The night was deep. Deep August. Crickets did their chrip-a-churping and the hum of cicadas were heavy, like a thick syrup and Dale couldn’t escape. He was stuck there on the bank next to the pond. He couldn’t move. He imagined he could move but he didn’t like where he’d go. Because he knew. And he couldn’t go into the little house. Not now.
He was only ten, but she was all he knew his entire life. When he was sad, she held him and if he did something he shouldn’t quite have done, she let him know it. He picked apples every September and she would make applesauce cake and apple pie, even apple bread. When the apricots ripened she’d slice them up in a little bowl and pour cream all over and hand it to Dale. He thought his grandmother was made up of part apple and part apricot. That’s what her little house always smelled like, in the spring and summer and especially fall.
Dale looked toward the little house and he wanted to run to her. But there was no need. He thought he heard his momma calling a few times but Dale wouldn’t listen. No, it was here by the pond where he needed to be, and he wished for one more September and October with her so he could pick the fruit and taste her food one last time.
The lump in his throat wasn’t getting any better, and he couldn’t stand it any more, so he cried and cried and cried, until the stars came out and lit up the night sky. He cried because he would never hold the old woman’s hand again, or sleep beneath a quilt that had been dried on the line. He cried because he’d never hear her laugh again or walk beside her in the garden as she picked peas or checked the corn-stalks. He cried because he’d never sit next to her again, not for as long as he lived. He cried because he was her favorite, and he knew it, he had always known it. He cried because they’d never ride to town together again in her old car, or go to the grocery store together, never, ever, again. He cried because she made him feel special, like he was someone of value. He cried because he loved her best.
Dale cried until there were no tears left, but his eyes still cried and his heart hurt so bad he was sure he might die. He cried as he lay on his back in the dewy evening grass, and he pulled tufts of it up by its roots because he hurt.
When you’re ten you don’t realize a lot of things, but then again a lot of ten-year olds realize quite a lot.
Someday Dale might think he was being selfish wanting to keep his grandmother here, but he loved her more than anything. More than anything.
But today, death came and Dale never knew Death before and it was ugly and cold and alone. Death was power, and power took away his grandmother.
And the cicadas buzzed and the crickets chirped. The screen door slammed multiple times because people were going in and out of his grandmother’s little house.
And Dale thought the world was very unfair and he hated everything and his heart was numb, and he was robbed and his grandmother would never come back.
And the night went even deeper and before he realized it, he was staring at a fiery sunrise because tomorrow had come.
And he got up and slowly made his way toward his grandmother’s house, because there was nothing else he could do. And because life was very unfair. And because the cicadas stopped humming and the crickets stopped their chirping.
With a heart heavy, like a heavy weight, he walked to the front porch of the little house he had known his entire life, and then out of nowhere a smile — so small — came over him.
He knew his grandmother and he would always know her, and that was good enough for him.
He’d pick her apples and apricots and make sure they didn’t go to waste. And he’d slice himself a bunch of apricots and pour cream over them.
And he’d walk through her yard and through her garden and let the good things sink into his bones, and he’d think good things about her and the wonderful times he had with her and soon night would be far, far away and the only thing he’d see was a sunrise coming up over the apple orchard.
A tear fell to the porch but Dale forced a smile, because all good things were born from his grandmother and he was hers and she was his, and that’s the way it would always be, forever and ever.