“Come here,” your grandmother says, the same confident tone as always–that all who hear her, maybe the very world itself, will conform to her whim–the smallest gesture of her hand to punctuate the statement.
You obey immediately, walking forward and stopping just short of where she is seated, the dust and dirt from your trousers brushing against the vibrant blue and purple blanket draped over her lap. You can’t meet her eyes, locked on to your own intertwined and fidgeting fingers.
“I said, come here,” she repeats, reaching up towards your face–you crouch down to accommodate her. The grip around your chin is firm but not painful. She turns your head this way and that, inspecting, and you follow as she moves you. You lean into her hand, skin thin and cool and papery, bony and frail, and yet comforting.
When she pulls her hand away, it is wet with your tears.
You haven’t seen her in so long.
“What is with that hair?” she asks, and your immediate laughter in response is wet and nasally, clogged.
“It’s the style,” you say, “Asymmetry is in.”
“Hmph, I know that,” she says, “But it’s so messy! Don’t you comb it?”
You don’t own a hairbrush. It’s short enough that you can just run your fingers through it get rid of tangles.
You cannot tell this to your grandmother, who was a school matron and known citywide for her poise and etiquette.
“What are you doing here?” she asks, instead, patting the empty seat beside her.
You collapse into it, slouching towards her, never mind your terrible posture.
“I didn’t mean to,” you say in a quiet voice, small and simple and sorry, as if you were still the four year old that broke your grandmother’s prettiest tea set out of curiosity. “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”
You did much worse than destroy heirloom ceramics this time around.
She raises a hand to your face once more, but you close your eyes–you can’t bear to see the disappointment on her face.
Without sight, your other senses are amplified. The scent of your grandmother’s flowery perfume, the contrast of the chair’s upholstery against the scraping, crunching, of shattered glass on pavement.
The sound of sirens, fire flickering, metal and gasoline and smoke on the air.
“I didn’t mean to,” you repeat, and cry again.
More than that broken tea set, more than your messy hair and the dust on your trousers and your terrible posture. More than the cuts on your arm and the blood oozing through your shirt and what you think is a bone shard poking through your forearm.
More painful and shameful and awful than all that is telling your grandmother–who you loved so much, who you have not seen in eight years–that you didn’t mean to die…
… and her knowing that you are lying.