The intoxicating smell of cooked bacon roused me from a deep sleep. My eyes didn’t want to open, but my stomach was calling the shots. I could think of nothing but food so I forced my eyes open and sat up.
It had been a week since I arrived at the Sunnyledge. Every morning the smells from the kitchen were mesmerizing. My grandmother was a master chef and my appetite had come back with a vengeance. I was even able to eat an entire meal without getting sick. I could already feel myself gaining a little weight
I rolled out of bed and took a quick glance in the mirror. My hair was a mess and it was also getting too long. It’s been months since the last time it was cut.
At Jefferson an orderly would use clippers, giving everyone the same buzz cut. The simple excuse for the short hair was the possibility of catching lice. I thought the reason for cutting off all our hair was really to take away our dignity. It would be nice going to a barber and getting an actual haircut for a change.
My grandmother was finished cooking by the time I made it to the dining room. The aromas indulged my senses and the abundance of food laid out on the table overwhelmed them. My appetite was back with a vengeance.
I sat down and immediately went for scrambled eggs covered in cheese, then a scoop of grits, and several pieces of bacon. When I finished everything on my plate I grabbed a couple more pieces of bacon and another helping of eggs.
I woke up feeling better than I ever had before. Although my muscles were sore from the work I was doing around the Sunnyledge, it felt great. Working on the inn was simply great for my health. I finished sanding the paint off the porch yesterday and was ready to put on a coat of primer. My muscles would ache until I got them moving again.
My grandmother took a seat across from me and poured herself a cup of coffee. She started to serve herself, while I shoveled more food into my mouth.
“Did you have a good night sleep, Charlie?” She said. “I hope you’re not too tired to run into town today. We’re going to need a couple of things.”
I stuffed my mouth with more bacon as fast as I could get it down. I nodded my head remembering not to talk with my mouth full. When I finally swallowed, I answered my grandmother. “Best night sleep I’ve ever had. This bacon is amazing.”
“Thank you,” my grandmother said. “Eat as much as you want. Did they ever feed you at that hospital?”
“Nothing as good as this. I’m just so hungry all the time,” I said with another strip of bacon in my mouth. “I was going to start painting today, but I guess I’ll do that when I get back from town.”
“No need to rush, Charlie. Take it easy today. You’ve been here a week and not once have you stopped working.”
“You know, the weird thing is, for the last four days I haven’t had a migraine either. As a matter of fact, I actually feel amazing.” I took a sip of orange juice remembering to go slow. I had to give my body some time to adjust. “I haven’t eaten this much in a long time,” I said as I shoveled more eggs covered in cheese into my mouth.
“Maybe we’ll be able to put some meat on those bones,” my grandmother said. “Was the hospital food really that bad?”
“It wasn’t about the taste. I just wasn’t ever hungry. Lots of drugs with appetite surprising side effects. I also got sick a lot. I couldn’t really keep anything down long enough to gain any weight. Since I came to Dumont I’ve been feeling better.” I paused. I really had starting feeling better. Actually, a lot better. I wondered how that was possible. “It must be the fresh air,” I added. “Being up here in the mountains is great for me, I guess.”
“The fresh air will do that,” my grandmother agreed. Her eyes darted around me like she was studying something. After several seconds she shook herself out of her daze, “I can’t get over how much you look like your father,” she said, as several tears fell from her eyes.
After I finished eating I helped my grandmother with the dishes. I was more than happy to help with anything that needed done. I would do any chore she asked me to do. I was just thankful for the opportunity to be under the same roof as my grandmother.
I never had a job before and my schooling was limited when I was at the hospital. I still hadn’t finished high school. I was eighteen and only had enough credits to call myself a sophomore. I don’t know if I was planning on returning to school. I never really had that conversation with anyone yet.
Now that I had so much free time on my hands I needed to keep busy. Staying busy helped me feel normal. When I thought about the parts of my life that were missing I started to feel bad about myself. If I had to much free time I thought I might get depressed. When I got depressed I lacked any motivation. With so much free time I would get more depressed. It was a vicious cycle if it was able to continue.
At Jefferson I tried to work, but no job was very demanding. I tried working in the book room, but reading was not a common pastime on the tenth floor of Jefferson. I spent time in the kitchen, until the doctors decided I wasn’t allowed to do that either. I didn’t care if I was doing it for free, I just wanted to work. I needed to do something while the hours slowly went by. Boredom was my worst enemy. I craved small things like doing laundry, picking up dry cleaning, mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, moping the floor, washing the car, and so many more menial tasks to occupy my time.
Once the kitchen was cleaned, my grandmother gave me list of groceries, and another list for the hardware store. The closest super market was twenty miles outside of Dumont so she only wanted me to go to the general market located in town.
My grandmother tossed me the keys. I hadn’t driven since the day I took my driver’s test, but I didn’t need to tell my grandmother that. No real reason to practice in the city. I was hoping driving a car was like riding a bike. I figured out how to drive once before, so I was hopeful I could do it again.
My grandmother didn’t give me any extra money for the market or hardware store. I could put everything on my grandmother’s accounts with each stop. Of course, I wouldn’t abuse it. I wanted my grandmother to trust me. I wouldn’t take advantage of it.
“What car should I take?” I asked. I hadn’t seen any since I arrived at the Sunnyledge a week ago. I was beginning to think they walked everywhere.
“Take Martin’s truck,” my grandmother said. “He left it to you. It’s yours if you want it.”
“It’s like Christmas,” I said as I hugged my grandmother. “Thank you, papa.”
“He says you’re welcome,” then laughed. “The truck is paid off and the insurance is up to date. All you have to do is worry about filling the gas tank.”
I found an unattached garage painted white with two bays behind the house. The left bay door was already open revealing a powder blue pickup truck inside. It was a Chevy American heavy duty and was at least thirty years old. I looked inside and was delighted when I saw an automatic transmission. I didn’t know how to drive manual.
The truck looked like it could have been at an auto show. Everything was polished to look brand stinking new. Even the knobs on the radio looked as if they were newly installed. My grandfather took extra special care of his truck. It was easy to see the regular up keep in the interior’s matching shiny blue leather.
The front bench was smooth and crack free. The chrome dials cast a hue so bright I couldn’t look directly at them. The truck was in pristine condition. When I turned the ignition the engine roared to life and then began to purr. I didn’t know much about cars, but the roar of the Chevy sounded like it was in pristine condition.
I pulled out of the garage going slowly down the driveway and picked up speed when I turned onto the main road. At first I was a little nervous, but was confident I would get a hang of driving before I got to town.
I quickly figured out I only needed one foot for the accelerator and brake. The truck bucked forward like a bull until I stopped using two. Turns out I did forget crucial details but was delighted when I was managing with using only my right foot.
The air in the truck was still cold and the cab’s windows were starting to fog. I was already sweating from the multiple layers I had on and didn’t want to have to turn the defroster on. It would make the inside of the cab unbearable. I was wearing snow pants, and my heavy grey wool sweater over a long sleeve cotton shirt, with long underwear against my skin. Over those layers I topped it off with the jacket my mother had given me. I was already sweating.
The windows continued to fog up so I turned the defroster to low, but the windows began to fog up faster. I turned the heat up to high and the windshield started to de-fog. I was burning up, but at least I could see out the windshield. When the fog disappeared I lowered the defroster to low, instantly giving me a break from the dense heat being created inside the cab.
A thin layer of snow covered the entire mountainous landscape around me. There was nothing but hills in every direction, broken up by a single farm house in the distance. It too was covered in snow, yet a grey glow was cast around it. Getting closer I noticed the windows and door had been boarded up. A red barn next to the house was fading into disarray since the farm was abandoned.
In the distance white untouched hills spread out for miles, and mountains covered with great white peaks beyond. The road turned to the left, but to the right was a large lake, the sun glistening off the surface. Some ice had formed around the edges, but in the reflected surface of the water were the mountains and sky. The road pulled back into land and forced me away from the water.
The heat in the cab was getting to me. I started to feel like I was going to puke. I pulled off my jacket and tossed it along the bench. The windows opened manually, so I had to rotate a plastic bar counter clockwise until the window slid completely down. When the window opened the wind instantly cooled the cabin. Every breath of cold air I pulled into my lungs made me feel a hundred times better. The nausea disappeared quicker than I had thought possible.
I braced for a headache as I pulled over on the side of the road. I waited for the static, but nothing came. Had the nausea been because I was just over heated? I didn’t feel a headache coming, but I waited for five minutes anyway. I didn’t want to get on the road during a migraine, just to die in a car accident.
While I waited in the truck I turned the radio on, but couldn’t find any clear channels. None of them could get a strong enough signal for me to understand. I wondered if the radio waves could reach above the mountains and where Dumont rested in the valley below.
When I was sure I was comfortable with driving, I peeled back onto the road and drove into town. The business district was only made up of six city blocks. Everything you needed either was in one of these stores or you had to drive twenty miles to the closest major shopping center.
I drove through Main Street and parked at the corner at Second and South Street. The two main streets came together in the center of Dumont, where the town’s only stop light stood. I could see the court house further down Main Street and the water tower beyond that. The shops were all mom and pop businesses, run by members of the community. The general store was further down South Street, while the hardware store was on the opposite end closer to me. I made a mental note of their locations for later. There were several chain stores, but mostly fast food places that I couldn’t wait to eat at. It had been ages since I had a decent burger. Thankfully, even a small town like Dumont wasn’t safe from corporate infiltration.
I spotted a traditional rotating barber pole, hanging outside a place called, Leonardo’s Barber Shop. It was a real rotating, red and white, candy cane display. I looked into the shop and saw a barber, giving a man with a pencil thin mustache a haircut. Another man was sitting with the sheriff watching football on a small out of date tube tv.
As I walked in through the door a bell chimed making everyone look towards my direction. As soon as they sized me up and realized I was just a kid they all went back to their conversation. They didn’t miss a beat as I took a seat out of the way.
“Girl’s been missing since last week,” the Sheriff continued as he grabbed a men’s magazine from the table and started to skim through it. “State sent us lots of extra bodies to search the woods, but it’s been six days since her folks last saw her. We ain’t going to find that body. Had to call the search off this morning.” The sheriff wiped his brow with a handkerchief. “A damn shame, really. That poor girl.”
“Why they call the search off?,” said the man with a pencil thin mustache as the barber trimmed the back of his head. “That girl not rich enough to worry about?”
The Sheriff shuffled his feet around to get more comfortable. “You know that’s not true, Marcus. The McDermott’s are decent people. Money has nothing to do with this. If we could continue the search we would, but it’s been too long. If we haven’t found her by now we probably won’t.” The men went silent after the realization of the Sheriff’s words sank in. The search was over and the girl was as good as gone.
“Don’t take too much off the top, Leo,” Marcus said.
“You worried your hat won’t fit?” Leo shot back. “I know what I’m doing. I’ve cut your hair twice a month for the last twenty years. You leave this to a professional.”
“Maybe her daddy had enough of his little girl’s slutty ways,” Marcus added. “He probably snapped and chopped her up in little pieces.” His smile was enough to give anyone the creeps. “You all saw the way she dressed. If she was my daughter, I would have beat the whore out of her.”
In disgust, Leo pulled the apron from Marcus’ body. “Next,” he said with a raised voice. “Get out of the chair, Marcus. Can’t talk like that in here. You know the rules.”
“But you haven’t finished,” Marcus wined as he looked into the mirror. “I look like a complete idiot,” he said enraged. He looked back in the mirror and his face was reddened. Marcus stood up to confront Leo to make his point. “You cut the rest of my hair right now. I ain’t playing. I’m sick and tired of your self righteous bullshit.”
“Back off, Marcus,” the sheriff simply said.
“Do you know who you are dealing with?” Marcus continued without acknowledging the sheriff’s words. Marcus was standing only a couple inches from Leo, but the man didn’t even flinch. He wasn’t intimidated by Marcus’ display of puffery.
“Step down,” the Sheriff called out as if he was used to making bigger men back off. “Step down, both of you,” he added but neither men moved. “If the two of you don’t stop I swear I’m going to put both of you hot heads in lock up. You hear me? Both of you!”
Marcus was the first to back down, while Leo waited to shift away until it was understood that Leo wouldn’t bend. Marcus plopped down in an empty chair, his hair in a state of disarray. The moment passed and the Sheriff’s attention turned back to his magazine.
“I bet Leo will fix you right after he’s done with this young fellow,” the sheriff said with his face in the magazine. “Won’t you, Leo?” he asked the barber with condensation in his voice.
“Sure,” Leo grunted as he swept the hair off the floor. “All right, next,” he said to no one in particular.
I waited for someone else to get in the chair, but the other men didn’t move. The Sheriff kept reading, while the quiet preppy guy checked his phone. I waited for one of them to take Leo up on his offer. I finally realized he was waiting for me to get in the chair. With embarrassment rising to my cheeks I moved to the chair. Leo wrapped my neck with a fresh strip of gauze, and then snapped a smock into place.
Marcus was starring at me in the mirror, but when I made eye contact he looked away. He was trying to figure me out like they all were. Dumont rarely saw strangers come through town. Leo seemed nervous about something as soon as I sat down.
“So, what are we doing here?” Leo asked looking at me in the mirror. “You have any thoughts on how I should cut this here hedge?”
How did I want my hair cut? A simple question, but one that I wasn’t really prepared for. I hadn’t thought about how I wanted my hair. I couldn’t really remember the last time I had a choice in what my hair looked like. The orderly who cut our hair in the hospital used clippers to buzz our heads every time. He would take everyone’s hair down to the scalp weather we liked it or not.
My hair had grown in, becoming a thick brown mop with little shape. “Just give it a trim,” I answered. I never wanted to see my brightly pale white scalp in a mirror, ever again. “But not too much,” I said, and then added, “Please.”
“You ain’t from around here.” Leo stated as he wet my hair with a spray bottle. “You look familiar, butI know everyone living in this town and can’t say I’ve ever seen you.”
“I’m Charlie,” I politely said, “I’m visiting family, so that’s probably why you’ve never seen me. I’m from New York,” I added.
“How long you been in Dumont, Charlie?” The sheriff asked. I didn’t know when he turned his attention away from the magazine.
“About a week,” I answered. The sheriff became a little more interested in me after I had given him a matching time frame to the McDermott girl’s disappearance.
At first I was offended, but I quickly thought it was humorous that his questions implied that I had caused a girl I had never met before to go missing. A quick call to my grandmother would clear anything up if need be. I didn’t need to worry, but for some reason I was uneasy around the sheriff.
“Where are you staying?” the sheriff asked more to the point.
“With my grandmother up at the Sunnyledge,” I explained. Leo stopped cutting my hair at the mention of the Sunnyledge. I turned around to catch him and the sheriff exchanging worried looks. “My grandmother is Sylvia Kane, she owns the Inn. I bet she could verify my whereabouts, if you don’t believe me. I have the number if you...”
“So that would mean, your daddy is Logan Kane,” Marcus matter-of-factly declared with a small amount of venom in his voice.
The sheriff studied my face possibly for some family resemblance? Apparently, my father’s reputation was tarnished in this town. Only reason his name would get such a disappointed welcome. How or why, I had no idea. It didn’t matter though. Nothing I did would matter at this point. The men would judge me no matter what I said.
“He was,” I confirmed. “He died when I was very young. I can barely remember him.” It had been the truth, but the men continued to stare. It felt unnatural, and I was becoming self-conscious. “I’m sorry if I’m offending anyone for being here.”
Leo continued to cut my hair, almost embarrassed by his reaction. “Charlie, you have nothing to be sorry about. I cut your daddy’s hair when he was your age. He was a good kid.”
“Like hell he was!” Marcus yelled. “Logan Kane was a bastard, just like the rest of your god forsaken Kane family.”
“Marcus, maybe you should go home,” the sheriff snapped. “Come back later, when you haven’t had so much to drink.”
“I’ll tell you something about your daddy,” Marcus started, but was cut off by the sheriff.
“You leave now or I’ll lock you in the drunk tank for the night.”
Marcus was furious and his pencil think mustache twitched in hate. He knew when to quit and left the barber shop without another word. When he was gone, Leo filled me in about Marcus Buffet.
He was a postal worker, who slurred his speech on more occasions than not. If I checked I would find a small silver flask in the man’s front coat pocket at all times. He delivered mail in Dumont for over thirty years and was close to retirement. He was divorced, had no children, and carried an aroma of straight southern whiskey on his pungent breath. The other men didn’t seem very fond of Buffet, but put up with him anyway.
“Don’t pay any attention to that stupid drunk, Charlie,” the sheriff said. “He’s been the town idiot since before your daddy was born.”
“I considered your daddy a friend,” the preppy man said. “Name is Howard Perry,” he introduced himself. I nodded into the mirror. “I grew up with Logan. Same grade going through school. If you need anything you let me know.”
Perry was a respectable looking businessman type and the only one wearing a tie. According to Leo, Perry owned the factory where most of the locals worked.
Everyone in town made their money one way or another from Perry. His factory made metal molds for other businesses to produce silverware, lamp bases, and fan parts. Everyone in town had a friend or relative working for him.
Perry had one son around my age that went to the local high school, and a wife who mostly stayed at home. The entire town was built around Perry’s financial back bone. That meant his family was practically royalty in Dumont. Without Perry, Dumont would be a ghost town.
“If Perry sneezed it will be in the paper the next day,” Leo said jokingly.
“Don’t start that again,” Perry warned. “It was just one time, and the article was about me buying the newspaper.” He also owned a bunch of property in town, including the building the barber shop occupied. Perry practically owned the entire town. It was obvious who the other men respected as they hung on every word he uttered.
When Leo was finished drying my hair I paid and thanked the men for their hospitality. I started to hear them whisper before the door even closed behind me.
I wondered what my dad had done to make grown men act like children. Buffet had gone crazy at my father’s name. The others weren’t angry, but they were skittish about him as well. At least dad had one friend, but they all seemed to have some resentment towards me and my family.
I drove over to the hardware store and picked up supplies. I crossed each item off the list one by one as I added them to the cart. I billed everything to my grandmother’s account and then drove over to the general market. I picked up several bags of groceries and packed everything in the truck to drive back to the Sunnyledge.
When I returned to the bed and breakfast, I found my grandmother in her favorite arm chair sitting in front of the flat screen in the den. She fell asleep while reading a trashy romance novel a guest had left behind. I remembered the promise I made to my grandmother the first night I arrived. I had promised to call my mother and let her know where I was. I had put it off all week, but I didn’t think I could put it off any longer. At this point she must have known I wasn’t at the hospital. I wondered if she already knew I was in Dumont.
I used the house phone because mine didn’t get very good reception. It could barely find a signal near the Sunnyledge. The first couple of days I tried using my phone from various points in the house, but none were able to keep a connection longer than a couple of seconds.
I waited for what seemed like forever and was about to hang up when my mother answered, “Hello?”
“It’s me, mom,” I simply replied unprepared at her picking the phone up. I was sure the voicemail would have clicked on already.
“Charlie?” My mother asked. “Where have you been? Dr. Patrick said you signed yourself out a week ago. You could have let me know. I’m still your mother.”
“I left last week, so I could come to Dumont. I found dad’s mom, I found my grandmother. For the past six days I’ve been helping her with the inn.”
“Charlie, I really wish you hadn’t gone there.”
“I’ve been here for almost a week, a week. It’s honestly the best week of my life. I’ve never felt better, mom. Why would you keep me away from this place?”
“You should come home, Charlie. We need to talk.”
“There’s nothing you can do about it now,” I replied. “I know about dad’s family. Maybe if you told me, I could have known my grandfather.”
“Oh, Charlie, come back home. I won’t make you stay in the hospital anymore.”
“It’s too late for that,” I shot back. “I’m eighteen, now. You can’t control me. Why didn’t you tell me where they were? Were you that angry with dad that you kept me away from my own grandparents?”
“Charlie, I wish I could make you understand. I couldn’t tell you. He made me promise not to tell you. It was only ever for your safety.”
“Who told you not to tell me?”
My grandmother walked into the room, looking concerned, probably because of the shouting. I could tell she was worried. Some of my anger disappeared with her in the room. I was happy to be here now. I couldn’t go back in time and change my mother’s decisions.
“Don’t make me tell you,” my mother pleaded.
“Mom, after all this time, please just tell me the truth. Who didn’t want me meeting my own grandparents?”
“Charlie, I can’t...”
I cut her off. I couldn’t let her off without telling me. “Yes, you can. I’m old enough now. You can’t keep stuff like this from me, anymore.”
“Is your grandmother there?”
“Why,” I asked with venom in my voice.
“If she’s there please let me talk to her.”
“No,” I shouted. I couldn’t believe she picked this moment to finally acknowledge my grandmother.
“Charlie, put your grandmother on the phone and then I can tell you anything you want to know.”
I reluctantly handed the receiver to my grandmother. She brushed my cheek with a tissue, and I grabbed it from her hand. I didn’t know when I started to cry.
“Caroline,” my grandmother said into the receiver. Her eyes darted back and forth from me to the door. “Yes, he did.” She waited, listened, and answered, “Of course we can do that for him.” Silence again, then, “No, not yet. Okay.” Silence, “Love you too.”
My stomach was utterly in knots. What had my mother and grandmother spoken about? Was it about me, my father, or both of us?
My grandmother handed the phone back to me and kissed my forehead. She walked out of the room leaving me alone with my mother.
“What was that all about?” I grunted into the phone.
“I promised someone a very long time ago I would keep you away from Dumont, Charlie. I didn’t want to do it, but there was no other choice.”
“Who made you promise to do that?”
My mother went silent, took a deep breath, and said, “Your father.”
I was speechless, unable to form words. Why would my own father never want me to know my grandparents? It didn’t make sense.
“Charlie, are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m here,” I responded. “Why did he make you do that?” What happened to make my own father resent me so much? What did I do to hurt him?
“It was for you, Charlie. What your father did was for your own protection. I can’t tell you any more than that. He loved you with all his heart. You have to know that. We wanted you to be safe.”
“Then why did you keep me in that hospital? You say you and dad loved me so much, but you sent me away. You sent me to rot In that place. Do you think he would have wanted this for me?”
“Charlie, it was the only way. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a normal life. Your father made me promise before he died. If he couldn’t protect you, it fell to me to keep you safe.”
“Protect me from what?” I demanded to know. “What are you not telling me?”
“I can’t tell you that yet, but soon, I promise, very soon you will understand everything. You have no idea how much I miss you Charlie. I’m glad you left Jefferson. I knew I couldn’t keep you hidden forever. I love you Charlie. Call again soon.” With that, my mother hung up. She was never very good at goodbyes.
I heard a soft whisper of static at the back of my head and knew it was to good to be true. The migraine would begin soon. The stress of the conversation was triggering another one. All of that shouting didn’t help. I was supposed to avoid stress. The headache always followed the noise. I went upstairs and sat down on the white tile floor of the bathroom and braced myself.
I waited for the pain, but nothing happened. I waited for the nausea, but I felt fine. I should have been sick or at least feeling a headache come on, but nothing happened. I waited for five minutes, but the headache didn’t come.
“Charlie, are you there?” my grandmother called from outside the bathroom.
“I’m okay,” I replied while I covered my eyes.
“Do you need anything?”
I was about to answer, but the pain inside my head started so suddenly I dropped to the floor. I covered by temples and tried to ease the tension, but the pain was extremely intense.
At that moment, I gave up all hope that the headaches would ever go away. I wanted to call out, but the pain made it impossible to use my voice. I knew it was too good to be true, just a better week than most. The pain would follow me everywhere.
“Charlie, are you okay?” My grandmother called out again.
My head was throbbing and the veins along my sides pulsated with every heart beat. The pain I was experiencing felt like nothing I had ever felt before. It felt like my head was going to explode into little bits of pulp and there was nothing I could do about it.
And then suddenly, the pain stopped. One second it was the worst pain I had every experienced and in the next it was gone. The pain receded and left in its place an intense sense of relief. I could feel a vibration at the base of my head. Moments later the vibrating stopped and it left a sense of peace I had never known before. It was a moment of clarity.
I could hear humming from somewhere in the room. Not from inside my head, but somewhere close by. I heard a soft melody and naively wondered if it had been the music that cured me.
The melody sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place where I had heard it. I started to hum along, but still couldn’t remember what song it was from.
“Nunny,” I called out as I remembered my grandmother was looking for me. I opened the bathroom door, but she had already left my room. I checked the hallway, but she must have gone down stairs.
Her bedroom door was open, but I didn’t want to be rude. I knocked on the door and called out just in case she couldn’t hear me.
“Come in,” my grandmother replied.
My grandmother’s bedroom was small compared to the other rooms in the house. The entire room was covered in photographs. A lone single bed was positioned in front of the only window in the room. Along the wall a dresser with an attached mirror sat across from the bed. On the dresser was a familiar face I had seen somewhere before.
The photo was of my father a little over a year before his death. The day of the photo had been my forth birthday. In the picture he was holding a little boy up to the camera. The little boy was me, and better yet, my father was smiling. I had never seen a picture of my father smile. I had yearned for that smile my entire life, but had never been able to experience it.
Next to the photo of my father and I, there was a gold frame with a black and white photo of a man wearing a military uniform. He looked around my age, but unlike me he was about to go to war.
“Your grandfather,” my grandmother said from behind me. “That was taken the day before he shipped out to Vietnam.”
She reached over, gently taking the frame. “Your grandfather, Martin, loves this picture.” She placed the frame back on her dresser. I was thinking of correcting her, but didn’t want to ruin the moment. She knew better than anyone that he was gone and he couldn’t still love the picture.
“During the war Marty managed to write once a week until the day he came home.” She went over to the closet and pulled out a bundle of letters. “We married the day after he returned.” It was obvious she was still in love with him after all these years.
“I wish I could have met him,” I said.
“I think you two would have been friends.” My grandmother said, “Probably will make great friends,” she added.
Again, my grandmother slipped her tenses. The more I thought about it, the more I thought my grandmother might have early onset dementia. My grandmother on my mother’s side had it, before she died. She was in a personal care home about an hour outside Manhattan for years. My mother visited her once a month with out us ever going.
There were other pictures spread throughout the room of my father’s family though the years. My father and grandparents all grew older before my eyes in small metal frames. I rushed through my father’s childhood pictures with joy.
There was a photo of my parent’s wedding hidden in the corner of the room. I was surprised my grandmother would keep a picture of my mother when they haven’t seen each other in years. In the picture, my parents appeared to be in love, and my mother and father looked happy.
I thought I knew all of my mother’s smiles and the meaning of each one. There were the fake ones of course, but who didn’t have those? I had seen those numerous times. The real smiles were sprinkled in the mix occasionally. They were rare, but as the photo showed, they existed. This smile was the real thing, she was genuinely happy with my father at one time.
Was I the reason they fell apart? I knew very little about my childhood. Maybe the strain of taking care of me was too much for either of them? Was I too sick even then for my father to stick around?
I found a picture of my grandfather later in his life on my grandmother’s night stand. He was with my grandmother in front of the Eiffel Tower. They traveled to Paris for their 25th wedding anniversary. “You were born the day that photo was taken. We rushed home from France the next morning.”
My grandparents had been so happy together. My parents were happy once. When did things fall apart for them? Was it because of me? Did I cause them to break up?
I started to hum using the melody I heard earlier. “I can’t get this out of my head,” I said to my grandmother when she looked at me.
“When did you hear it?” My grandmother asked. “Was it recently?”
“Just twenty minutes ago.” I answered. My grandmother looked happy and nodded to herself. “Do you know what it is?”
“Your grandfather,” she said with a smile. “He is just so clever sometimes. He always knows how to fix things.” I could swear I saw her look across the room when she was speaking, like she wasn’t talking to me, but to someone else in the room.
I was beginning to think either my grandmother had dementia or mental illness ran in the family. Was it possible that my mental illness came from my dad’s and not my mom’s side of the family?
Before I could ask her about it, the doorbell rang. Instantly we paused our conversation. “I’ll get it,” I said to my grandmother before I got up to get the door.
When I looked through the peep hole I was surprised to see a young girl with died black hair. At the top of her head, blond roots were beginning to show through. When the girl looked up towards the door I realized my sister had found me.