I was a sophomore in high school when she started forgetting what day of the week it was and where she put her glasses. I didn’t care – Dandy was old. I thought it was a rite-of-passage for someone to live long enough to forget. When she asked me where her husband was, I began to understand why my parents and oldest brother, Jase, fretted over her. But it wasn’t until I asked her to tell me the names of the flowers she grew and she couldn’t that I felt fear well in my chest.
My brothers and I call her Dandy because out of our two Grandmothers, she was the most grandmotherly. I loved her because her hugs felt like a blanket of sunshine. Because when we visited as children, she’d give us fresh honey sticks harvested from her neighbor’s beehives. Because, without meaning to, she bounced and hummed as she tended to her garden.
A few months before my high school graduation, Dandy had acquired an exploding temper and an aversion to eating. My parents had been talking about how skinny she was getting for a while, but I didn’t see it until that Easter. My brothers and I were looking through the photo albums and I stopped at a photo of Avery, Quinn, and me in the bathtub. We’d given Granddad a beard of bubbles and Dandy was caught about to dump a cup of water over his head. She was laughing, her cheeks full enough to make her eyes disappear.
Time with Dandy became something I dreaded. I hated how my stomach clenched in anger every time she said something untrue, as if my body considered each inadvertent lie an attempt to unsettle just me. The one time I corrected her, she pushed herself out of her armchair, speed-shuffled into the kitchen, and hissed in my dad’s ear “she has a mouth, that one.”
Since I had no excuse to skip family gatherings when my parents drove me to them, I learned to keep my gaze low, because to look Dandy in the eye would be to acknowledge her not-truths. To encourage her to keep talking. But I felt stupid for keeping quiet and forcing tight-lipped smiles when I realized the twins, who are three years younger than me, are perfectly comfortable loving this new Dandy. They might spend hours sitting on either side of her, holding her hands – gnarled like willow branches – not rousing her fury once.
Now that I’m in college a couple hours away, I can make excuses that are rarely questioned. “I have a paper to write.” Okay. “I can’t be out late tonight, I have a quiz tomorrow.” Okay. “I don’t want to see the woman who loved me so much she convinced my parents to name me after her favorite flower.” Not okay.
I tell myself I don’t feel guilty for not going. I usually upset Dandy, anyway. And my brothers, including Jase, whose wife just had a baby, still go with my parents. But last Sunday when they visited, someone mentioned the new community garden near my campus. Jase called me later that day and told me how excited Dandy had gotten.
“Light came back into her face.” She begged someone to take her, and Jase volunteered to drive her up this weekend.
We stayed on the line for a while longer and talked about my classes and how he’s able to stay home from work for a of couple weeks with Julie and Elena. He said nothing else about the garden. Then, right as I thought he was going to hang up, I heard Jase’s breath catch.
“She asked to see you.” I didn’t say anything for a few seconds. I guess I’d expected Dandy to forget I existed after I stopped going to see her. Or maybe that’s what I wished would happen.
I said one word before I hung up. “Maybe.”
Jase took it as an unequivocal yes. He texted me on Wednesday saying “See you Saturday at 1:00, Dandy can’t wait.” But I could wait. I’d be fine with waiting forever if it meant I didn’t have to remind her yet again that her husband was dead. I’d wait forever if it meant I didn’t have to be reminded that Dandy probably wouldn’t make it to my college graduation.
But Saturday came despite my internal protests. I woke up at 10:00 to a text from Jase.
“Heads up, rough start. Still coming.” Of course. I groaned, punched my pillow a few times, and rolled out of bed. Of all the days she could have a bad day, it had to be the day she was visiting. The first time I was seeing her in six months.
At 1:02, Jase’s navy Civic rolled into the circle beside my dorm. I was sitting outside on the stoop and lifted my hand – an almost wave – as Dandy glanced out the passenger-side window at me. I saw her lean towards Jase and I assume she asked who I was because when I opened the door and slid into the back seat, I heard the tail end of my brother’s reply.
“…my sister. Your granddaughter.”
She turned to look at me and I forgot to look down. Away. How had I forgotten her eyes are so deep blue they’re almost purple? I could tell from her stare that she was trying to place me. Trying to find her love for me. But there was an emptiness Jase’s prompt didn’t fill. She turned back around without saying a word.
I walked the garden paths behind Jase and Dandy. I watched her fingers trail over the petals and leaves of Coneflowers, Columbines, and Maidenhair Ferns. The sunlight made her white, wispy bun glow golden. She held Jase’s arm. Anyone could tell she knew who he was.
I dragged my Keds to make the gravel crunch and skitter – a hushed but constant reminder that I was with them. As we came to a koi pond, Dandy paused, turned around and held her hand out towards me.
“Come here…dear.” Then she flicked her eyes away from me. Was it just as difficult for her to face me?
I stepped up beside her and let her hold my hand for a minute or two, just until we found a bench to rest on. I feigned a cough and covered my mouth. I needed an excuse to pull away from the hand Avery and Quinn so easily hold and stroke. Jase sat next to me and whispered that getting out of the house must be good for her.
“She didn’t know who I was when I came to get her. She thought I broke in – even hurled a teacup at me – until I showed her my key.” Dandy has put the same novelty key caps with a white background and ambiguous neon flowers on all of the keys to her house since before I was born. When she looked over at us, Jase flashed a big smile and squeezed my arm, like he expected me to do the same. Did he not realize she hadn’t come around to remembering who I was?
Fifteen minutes later, just as I was about to start the battle of convincing Jase I needed to go back to my dorm, we entered a section of the garden that had been hidden from our view by a brick wall. There were irises – hundreds of them. I heard Dandy let out an airy “oh” as she urged herself towards the bluey-violet heads closest to us.
“Jase, love. Do you remember these? I used to have some just like them in my yard.” She eased her gaze from the flowers to me, her whole face beaming.
Even as I held my breath, I felt hope surge in my chest.
“Tell me what they’re called, Dandy.”
“They’re…well…they’re beautiful flowers.” She let her hand, which cradled a blossom as a grandmother should cradle a grandchild’s chin, drop.
With my feet rooted in place, I watched Dandy and Jase continue down the gravel path, holding tight to each other. Around me, bees hummed in lazy circles. They bobbed from flower to forgotten flower.
Marie Fayssoux recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a major in Human Development and Family Studies and a minor in Creative Writing. In college, she developed her practice in poetry and creative non-fiction, taking courses from Michael Chitwood, Alan Shapiro, and Stephanie Elizondo-Griest. Fayssoux has poems published in the Daily Tar Heel and the 2019 Joan Ramseyer Memorial Contest, and a flash-essay in the premier issue of THE LIT MUG.
Besides writing, Fayssoux is passionate about working with children and adolescents – especially those who have scoliosis, a condition she was diagnosed with at age 14. She also loves drinking tea and dreaming about owing a hairless cat. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org