by Noemi Szadeczky-Kardoss
It was already very late, but we couldn’t sleep. We climbed up to the loft, and opened the window. My sister had to stand on a chair to see anything, my brother stood on a smaller chair, and I stood on the floor.
“I never want to grow up,” said my sister.
“Me neither,” my brother said.
Although I felt the same way they did, I started telling them what was good about growing up. I hoped that would help them accept what had to be accepted anyway.
“Which way is west?” my sister asked.
“West is where the sun sets,” I said, “so we’re facing that way right now. Why?”
She pointed towards the dark trees on the hills above our house. “There’s mom and dad.”
My father went to Austria that night to tell mom that her mom had died.
That afternoon, I went to Grandma’s door, and found it closed. I was surprised, because she rarely left her home. If she needed anything, she asked my father to give her a ride or sent us to the store. But I figured she had probably wanted to buy something for dinner that couldn’t wait, and that was why she wasn’t there.
I entered our house and heard the splashing of water coming from the kitchen. My sister was doing the dishes. She told me that no one else was home. I knew that my father was still at work, my brother on his way home from school, and my mom working in Vienna, from where she wouldn’t come back until Friday. I helped my sister with the dishes. The doorbell rang, and I went to see who it was. Our neighbor stood at the door.
So Grandma would never know how was my first day in high school.
Not much later, my brother came home from school. I told him what had happened. He didn’t cry, at least in front of me. When I heard our car coming up the road, I ran outside to tell my father. He hugged me and said ‘Now we are alone,’ but I knew that already. I told him to go over to the neighbors; they knew how it happened. He didn’t say anything else, just got out of the car, and started towards the neighbors’ house.
My father didn’t want to tell mom on the phone. He told us he would go to Austria and that we didn’t have to go to school the next day if we didn’t want to. He forgot about dinner. Or maybe he never even thought about it, because he knew Grandma would make it. Around eight o’clock, without any of us having eaten anything, he left.
Summer had just ended, and the night air was still warm and smelled of dry grass. The crickets were chirping loudly as we were standing at the open window. Nothing seemed to have changed since the previous evening. I closed my eyes and thought it was still summer, and vacation, and Grandma was watching TV next door.
A Small Cry
We cried a little, even my brother, but not much. Then we climbed down the steep stairs, and decided to go to bed. We said good night to each other and went to our rooms. After I had put on my pajamas, I came to the conclusion that it didn’t make any sense to sleep in separate rooms that night. What if we wanted to say something to each other? Or if we had bad dreams? I went out of my room and saw my sister and my brother standing at their doors.
“We’ll sleep in mom and dad’s bed,” my brother told me.
I was thinking about the same thing. I smiled when we all started for our parents’ bedroom, my sister carrying her little pillow. After we had climbed into their bed, we listened for a while to the noises our grumbling stomachs made.
“Good night,” my sister said then.
“Good night,” I said.
My brother was already asleep.
When I woke up the next morning, for a second I didn’t know where I was and how I got there. Then suddenly everything came back. Grandma!
I looked around. I was alone. I got up, and stumbled out of the room. I heard screaming and shooting from my brother’s room. He was playing some video game. Then I went downstairs and found my sister curled up on the couch in the front of the TV.
“Have you eaten anything?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said.
I went to the kitchen to grab some cereal. I opened the fridge to get the milk, and I found the leftovers of my father’s birthday cake. Grandma had made it. My tears started to fall, but I didn’t mind. I wanted to cry. I decided to go over to Grandma.
We lived next door. To be specific, our big house was built around her small one, making one large building with two entrance doors and a door inside separating the two parts. She would always hear the creaking of that door as I opened it, and say hi even before I stepped in her dining room. But no answer came this time. It was silent except for the sound of the fridge that was still working.
I couldn’t believe she wasn’t there anymore. I thought I should call her, and then maybe she would come out of her bedroom or the kitchen. I looked through the rooms and wouldn’t have been surprised if I had found her somewhere. I knew she mustn’t have been far, wherever she was, because the house still smelled like her.
In the kitchen, there were a few dirty dishes in the sink waiting to be washed. Some potatoes and onions sat on the counter. I knew she had wanted to cook them for dinner. In her bedroom, her slippers were in front of her bed, waiting for her to come home. Her old sewing machine was standing in the corner, with my sister’s jeans thrown on top of it. Mom asked her to put a patch on the holes on its knees. I saw the glass of water on her night table; the one I always drank when I came over to her to talk before I went to bed.
I used to go over to her very often. Walking through that door between our houses was like getting out of the jungle and finally finding some rest in a clearing. The objects in her always-clean rooms greeted me like friends after I had left our unbelievably messy home. I used to sit at her bedside after I had finished my homework and watch Dallas or whichever show was on that night. Then we used to discuss the newest adventures of the characters and my newest adventures in life. She listened to what I had to say as if my life was just as exciting as that of a tycoon in Texas.
I grew up in Grandma’s house. I remember when her coffee table reached up to my waist. I remember the summers I spent there with my sister and my brother when we used to live in our apartment, and only Grandma’s little house existed. We always wanted to be close to her to help her whenever she needed us and enjoy her company for many years to come. And one day my mom found that we had finally saved enough money to start building our house next to Grandma’s.
After we had moved in our new home, it turned out that we needed Grandma’s help much more than she needed ours. My mom got a job in Vienna and decided to accept it. She came home only for the weekends. My father worked from late morning until the evening. He was never up yet when we left for school. But Grandma was there for us, always. She got up early every morning to make our breakfast, and cooked dinner every night. She was there if we wanted to talk to someone, and we could tell her anything.
We spent one summer living next door to her. For that one more summer, she was baking our favorite desserts, making her special raspberry syrup, and bottling the apricots she grew in the garden.
I looked around once more in her bedroom before I left. The blue jar was on the top shelf in which she kept change to give to my sister. I knew there were some coins in it that she had put there. Her reading-glasses were next to the glass of water on the night table. I knew that she had put them there, because nobody had entered her room since she had left the previous day. I didn’t want anyone to move anything from its place. I was still hoping that she would come home again, and I wanted to make sure she would find her things where she kept them. I left her house careful not to touch anything.
Grandma’s funeral was two weeks later. Her house was rented some two months later. My parents wanted to wall up the door that led to her house, so that the renters had some privacy. But I didn’t let them do it. Instead we put an enormous, heavy wardrobe in front of the door.