rating: +13+x

You stare up at your grandmother's old house. The same old estate, the same old brown bricks, the same everything.

But it's just not the same without her.

You lean yourself against your bike on the other side of the road, itself leaned against a low stone wall around another house's lawn. You unclip your helmet and hang it from one of the bars. As a light drizzle falls from the sky above, your eyes lose focus on the house. You tune out from the world around you, and your mind moves in on your past.

You lean there, and look back on life.

You look back to one of the first times you remember being here. You were only two, maybe three, and it's fuzzy. Like you're viewing your own perspective through an unfocused microscope. You remember sitting there, chewing on your knuckles, while your mother sat beside you, drinking tea with her own mother. You don't know what they're talking about, you're too busy gnawing the joints of your digits.

You didn't understand why your mom drove up here with you once every few days just so that she could sit here with this other lady and drink warm liquid. But, it got you away from the never-ending wailing of your baby brother, so you never really protested. Besides, you liked the car. It made a fun noise when you pressed the middle of its wheel.

You stop attempting to sever your fingers from your hand with your mouth for a second and make a noise. Not a word, you still didn't know very many of those. An odd, windy noise somewhere between a burp and an exclamation of some kind. Both of the ladies stop, and look at you, smiling. They say something, The older lady picks up and smiles at you as grey sunlight streams in the window from the cloudy day and illuminates the room. You smile back, and laugh at the situation in only the way a toddler can, oblivious to any actual humour in the situation. She laughs back, with the small laugh you'd reserve for a bemusing display by a toddler, like why they pretend-cook you dinner.

You left later that day, and smiled out the car window at her, trying to keep her in view as long as you could from your booster seat. You missed her by the time you got home.

You look back to when you lost your first tooth. It'd been at your grandmother's house, on your brother and father's birthday. Yes, they shared a birthday. It'd always been a funny coincidence to you.

It was around seven o'clock, and dark out. The usual for a cold winter night. Most of your mother's side of the family were here, talking, wishing the two a happy birthday and having fun. You, too, were having fun. You had been playing pretend with your cousins, pretending to be Sonic characters like you always used to do when you were six. You'd all gathered in the kitchen and sang "Happy Birthday" to the birthday boys, they'd blown out the candles, and they cut up the cake. Chocolate, like everyone liked. One of your front teeth had been loose for a few weeks at that point, and you bit right into the slice of cake you'd been given, only for it to come out the second it made contact with the soft body of the slice.

Looking back, it hadn't hurt that much. Just the momentary snap and, like magic, it was out of your mouth. It was mostly the shock of it all that made you cry. You felt awful about it, howling the place down on your brother and dad's birthday, but you couldn't really help yourself. Being six and all, you had almost no grasp on the concept of putting a pin in something until the time was right.

She'd comforted you, to the best of her abilities. She'd tried, god bless her, to cheer you up. She'd sat there with you, told you jokes, hugged you, everything. Slowly, you'd shut up, laying on the couch as the tears in your eyes dried. She gave you a glass of Seven-Up, your favourite, and sat beside you while you regretted what you'd done.

You left that night, staring at the floor of the car, while the rest of your family sat in an awkward silence that told you how they felt about you in that moment without need for words. But still, she waved you goodbye, and smiled at you as you left.

As time marched on, so did life. You grew, and your grandmother grew older. Weaker.

You don't remember when exactly it was when you were told she was sick. It must've been when you were thirteen, around the time she started to fall more and more, in more and more awkward spots. Your mother had told you she had Parkinson's Disease, and that she couldn't really walk right on her own anymore because of her legs constantly shaking. You'd been wondering why she'd been using a wheeled frame to help her get around for a while. You ended up visiting her with your mother more and more, to keep her company. You didn't want her to be alone, living by herself, able to fall over and not get up at any second.

Then the pandemic came.

Your mother and her siblings decided to put her into a care home. It was better that way, they'd reasoned, so that she wouldn't be alone while no one could visit her. And they'd look after her, in case she slipped and fell.

And so, every weekend, we'd drive up into the hills to visit her. We spoke to her through a window, due to the home's fear that we would bring in germs from the outside and make other residents ill.

It was all downhill from there.

A few months later, she was bound to a wheelchair, sat there as we told her about our week in school through the window, rain or shine.

A few weeks later, she lost all her energy. Our visits grew shorter, since she seemed to be half-awake at all times.

Shortly after that, my mother stopped bringing us to see her all together. From what she told us whenever she came back from one of her visits, she was getting worse and worse with every week.

The last thing I ever heard my grandmother had said about me came through my mother. She'd come back from a visit and told me that my grandmother had thought I was with her. She'd asked her to ask me to put the kettle on and make a cup of tea, the way I always did when I visited her.

She'd said I was "such a good boy."

She died a few weeks after that. She took a turn for the worse and had let go while her children had been outside, talking to a doctor.

I remember the funeral. Dozens of people lined up along the pews of the town's cathedral, as a priest spoke about how great a woman she had been in life and how Heaven was lucky to have her.

I remember trying not to break down in tears as they lowered her coffin into the ground. She was the first close relative I'd lost. A nearly-sixteen year teenager, I'd stood, beside my mother and father, tears gradually tracing a path down my face. It was sunny, but the light was wasted on me.

And so here I stood, a year after that day, looking up at the house I'd come and gone from over my childhood. Visiting her. Talking with her. Smiling with her.

I missed my grandmother.

Silently, I put back on my helmet. I stood my bike up correctly and threw a leg over it, resting myself on the seat. I took one last look at my grandmother's house, the grey light from the cloudy sky painting the world a similar colour to the walls.

I smiled a sad smile, and cycled away.

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