by Ian Cordingley
I stay where grandma can see me. She’s so old she can barely move anymore.
“Chase me, chase me!”
I’ve found something. I’m brushing it clean. Liza is standing on a small mound, arms akimbo. “Well, come on!”
“In a minute,” I yell back.
I dig out a small, fist-sized object. I turn it over in my hands.
Grandma is sitting on a folding chair. Her suit is nearly as old as she is: patched up in places with tape clearly unintended for such a purpose and long since stained almost black from dust. The rasp of her breath can be heard easily.
I walk over to grandma with my treasure. “Look what I’ve found,” I declare.
I pass it over to her gloved hands. I want to know what it is; I want to know it from her. I try not to boast any superior insight, my eyes catching things hers are unaccustomed to.
From within the gold tinted visor I catch a glimpse of Grandma’s wizened face. “Well now,” she says. “I haven’t seen this in a while.”
“Just a minute!”
Liza is perched on a mound. It’s rained recently: the ground is nice and slippery and leads down a nice slope. Hopefully a path free of debris and rock.
“I think,” grandma declares, “it’s an old processor unit. An environmental tool. Yes, I remember.”
I’m always pressing grandma for stories about the old days. Mostly she plays along: nice ones, though those are not always what I want. She dodges the final days before my parents were born. Now I’m beginning to understand why.
“I’m going!” Liza declares. She launches herself down the slope. A bit of plastic salvaged from some heap makes a makeshift sled. It’s important to savour these moments.
It’s wet and warm, and without warning it will turn cold again. Almost dust season when large clouds cover the sky. I can handle it, but grandma can’t. She stays behind plastic wraps in a little bubble. I’ve always wondered why.
Grandma hands it back to me. “Thank you dear,” she says. “Go play with your sister.”
As if I want to. Every time I come here I’m always poking around looking for treasure. Some of that old stuff, preferably adorned with what Grandma explained where the flags of the settling nations — whatever those are. I have a nice collection my parents are threatening to throw away.
But I humour her. I have a nice, hard board. I have no idea what it’s made of, and Grandma does not either. Her wisdom only goes so far.
I grab it and run down the slope.
I love the ride. The sand is smooth and pebble free. Liza is struggling back to the top and watches me race down.
“I want to try that!”
“Find one just like it,” I boast. I sail off, floating for a few seconds before coming to a sudden but restful halt at the bottom of the hill.
Liza pouts, the little brat. She’s half as tall as I am: four of what Grandma called feet and, despite what my parents say to the contrary, the long ropes of burgundy hair do not make her golden eyes and her umber skin any more beautiful.
“I want to try that!”
“Go look for one!” I point over to the field, with its mounds.
“Don’t want to,” she countered, “too yucky. There are too many old things, and bones.”
My parents didn’t approve of me digging up bones and especially skulls, because Grandma doesn’t like it. I didn’t see how any of those warped things were frightening until I realized I probably was holding one of her friends.
“Tough. Your loss.”
I begin to walk back up the hill. Liza follows me, pleading all the way. I keep saying no over and over again though, it does not discourage her.
I glance up at the sky. It’s a healthy purple, thankfully. I like it when it’s like that, not pink or overcast with amber dust. Some of the flowers dig their way out of the soil and blossom brightly, though when they desperately clog the air with their pollen and seed I don’t like them as much.
The flowers that grandma made. I always feel proud of her for that.
At the top of the slope I triumphantly walk ahead a few steps to gain more distance. I want to fly this time.
Liza is treading behind me. “Well, where can I get one?”
“In the ground. Ask grandma. Maybe she knows.”
“I don’t want to,” Liza replied. “She’s so old.”
I want to throttle her. Granted I feel this way most of the time. I slink ahead, she yapping at my heels.
Grandma shifts her position slightly, slowly. She has to lift her air pack, connected by two rickety tubes, with her thin feeble arm.
I run up to help her.
“Thank you dear.”
She sits down awkwardly in her new position. The light is better here. Slowly, awkwardly, she sits down, her body painful at every step.
“Want to go home?” I ask.
She laughs. “It’s all right, sweetheart. I’m enjoying myself.”
Now that I’m old enough to understand, I wonder why. This is the scene of her greatest failing. But she’s smiling.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Nothing. I’m just thinking.”
“Oh, just the old days. You’re too young to understand.”
Well, maybe a little. I have a picture in my mind of what it was like back then. Most of the inflatable habitats could be seen in the imprints they left, the trenches they were housed in. Some of the taller debris stuck through, a testament to their early optimism.
When they couldn’t make their world perfect, they turned to their children. Not all of them made it. Some of the adults were against it. Grandma doesn’t offer any more information than “it got very messy.”
Grandma brushes some dust off from her suit. The wind has picked up a tad.
“Was it bad, in the old days?”
“It was sad,” Grandma agreed, “but not all the time.”
“You didn’t make the world green. You failed.”
“A little,” she said. “I’ve got some lovely grandchildren.”
I sit for a moment and think. Grandma smiles, lifting the tinted visor up. I see her well worn, well lived face in its entirety.
“Brenan, are you coming or not?” Liza calls.
“Go enjoy yourself,” grandma orders.
So I chase after my sister and ride down the slope several more times.
Copyright © 2007 by Ian Cordingley