Mom said Grandma never stood a chance. Because a name’s a shove. And when Mrs. Shapiro introduced Grandma Leary to our junior high class, the new girl was shoved into a room of cruel expressions. Lips curled into questions marks, others Oed like the holes in pencil sharpeners.
The first Halloween after Grandma Leary’s arrival, she won best costume for dressing as a grandma. She wore a pill-pink house coat. A permed gray wig. And a set of false teeth over her own that click clacked as she chewed candy corn. She caterpillared across the classroom using a walker with tennis balls for feet. Judged us as we fondled bowls full of “brains” and “eyeballs” and “intestines”, complaining about what a waste of food it was. How she would’ve killed for a forkful of it during the Depression.
It got weirder the following Monday when Grandma returned to class still costumed. Weirder still when it was the same the rest of that week. One day in Spanish class, she mused at the popcorn ceiling, wearing a smile with secrets. And when Mrs. Shapiro asked her to conjugate a verb at the board, she ignored her to reminisce about a handsome fella’ she had once fancied. How he was a real looker. How she had to break it off because he got fresh one night in the Copa. In gym class, she refused to do squats because her sciatica was acting up. The next time it was bunions. After Christmas break, she experienced dysphasia, especially with our names, calling Brianna Bernadette, Jayden Jeremiah, Mrs. Shapiro You there.
One day, there was an emergency parent-teacher meeting, and Grandma returned to school in a t-shirt dress, tights and sneakers — visibly a 12-year-old again, but the behaviors couldn’t be erased. She carried on calling everyone in class her perfect little darlings. Squeezed our cheeks and squint-smiled and said just that, what a perfect little darling, you are.
Mom said to include her in young people things. So, we invited her to the mall to go training bra shopping. After perusing racks of bras in various textures and shapes, we lost her. It was only when we heard sobbing from a fitting room, we found her sporting a bra five sizes too big. She wouldn’t say what was wrong. Or maybe she wasn’t ready to call it out — to topple the brittle fantasy. We drove home overpowered by talk radio and later Grandma baked peanut butter cookies that clung to the roof of my mouth. At bedtime, she tucked me in snugly, cocooning me in in my own warmth, and when she whispered in my ear sleep now, perfect little darling, I felt cradled in her hands, across the lines foretelling her heart, her life, her fate. It felt like something special. Like unconditional love.
L. Soviero was born and raised in Queens, New York but has made her way around the world, currently laying her hat in Sydney. She has an MSc in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh. When she is not writing flash, she works as a Learning Designer. She has been longlisted at Wigleaf and spotlighted in Best Small Fictions. Check out more of her work at lsoviero.com
Photography by Eduardo Barrios