Faith, Science, Cigarettes, and TV Tea Leaves

            My socks only touched the even number steps. After 14, I landed on the living room carpet in front of Grandma's ceramic Buddha.  He was six inches tall.  I measured him with the ruler my sister got from the third grade science fair. Buddha smiled across the room at Grandma snoring in her brown leather chair, with his legs crossed inside-out on top of our broken TV.

            Liz squatted on the floor with our brother's rubber ball that had pimples on it. She set it in different places around the room, ob-serv-ing like a real scientist.  Besides the ball, she had tried a lemon drop, and a bobbin from Grandma's sewing machine in her experiment that morning.

            "Liz, doncha think Grandma looks like Buddha?" I asked.

            "You're stupid," Liz said.  "He's a man. Grandma's got hair and boobs."

            "Yeah, but when her hair's wet, she looks bald.  And her boobs look like extra long bellies rollin' over the sides of her big one."  Grandma, wet in the sun, flashed into my head.  "Maybe she's his wife."  

            "Gods don't have wives." Liz dribbled the ball. 

            "What about Zeus?  He's married, and he's king of all the gods."

            "People don't believe in that anymore," Liz said.  "Those were just stories made up before people got smarter."  She steadied the ball on the TV.  It rolled to the left and circled a little.  I didn't let on I agreed with Liz's de-duc-tion about pretend gods. 

            I asked, "Do you think people rub Buddha's belly for luck the way I like hugging Grandma's?  I feel lucky magic when I'm near her belly."

            "You make it sound like some sort of pot of gold.  We're not Irish.  And we don't worship Buddha either." 

            Liz chucked the ball into the kitchen.  She made an ob-ser-va-tion of Buddha, then Grandma. "Grandma's tan does sort of make her look like the brown statue that got broke." Liz turned back to the TV.  "This green one's prettier though." She rubbed its head. 

            "See?" I asked.  "Green...Irish.  Like the Barney Stone.  Doncha rub that for good luck too?"  Boy, was I proud of my de-duc-tion. 

            "No," Liz said as she climbed onto our floor console and stood up, with Buddha between her feet.  "You kiss it while you hang over it."  She bent until she was face to upside-down face with him. Her blonde hair dangled across the TV's screen like a grass skirt.

            Grandma's sleep meditation was over in one extra loud snort.  "Get down from there and leave that statue alone.  I still can't get the head to stay on the one your brother broke."  She coughed and shifted in her chair.  The lady smell that stayed in the leather of the chair, even when she stood up, got stronger.    

            "I did it!" Liz said with her arms up.  She jumped off the TV.  "I kissed the Blarney Buddha's belly."

            Grandma said something real low that I couldn't hear. She leaned to the right and then to the left.  One of her huge crinkly hands disappeared each time into the big pockets sticking out from the sides of her recliner.  With the TV not working, I heard sounds in the living room I didn't remember hearing before, like Grandma's chair burping when she moved in it, and the springy squeak when Liz popped onto the couch.  I  bounced on the carpet near the front door. That was where the floor creaked the loudest.

            Liz investigated the rim and sides of an empty cup on the end table.  She rolled it between her hands, but it dropped onto the coffee table upside down with a 'clump'.  Grandma breathed a noisy breath and kept digging. 

            I sat with Liz on the couch next to Grandm'a recliner.  Liz lifted her feet off the floor and criss-crossed her legs. She asked, "Grandma, can you sit in a lotus position?"

            Wiggling on the couch, I forcing myself to keep quiet.  Now that Liz had given up on the boring stuff, the fun started.  In my head, I followed her scientific pro-ce-dure.  Grandma and Buddha actually were two of the roundest things in the house. 

            "What?"  Grandma asked. 

            "You know, on the floor, like Buddha on his little slab.  I don't believe a real person with a belly can do it."

            "How can I do that with only one leg?"  Grandma pulled out a TV Guide, a red marker, a cone-shaped spool of thread, and a can of 3-IN-ONE oil from the chairs pockets.

            I had forgotten too-about Grandma needing another leg to sit cross-legged.       

            Liz rolled her eyes from the leg that wasn't there to the ceiling, and kept them there for a few seconds.  Then she asked, "Can you try it anyway, please?  I want to also see which direction your body rolls."

            "What for?"  Grandma pull out a deck of cards and an empty tic tac dispenser, and piled them on a TV table.

            "I'm trying to figure out how level the house is.  Round stuff works the best," Liz replied. 

            I stopped fidgeting. Excitement bubbled inside me to see if Grandma would do it.  Liz was her favorite because she was named after Grandma.  Maybe Grandma would try since Liz asked her to do it.

            "If I got on that floor, I'd never get up.  Now run upstairs and see if my cigarettes are in the bathroom."  Yep, Liz was her favorite.  She always asks her to get the cigarettes.

            "I'll get 'em."  I didn't give Liz a chance to beat me to them. 

            I came back, plunking myself down every step, holding the gold pack of Marlboros.            "Here you go," I said, handing it to Grandma and backing away.

            Grandma flipped open the book of matches that was tucked under the cellophane around the cigarettes.  "Damn it to hell."

            My voice jumped: "What's the matter?"

            "The match book's empty." 

            "Do you want me to get another one from the kitchen?"  I froze on tiptoes, with a hand behind my back.

            "No I found one," Grandma said, picking a bent pack of matches out from the space between the arm of her recliner and seat cushion.  She shook the cigarettes until one popped out above the rest, then picked it out and shoved it between her lips.

            I turned to leave. 

            "Wait a minute," Grandma said from the side of her mouth not clamping down on the cigarette.  "Get back here.  One's missing." 

            I swiveled around and handed over the cigarette.  Grandma's acusing eye as she struck the match alive made me want to cry, but I couldn't in front of Liz, she'd make fun of me. 

            "I wasn't going to smoke it," I said.  "Honest. I wanted it for Buddha."

,           Grandma took the cigarette out of her mouth.  "For what?" 

            Her question helped me control myself.  "Don't people burn stuff in the little ash tray that sits in front of Buddha?  I figured that, a cigarette could make some real good ashes for a god.  More than them skimpy ones from those punk sticks." 

            "You leave my cigarettes alone, you hear?  They're for me." 

            I slouched into a corner of the couch. 

            Liz asked, "Why were they in the bathroom, Grandma?" 

            "To help me relax in there."

            "When you're...?"  Liz began.

            "Shit.  Shit.  Shit."  Grandma dropped the lit match, and stomped her foot on it.  "You made me burn myself.  What's with all the questions anyhow?  What do I look like?  The Dalai Lama?"

            Liz and I chanted, "No, Buddha."

            "Do you hum and meditate in the bathroom?" I asked.  "Don't you always say that happiness is a good bowel movement?" 

            "What?"  Grandma's deep scratchy voice came from one side of her mouth as she finally lit her cigarette.  "I just make that up for laughs."     

            "Buddha must laugh a lot," I said.  "He's always smiling.  He's got no teeth, like you, just a dark space." 

            Grandma squinted at the smiling god across the room, and sighed at the dark screen below him.  

            The doorbell rang. 

            "Elizabeth, go get the door."  Grandma readjusted her dress, burped (not the chair this time), and sent more puffs of her goddessness into the air. 

            Mrs. Moores and Ms. Perry, the neighbors, came into our living room.  If the TV was working, their noisy, silly words would've bumped higher than its volume.

            They handed Grandma a box of Marlboros and a gold Buddha statue. Liz ran upstairs when they waved at us.  

            "Dawn, go put the tea water on for my worshipers." Grandma laughed.     

            I slid on purpose across the waxed kitchen floor, and caught myself at the stove.  It seeped gas because the pilot light would never stay lit.  I never got used to the nasty smell, even though I tried to because it was always there in the kitchen.  

            The mugs without handles worked good enough for the neighbors; Grandma's flamingo one for her; a flowered one for me.  I counted out the tea bags. They made my nose happy.  

            My bag ripped so easy. The dry brown stuff was like the tobacco that I emptied from a cigarette box Grandma had asked me to throw away.  How could two things that looked alike, smell so different? 

            I served the tea in the living room, and went back to the kitchen to drink mine.  Liz came down to check on her penicillin experiment.   

            "Liz, did you ever learn about tea leaves in Mr. Boykins' science class?"

            "What?" Liz asked, closing the bread box. The four day old bread smelled almost as bad as the fresh gas from the stove.  

            I lifted my mug with leaves floating in the steaming water and put it under Liz's nose. "We can read them like Aunt Bebe used to. Do you want me to make you some tea?"

            "I'll fix it myself." 

            The dark nasty pieces stuck to my tongue. Liz hy-poth-e-sized that if we waited, all the leaves would sink to the bottom. 

            The adults still talked and laughed in the other room.  Brown Buddha smiled from the counter above a ring of drying glue around his thick neck. My con-clu-sion: finding pictures in the soggy brown mess at the bottom of our mugs turned a boring Saturday into mystical, scientific fun. 








  1. Love this, Dawn and I'm so happy you found your Buddah

    1. Thanks, Marie. Only $3.00 at the place I usually go to for sushi. They're nice there. I think they gave me a discount.

  2. Nice story now rub my belly for some luck
    : )

  3. A wonderful story, Dawn. Thanks so much for sharing this with your readers. A child's curiosity makes for a great story.


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