I was afraid of her when I was little, as I feared anyone scarred, elderly, or with a scent that differed from my own. Mum told us how she came home from school one day and found her mother unconscious, flames licking at her hair in the kitchen. Twelve years old, she pulled her from the fire but the scars remained, stringy, dimpled, fiercely red, on Grandma’s neck and chest. When Grandma spent the night she’d show us and I’d have nightmares till she left.
My grandmother had ‘spells’. That’s what they called the fainting that could occur at any time. My father and some others thought she put it on, seeking sympathy, the attention that the spells could be counted on to provide. Grandma didn’t stay with us often, as we lived out in the country and she was a city gal. She’d been a flapper in her day, wild, adventurous. We were strict and staid, too boring for her, I thought then.
The last time she stayed with us I was seven years old. She had one of her spells at the top of our stairs, steep wooden, uncarpeted things. I only heard the crash when Grandma landed at the bottom. And there she lay; on her side, curled up in what I didn’t know was called a fetal position. My mother phoned a neighbor and sent us off to school…
That day we read the story of the cricket and the ant. Do you remember that one? Where the cricket plays all day and the ant lays up stores for winter? They showed a picture of the cricket, when winter hit him hard. Lying on his side, his many legs curled up, he died.
I cried and cried. Mrs. Huggins scolded. When I wouldn’t stop, I was sent home. Mum was irritated. She asked me what was wrong.
I couldn’t tell her I was scared. If crickets die and grandmas fall down entire flights of stairs, then who’s to say what will happen next, when simple misbehavior could kill a person dead?