Something Lost, Something Broken, Something Found
2015 Barrett Winner
Sometimes you can't see when a person is breaking until they are already completely broken, shattering like glass against the ground. My grandfather is shattered. If I could see the damage, I imagine it would look like puzzle pieces of his mind, all mixed up and scattered through the front yard. He digs, slamming the metal spoon further and further into the wet dirt. The rich smell of upturned soil fills the air with the raw fragrance of nature. Clumps of grass are discarded, left to dry out in the heat of the day. Their roots reach out like thin, white arms, each limb fighting to free itself from the black and green masses. They lay, upturned, wilting and left to die out in the sun.
"Grandpa?" I whisper, but he ignores me.
"I must find it. Where could it be?" He mumbles. When the hole reaches a foot in diameter he casts aside his spoon in agitation. His face is hopeless. He starts to use his hands to claw against the ground. His old, frail hands tear into the soil.
"Find what?" I ask, "maybe I can help." I reach for the spoon but he swats my hands away.
"Go inside my little flower," He grumbles, "It is not safe out here. The trees are watching." His nails are packed with dirt. They look wrong, tilting further away from his fingers with each swipe of his hands. "The trees have eyes everywhere, black demons hidden beneath the boughs. They want what they can't have. I won’t let them have it." He stops and tilts his head as if listening to something. I strain to hear it as well but there is no sound. Even the birds have ceased their song. "Not long now. They’ll be here before nightfall. I can’t let them have it," he says. His hands are bleeding.
There is a cry, a terrible sobbing scream that radiates from my mouth. "Please stop!" I beg. I tug him on his shoulders and pull but he doesn't stop, won’t stop.
He twists his hands through the grass, like fingers ripping at a head of hair, tearing blades of grass and dirt loose in agitation. "He hid it here from me!" He shouts. "He told me I couldn’t find it. I must find it." Dirt is being flung wildly now in every direction.
Grandma comes out. The shock of the scene before her makes her hesitate on the steps. She watches in horror as Grandpa digs, her body seems to collapse in on herself, shoulders falling and knees shaking. He's up to his elbows now in soil. When I cry louder, she is shaken from her trance and runs to me, covering my face in her apron and rushes me into the house.
The doctor comes. It takes him and my Grandma over an hour to drag Grandpa from the yard. He claws at the ground, pushing and screaming but eventually they are able to get him into the house. Once inside his fight is gone and his eyes are glassy as he stares at the wall. His eyeballs don’t move, they don’t even twitch, as if the white plastered living room wall holds the secrets of eternity underneath layers of paint and old wallpaper.
My Grandma and the doctor are sitting in the adjoining dining room. “I should have seen the signs,” she says, “Now he’s completely lost his mind.” She cries and worries her apron between her fingers, strangling and twisting the fabric. The doctor talks about things like “Dementia,” and “Alzheimer’s” and “putting Charles into a home for his own sake.”
“Grandpa is already in the house,” I say.
My Grandma just shakes her head sadly, “How about you go upstairs and play in your room. You should let your Grandfather rest.” She says, and then closes the French doors, shutting me out of the dining room and out of their conversation.
Adults are always good at this, closing doors. I don’t want to go to my room, and I can’t imagine Grandpa resting with dried dirt caked onto his arm and under his nails. I go to the kitchen and fill a bucket with water then come to kneel at Grandpa’s side, dipping his hands into it and scrubbing them with a rag until they come away clean. The nails are harder to clean, and I fear that I am hurting him, though he doesn’t protest. His skin is red and hot when I am finished, the cuts are more pronounced with large bubbling blisters forming at his fingertips, but the mud is gone. The water has become murky with a mixture of blood and soil.
“My little flower,” he says. His face is waxy and haunted, like a ghost hiding just under the surface of his skin. He looks even older than he did before, his face drawn and ashen. “I failed. You must find it before they do.”
“Find what?” I whisper, afraid that if I speak any louder my Grandmother might hear and the spell of Grandpa’s riddle will be broken.
“My soul,” the words seem heavy as if each syllable presses more and more weight onto his chest. Groaning he sinks into the cushions of the sofa.
“Grandpa?” I whisper, but he doesn’t respond. His eyes are blank again as they stare into the wall, as if he can see through them.
I stand, lifting the water laden bucket and carrying it out to the yard, kicking it over into the garden. I watch as the brown liquid floods into the flower bed. Could something like a soul really be held like a possession and buried away in the yard? I look past the garden, past the spoon that is standing up in the ground like an erect flag. I look past the destroyed yard with clumps of grass lying limply in random piles, until my eyes fall onto the tree line. Grandpa said the demons were watching. If monsters were real is it possible they are watching me now, as I search for then under the limbs of trees? Are they inspecting the young girl with curling blonde hair and scared blue eyes from the shadows of the branches?
The surrounding forest with its cloaked orifices fills me with a sense of foreboding, and causes the hairs on the nape of my neck to stand. If demons do exist, this would be the perfect spot, a place for hiding and a place for peeking.
I look behind me to the closed front door. My Grandma and the doctor are probably still talking. I know that Grandma and the doctor think that my Grandpa is crazy. Part of me believes it too, but then there is another part of me that wants to believe, that is urging me to believe that he’s not. If I found what he was looking for maybe he would go back to normal. Maybe I could fix whatever is broken inside him.
I pad across the yard, squat down and retrieve the spoon. The silver handle is cold under my fingers. The bowl of the spoon is bent backwards from being jammed too hard into the ground. I press it against my palm, straightening it back into the correct position, and then dip it into the hole my Grandpa started, using the handle to scrape at the sides. The soil comes away easy, filling the hole with new dirt. I set the spoon down, and then use my hands to scoop out the freshly dug earth.
I don’t realize how long I’ve been digging until I look up into the sky. The sun has begun to set, splashed in hues of pinks and oranges. But the beauty is interrupted by something dim and menacing. I shiver when I see the darkness of the trees, as their shadows grow and stretch across the yard. I see shapes moving in my peripheral, but when I turn to look, there is nothing there, just large trees with their dark looming shadows. My hands are dry from where they are caked with dirt. I use the back of my arm to wipe sweat from my brow, and then rub my hands against my soiled dress.
Grandpa had said the demons would be here before nightfall, and night is already began its approach. Darkness creeps closer. The darker the sky becomes the more obscure and terrifying the surrounding forest appears. I feel panic boiling in my chest, the feeling you get at the top of the rollercoaster ride, right before it starts its fast descent downhill. I dig faster, discarding the spoon. I want to help him, I need to. Grandpa has never let me down before, even when everyone else said I was acting childish. He would chase away the monsters from under my bed, and skip over the cracks with me when he walked me to school. He never called me silly or accused me of losing my mind. And so I won’t believe he is losing his. “I have to find his soul,” I whisper, and with new determination I resume my task. I understand my Grandpa’s obsession now, the need to tear open the ground to unearth the secrets hidden beneath the soil. My arms are sore and I’m crying from fear, pain and frustration.
I hear a snap, the cracking of a dry branch. I look into the trees, into the choking darkness. That’s when I see them, two red glowing eyes, staring directly at me. I jump back startled, accidently knocking the spoon into the opened earth.
Cling; I hear the sound of metal on glass, like the chime of a tuning fork reverberating around me.
Frantically I reach into the hole, shoving the remaining dirt aside and grasping a small glass vial in my fingers. The glass is smooth and warm as I grasp it tightly in my hand. The creature leaps out of the trees and rushes towards me. I jump to my feet and run towards the house, my legs slow and stiff from kneeling too long on the ground. I’m breathing heavily, but the sound is drowned out by the growling behind me, so loud it makes my bones rattle.
I leap up the front steps, twisting the door handle and falling into the threshold, the screen slamming shut behind me. Both Grandma and the doctor, now sitting in the living room, jump up when they see me. My grandma’s face is red and splotchy, her eyes pink and swollen.
“What have you been doing?” She cries exasperated, throwing her hands into the air.
“There’s a monster!” I point to the front door, but there is nothing there. Through the screen I can only see the silhouette of the forest. There is no red eyed beast, no demon. My Grandma just shakes her head and sinks back into the chair, clutching my Grandpa’s hand between her own frail fingers.
I stumble to my feet. Grandpa is lying on the sofa, his eyes closed. The doctor whispers something into my Grandma’s ear, and then heads towards the front door, stopping to gently squeeze my shoulder. “I’m sorry for your loss” he says, before stepping out into the night.
The words hit me before I have time to comprehend their meaning. I rush to Grandpa’s side, hugging his stiff, lifeless body. “Please,” I whisper, gently setting the vial against his chest.