More than 25 years ago, after my parents divorced, my mother dropped me off at my great-grandparents’ house for the afternoon. I don’t even remember the reason. I do remember walking up the steps to their front door. I remember the paint-chipped stone lions and the brown-bruised magnolia petals strewn along the grass near their furry gray buds that reminded me of tiny mice. When I pressed the doorbell, the chime sank in my chest like the tune of a church organ. Mama Ev peeked through the vertical blinds and opened the door. “Hiya, Cookie,” she said, grinning. She planted a sticky, lipsticky kiss near my ear and squeezed my palms with her thick-veined hands—cold, slippery and dimpled like raw chicken skin. I smirked at the long, white hair that dangled from her chin. She dragged me toward her kitchen. The smells of cigarette smoke, overripe bananas and the Shalimar she’d sprayed on her blue sequined sweater made me want to pull my shirt over my face. She reached into a bowl on the table and slid a piece of cantaloupe between her lips.
“Cookie, come and have some fruit,” she said, cheeks bulging with fruit, her jagged, half-chipped, mauve-painted fingernails gripping another cube of cantaloupe.
“Gross,” I said, waving it away and skipping out of the kitchen.
She stood there, unaffected, feasting on the fleshy fruit and making slurping noises, the juice dripping down her arm. I wandered around the corner into her parlor—that was the term for living room—where knickknacks sat idly on the mantle and windowsills, waiting for my little hands to dust them off: cobalt-colored violets cryogenized in glass, ceramic coquettes in china cabinet tableau, porcelain-glazed roses and speckled glass bowls filled with Starlight mints, which I lumped into my Osh-Gosh pant pockets. At the center of the room was the velvety, mustard-colored sofa, covered in plastic—the one that mom inherited—the one that wound up in our playroom, that my sister and I had (accidentally) besmirched with ink, glue and nail polish years after Mama Ev had died. I stroked every glass bauble—every statuette, every vase I could find. The cool, quiet objects somehow soothed me. For the first time in a while, I didn’t think about why dad had left, or where he’d gone. I tiptoed upstairs to the den, where Papa Joe sat in his pea soup colored chair, munching walnuts out of a waxy paper bag and watching Matlock on an olive-hued Magnavox screen. Papa Joe picked me up, bounced me on his knee and made popping noises by flicking his cheek with his thumb. I mimicked. A moment later, Mama Ev shouted from the kitchen, “Joe, I can’t find her anywhere.”
“Ah, leave us alone, Ev, will you?” he shouted back. He looked at me and covered his white whiskery mouth to prevent a guffaw. With my thumb in my cheek and Starlight mints bulging from my pockets, I hadn’t laughed harder in months.