and how he isn’t doing well. As she talks, you think of the stories she tells.
Outside, it is dark and your reflection is all you see. Where there would be light in that reflection, behind you, there is just the unknown outside. Death is something you are unprepared for. It means going back to sitting on the kitchen counter the night Grandma Snow died. It means that pager is buzzing again. The place on your hand where the bee stung you tingles. The darkness outside means there is something out there you don’t know about. Your reflection in my face means there is something within you haven’t discovered. It means all you have of life, of death, and yourself is only a story.
Alex Clark-McGlenn is finishing up his MFA in creative writing from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. He has been published in eFiction Magazine, Inkwell at Evergreen, Slightly West, and Smokebox Literary Magazine. His story “The Lost Doll” appeared in the Best New Writing 2016 anthology as one of three stories that won the Editor’s Choice Award. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest and is hard at work on his first novel.