by Traci Mullens
I knock on the door and silence answers.
I don’t know why I knock when I have a key; it just feels wrong to step over the threshold of a place I’ve rarely been without Grandma. It’s as though the house is holding its breath, waiting to see if I’ll dare.
But I’d promised. My aunt had asked me to pick up the garbage bags she’d set aside for the thrift store, crammed with things that Grandma would never use again.
As I turn the key and let myself in, there’s a Grandma-shaped void where my childhood had been. Now I’m untethered, like a fetus detached from essential nutrients.
The house feels oddly unfamiliar, with dozens of items priced and arranged where they don’t belong. “We’re having an estate sale,” my aunt had announced. “The proceeds will be split evenly so there won’t be any bickering over who gets what.” On the dining room table are clocks and picture frames and books, my baby shoes and Lincoln Logs and the stained metal ice cream scoop that Grandma used to top countless cones with rainbow sherbet. I smile when I see the miniature Jell-O molds she filled with lime gelatin, crushed pineapple, and shredded cabbage. She’d slide the distasteful concoction onto small plates and put a dollop of Miracle Whip on top. My cousins and I always laughed when we recalled choking it down because we were taught to be polite.
Moving toward the silky pink sofa, I’m transported back thirty years when I’d lay my head in Grandma’s lap, Lawrence Welk introducing some new act on TV. She’d stroke my cornsilk hair and hum to the harmonies of the Lennon Sisters. On Sunday evenings, I’d sprawl on the blue carpet and watch “Lassie Come Home,” weeping whenever she and Timmy got separated. At lunchtime, we’d eat our Campbell’s Chicken Noodle and buttered saltines on dented metal trays and watch “I Love Lucy” re-runs. Once, noodle juice sprayed out of Grandma’s nose because she burst out laughing as she tried to swallow.
I head down the hallway to my weekend bedroom and curl up on the soft lumpy mattress. I finger the quilt Grandma stitched in her weekly women’s circle, affectionately known as The Dabblers. I stare at the clothes on display in the closet—her polyester pants, bright flowered blouses, and dainty size-five shoes, all offered for a pittance. Feeling four instead of thirty-four, I wrap my arms around my carefully-preserved stuffed rabbit and let the tears flow.
A half-hour later I head toward the back porch, looking for the bags of items my aunt has deemed disposable. Banging the screen door behind me the way I’m not supposed to, I carry the bags to the car. As I go back to lock the door for the last time, I hesitate, stiffening with defiance. I scurry back inside as though I’ll be caught red-handed if I’m not quick about it. With the ice cream scoop, Jell-O molds, and stuffed bunny tucked securely under my arm, I lock the door, shutting the screen softly as I take my first faltering steps into a grandma-less world. Because of her, I think I’ll be okay.