Royal blue sculptured wall-to-wall carpet. This fantastic tint is better fit for play than décor, with surrounding golden walls our undying sun. The carpet's visible texture is little rippling waves. We sail along. Our vessel is Grandma’s Early American seaworthy sofa. When our baby brother climbs aboard, we spring a leak and all five of us abandon ship.
A fog rises outside our front door from our car that’s under the weather. Grandma teeters through the smoke that mixes with real rain. It’s slippery for Grandma to get up the slick front steps. But a dark cloud in our living room ceiling finally got too heavy from the bathtub leaking, so she had to go to the hardware store for an elbow pipe that doesn’t bend.
Grandma comes into the house limping over the carpet leaving damp footprints that don’t match; one print is wider than the other because her real foot got bigger but the artificial one didn’t.
My sister struts from side to side carrying the elbow, mimicking Grandma behind her wide back. I never tried crossing the ocean like that before. My sister walks a gait of faith; if Grandma sees her she’ll be damned. I’ll try my strut after Grandma swims upstairs along the continuous blue carpet that flows upstream.
My sister gives me the elbow and disappears. Grandma’s now swimming her special stroke, bobbing to catch a breath every few feet. Our grandma is like God. She’s huge and strong and old and alive. Dad’s not. He’s in a silk box with his head shaved, sleeping from cancer. I remember him lying there so still. I don’t remember him walking on the water much when he wasn’t sleeping.
I feel bad for Rosa. She’s my friend who sits next to me in class. Her dad didn’t get sick; he got mean. He doesn’t live with her anymore. He’s not in Heaven though. Rosa and her mom moved into her grandma’s house. If Rosa’s dad moves into her grandma’s house too, maybe he will be in Heaven.
Grandma just swam over the horizon. I’ll try to do it. Back up against the far wall, between the two front windows with my heels touching the baseboards. Take a deep breath. Maybe I’ll close my eyes.
Uh-oh, Grandma’s calling me. I’ll have to paddle upstream fast.
“Go downstairs and get the wrench from my pocketbook. It’s beside my chair,” Grandma calls from under the bathtub when I hand her the elbow. The front of her dress is wet and her artificial leg is standing beside the toilet. The leg’s metal like the pipe, but it does bend and if it gets wet, it’ll rust. I go downstairs and look for the wrench.
Back upstairs, I pant, “Grandma, it’s not in your pocketbook.”
“It has to be. Look again.”
I look again.
“Grandma, I looked real hard and it’s not there. Just the hammer.” Now I’m breathing hard.
“Well then it has to be in the tool box in the cellar.”
After swimming downstream again and hopping down rocks that are the cellar steps, I look for the wrench, praying it’s there. Yep!
“Here you go Grandma.” I beam, dripping like I really did go swimming.
She curses. “The spigot’s leaking back here too.” Grandma takes the wrench. “Go down in the cellar, on the shelf, under the stairs. There’s a small baby food jar with washers in it. Bring me up one.”
The ocean is now a football field. Furniture and toys crowd along one side of the living and dining room thoroughfare. The TV and more toys cheer us on along the opposite side. Our team runs from the kitchen's back door straight through the house to the front door and greets visiting players. The fifty-yard line is marked by a fraying hole. No one knows who made it. Or who dropped the gum that’s now a flat black circle on our thirty-yard line.
Many long, hard games are played here. Grandma referees in her striped dress that looks like the rest of her wardrobe; H-line (I don’t know why they call dresses A-line) with no sleeves. She made them all herself. She has the patience of a saint.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Stop running in the house. And close the god damn door. You weren’t born in a barn,” Grandma yells to my brother Dan. She stops him at the sixty-yard line.
“But Grandma there’s still more wood at the curb that Joe from the shop next-door said I can have,” says Dan.
Grandma fouls his hoarding. “There’s enough wood in that yard as it is. We’ll have a firetrap back there soon.”
“Please Grandma, the trash truck’s comin’?”
She shakes her head. Dan breaks away and makes it to the twenty-yard line as the truck roars up our block.
Grandma forgot the leg upstairs so she uses a crutch to penalize our offending player. In mid-air the yellow flag crutch becomes a harpoon and we are back on a calm ocean.
The stairs are a pier now. We dangle Grandma’s crocheting yarn from it. We have fun casting it from her crocheting hook and pretending to reel in a big catch.
We’re fine sports, but Grandma isn’t because the store doesn’t sell that color yarn anymore.
The pier disappears and we’re rowing upstream, dodging harpoons and One-legged Pete. Tonight we also sport tanned hides. Onto The Old West.
In the morning we’re herded from our corrals beyond the stairs’ horizon, through the blue grass carpet to where we’re fed. Grandma nips at our heels so we’ll hurry. She growls when my sister reaches for the TV. Those pastures are forbidden; it’s a school day. But Grandma has a date with John Wayne at 1pm. I watched him last week when I was home from school sick. He walks funny as he approaches his horse, like he used Grandma’s yarn for a lasso. He’ll just be riding into the sunset when we come home.
We learned in Sunday School that God has different names; Jehovah, Yahweh, Alpha and Omega. Grandma does too. She gave my mom a different last name than she has, and my uncle an even different one than those. Goodness knows how many others she has. Could Wayne be one? When I ask her about them, Grandma always needs me to do something for her, so I stopped asking.
I don’t know why Grandma gets upset when the neighbors ask questions about our family. I like our neighbors. They’re so friendly and concerned about us.
From our kitchen snack bar I see Mrs. Rudner looking at me. She’s peeping out her sun porch window which is across our street. I don’t wave to her because she may think I’m staring at her and that’s rude.
The other day she asked me if our dryer was broken because she saw Grandma hanging laundry in our back yard (I hope Grandma remembered not to wave). When I told her we didn’t have a dryer, she made that tsk-tsk sound with her tongue and mumbled, “...with five children in that house.”
I assured her that we had a washing machine, but that I’m not allowed to help with the laundry because my mom got her finger stuck in the rollers when she was my age. Mrs. Rudner just stared at me with her mouth open.
I heard our next-door neighbor say to her neighbor how awful it is when Ms. Gimpy says “gd” all the time right in front of her grandkids. From the way they whispered, that must be worse than a four-letter word. When I asked Grandma who Ms. Gimpy is, she says, “Those god damned gossips should mind their own business.”
“Grandma, can I play with this?” my brother asks.
“Where’d you get that from?” Grandma barks.
“He was rooting around behind your chair,” my sister tattles.
“What is it?” I ask.
“That’s my Bingo dabber,” Grandma says.
“Can I see it?” my sister dares.
“No, put it back in my Bingo bag right now.”
“Are you going to Bingo at OLPH, Grandma?” I ask.
“Yeah. Now get that from your brother before he gets it all over...Jesus Christ!”
We tease my brother about being the Blue Boy, like the picture hanging in our hallway upstairs. He snickers as we watch Grandma lug her Bingo bag and huge pocketbook into her friend’s car. Her blue eye shadow almost matches my brother’s hands.
Grandma has lots of friends at Bingo, including the priest. They’re glad to see her come, and even pick her up when our car isn’t running. I don’t know why she can’t take communion on Sunday mornings at OLPH. I guess because we’re Protestant. That means you go to a smaller church when your car is running and drink watery grape juice.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!.............Ass...Sh...” Grandma’s talking to the nativity again. As I walk into our house after school, I hear her voice coming from the open cellar door. Tip-toeing to the TV set, I turn on Speed Racer.
“Dawn Marie! Get your nose out of that TV and do your homework.” Grandma’s no longer talking to clay figures.
My stomach hurts and the back of my neck feels funny when I hear the muffled thud of Grandma’s artificial leg on the bottom step. My body jumps and I grab my school bag. I’m sure she’s coming because of more thuds. Time is running out. The thuds are louder, closer. I scramble to get out my loose leaf book and flip to spelling. The thuds stop. I hear breathing. I feel her standing there but can’t look up from my list of words. She coughs her familiar cigarette cough and says, “Hand me your spelling words.”
I hate spelling. I hate Thursdays because every Friday my teacher gives us a spelling test. Grandma makes me study right after school. She says to just do it and get it over with.
“Try it again.”
“I studied. Honest, but I can’t get ‘em right.”
“You got most of ‘em. Conquest.”
“I can’t get them last ones.”
“Yes you can. Medicine.”
Grandma stares at the list. “Am I right?” I ask, but Grandma’s still quiet, leaning her ear at me. “E.”
“Good. Now listen, conqu..e...st.”
Grandma gives me back the list and says, “You got ‘em all.”
“Shouldn’t I try it one more time just to make sure? I don’t wanna get one of those hard ones wrong.”
“You’re done. Go play.”
We’re on vacation at the real ocean. Grandma teases us about sharks so we don’t go out too far: “Damn things swim faster'n a man. Can swallow ‘em whole too.”
We meet a kid who plays in our half of the beach house the whole week we’re here. We don't know his name. He just shows up, even when we don’t want him to. Grandma serves us Kool-Aide. She drinks iced tea with no sugar, and has to take off her artificial leg when it gets too hot for her to wear it.
The day we go home, we say good-bye to the kid we’re hoping came with the house we’re now leaving. He takes a good, long look at Grandma and says, “Hey! You ain’t got no teeth.” Grandma laughs her hardy laugh that comes from deep down in her big belly and struts into the bedroom to check for stuff we forgot. She has us each grab a bag or box to take to the car.
I feel bad for the kid because he isn’t one of us. He’s different, like one of those kids who have their own bedroom. I bet he’s scared at night all by himself.
I think he’s gonna cry standing in the corner of the living room watching us. You can tell he wants to come along because his body leans side-to-side as we come back for more stuff and go out again.
The car’s packed and Dan whispers, “Hey Grandma, that boy’s still here. Is he comin’ with us?”
The kid’s feet don’t move until Grandma says, “You’re gonna have to go home now.”
He looks at Grandma and the rest of us like our dog looks at my brother when he’s leaving to go to school in the morning. That’s how I’d look if I were him. He doesn’t say anything and runs away fast.