This is only the second draft of the chapter, so there still might be a few typos and remember.....Things can always change!
I woke up afraid. It was no dream that roused me. It was the stillness.
No! Not yet... I’m not ready...
I sat up in the chair where I does, and listened. All I heard was the steady chirping of crickets outside the open windows, but still I paused, straining my ears.
Was she still breathing?
I pushed myself up and out of the chair, feeling the immediate ache in my neck and back. I crept across the wooden floor, avoiding the sections of the room where I knew the boards creaked when stepped on.
Across the room, tucked into my old twin bed from the attic, lay my grandmother. I leaned against the wall and looked down at her frail body, focusing on her bony chest until I was sure that it was still rising and falling with her breath.
She was still alive...
I gave up the idea of trying to go back to sleep as the sound of the early morning was growing louder: the garbage truck banging to a stop up the street, door slamming a few houses down, and far off in the distance the crow a rooster.
I walked over to the window and looked out at the pale, predawn Corydon. The air was still dark and close, but up Capitol Avenue, the early morning light was just starting to turn the clouds from a deep charcoal to a smoky purple color.
Seeing that, I breathed a sigh of relief. My grandmother survived another night.
As if she too could feel the impending dawn, grandma began to stir; no doubt she would be meeting more pain medicine soon.
“Grandma,” I whispered just in case she wasn't awake yet. “Do you need anything?”
I left the window and went to her bedside, “I’m here Grandma.”
“What time is it?” She asked in a hoarse whisper followed by a cough that racked her cancer stricken body.
I waited until she quieted and settled back again against the pillows, then I pulled the blankets up around her.
“I don't know for sure,” I said softly. “But it’s early; the sun isn't even up yet.”
She nodded, but said nothing as she closed her eyes again. When she became still once more, I got up again and went to the window, pushing back the sheer white curtains to reveal a now foggy dawn.
As I stood there looking out the window and listening to her raspy breath, I let the panic and the hopelessness I felt ever since the doctor said that there was nothing else they could do creep out of the pit of my stomach. It settled in the base of my throat so that I wasn’t for sure if I was going to start screaming or if I was going to vomit.
I can’t let her die... I can’t let her die...
Those words had become my mantra over the last few months. I said those words to myself when I first heard the diagnosis. I said them again when I gave up all hopes of college to stay home and take care of her. I said them once again when the chemotherapy and radiation failed. And in these last few weeks, and we both knew it was the last weeks, I must’ve repeated them a thousand times a day.
“Why is it getting dark again?”
Her hoarse whisper brought me out of my reverie and sure enough, the dawn was disappearing behind a thick gray mist.
“It’s just the fog coming in Grandma.”
She gasped. I turned to see her struggling to set up even though she was far too weak to do so.
“No,” she whimpered, panic and gasping for her breath. “It can’t be.”
I ran to her side, “What is it? Do I need to take you back to the hospital?”
She pushed me away with her feeble hands, shaking her head adamantly, “No! Go lock the doors!”
“You heard me," she choked out. "Lock all the doors and don't let anyone in!”
I took a deep breath and sighed. The doctors had warned me about this. They all said that as she got closer to the end that she would suffer with bouts of dementia, I just wasn't ready to be there yet.
“Grandma,” I pleaded, even though the mantra was starting in my head again. “I need you calm down. It’s me, Harmony, and everything is going to be fine.”
She grabbed my arm, clamping down on it was surprising strength.
“I know who the hell you are,” she hissed. “Now you listen to me and do as you're told. Go and lock the damn door.”
“Grandma why –“
“Are you going to make me get out of this bed and do it myself?”
“No ma’am,” I whispered.
I pulled away from her grip and went into the kitchen and lock the back door, even pulling the shade down for good measure. I then went back into the program and lock that door.
“I locked them all Grandma,” I said as I stopped to peek out at the now gloomy morning.
“You’re a good girl,” she said in a raspy whisper.
When I turned from the window, I took one look at her vacant stare and I knew that she was gone.
CLOSED DUE TO DEATH.
I taped a piece of paper with those words written in my shaky scrawl in the window of my grandmother’s feed store, hoping it would save me from having to make me uncomfortable calls to our customers and our one employee. It just seemed wrong to do that when the funeral home took her body away less than an hour ago.
“Sorry to hear about your grandmother,” a woman called from the sidewalk when I stepped outside.
I didn’t even turn around to see who it was; I just nodded and continued struggling with the antique lock on the door. I was exhausted and bleary-eyed, and just couldn't seem to get my clumsy fingers to work right. I told myself my first order of business would be to replace the troublesome locks, but then I immediately felt guilty as if I was being disloyal to my grandmother.
It was when I stepped away that I heard the music, a strange whistling type of sound, coming from further down Capitol Avenue. On any other day, I would've welcomed a happy tune, but today I just wanted to get back to the little house next door and get some sleep.
Despite that, I walked down to the corner where crowd was beginning to gather.
“What's going on?” I asked to no one specific.
It was Mrs. Jennings from the diner that answered me.
“Looks like the circus is coming to town,” she said as she craned her neck to see down the street. When she turned and saw that it was me that she was speaking to, she blushed. “So sorry to hear about your grandmother.”
I nodded and tried not to flinch. I wasn’t ready to face any of it yet, but people just kept bringing it up. A few others turned and mumbled their sympathies and all that I could do was just look at them stupidly.
What did they want from me? I didn't know what to say or do.
Just when I thought I would scream from the pressure of all those eyes on me, everyone turned back to the approaching parade.
I could just now make out the line of color and movement coming up the street. People began to crowd the sidewalks, cheering at random moments and clapping loudly.
As the parade moved closer, over the heads and shoulders of those around me, I could see the tall man out front. He was dressed in all black; his salt-and-pepper hair belied his wrinkle free face. He looked from side to side with stunning green eyes, tipping his hat now and then.
I shrank back as his eyes met mine. He seemed to slow his snail-like pace even more; he reached up and touched the brim of his hat, and then moved on without ever changing expression. No one else seemed to notice the exchange and merely clapped as he walked by.
Walking behind him was an assortment of tumbling and flipping men and women. Each one painted and costumed as clowns of various expressions. Just as they passed, a ball of fire shot into the air. I jumped and so did those around me as a beautiful girl with bright red hair twirled so that her black dress fanned out around her legs. She waved the torches in her hand before blowing on them again to send a burst of flames up into the air.
She smiled widely, seeming to enjoy the way that people shrank back away from the heat. She even went so far as to wink at you the man standing near before dancing on down the street.
At the end of the parade, plodding along and shimmering in the sun, came the purple and gold calliope wagon pulled by two massive gray draft horses. At their heads, leading them along was a younger version of the man at the start of the parade and a slender girl perhaps just a few years younger than me. Even over the music I could hear the two of them speaking to the horses softly in words that I didn't understand.
“I haven't seen a parade like that since I was a kid,” one woman said as they went by and the crowd began to break up.
I did what you’re supposed to do in a situation like that, I smiled as if I agreed with her and then walked away as quickly as possible.
When I reached our small house next to the feed store, I could see that the parade reached the fairgrounds across the street and the participants stood in the field talking in groups. I was too tired to wonder what they were doing or when they would be setting up the big top.
I went inside and closed the door, hoping they would at least be quiet enough that I could get some sleep.
I went straight upstairs, not wanting to pause in the main room where my grandmother’s bed lay empty. I crawled into my bed and fell asleep, still in my clothes, with the afternoon shining through the windows and over me.
The sun was shining defiantly the morning my grandmother was buried. I had hoped for rain, that way maybe everyone else would stay away and I could do this alone, but instead it was a beautiful day. Even though it was only mid-June, but the air was already taken on the burnt smell of dying vegetation and baked earth that it would hold until autumn.
Despite the miserable heat, most of the town was gathered in the cemetery to pay their condolences and say their final goodbyes. We were bunched together in our dark morning clothes in the sparse shade, uselessly fanning ourselves with our hands.
The minister’s voice droned on and on, low and soothing. I didn't listen to his words only the sound of his voice as I tried to make myself believe that this was really happening and that my grandmother was really gone forever.
I looked back down at the casket, hovering above the gaping holes. I hated to think of her going down into hole, filling the empty space between the slender headstone of my mother and the plane gray marble marker of the grandfather I never knew.
I didn’t want to look at that wooden box and think of my grandmother inside it, all dressed in her Sunday best. Just thought of her being put away forever made me want to cry.
I only have to make it through the next few minutes... If I can do that then I'll go home and cry and peace... Then maybe tomorrow I'll just cry in the morning...
That was how I saw my life stretching out over the next few days, crying alone now and then until I figured out how was supposed to survive in a world without my grandmother.
The minister went on and on talking about heaven and hell her soul was finally at rest, but I didn’t want her to be at rest, I wanted her to be here with me. I had prayed that God would take her quickly and not let her suffer, but now I was selfish enough to want her back.
I didn't mean it... I didn't mean it...
I could feel everyone’s sympathetic eyes on me and I hated all of their pity. I couldn’t stand the way that they all watched me as if waiting for me to cry or scream or something. I wish they would just go away and let me mourn in private.
There was a movement of black across the way that drew my attention. I looked up to see a few circus members from the parade walking up with their heads back out.
What are they doing here?
They lined up just beyond the crowd. I recognized the tall lean man that led the parade, the redheaded fire eater, the black haired slender girl, and the dark haired man that led the horses. The closer wrinkled and the girls covered their heads and dark scarves and some sort, other than that, they looked like anyone else gathered there.
Just as I was about to look away, someone near me gasped.
I looked over and the elderly Mr. O’Connor was staring at the visitors from the circus. His wrinkled face was pale, but he said nothing as he glared at them with his watery eyes.
Each member of the circus looked up, almost in unison, all of them with the same expression on their faces, an odd mix of sadness and secrecy. None of them moved and none of them looked away.
It was strange the way they were all looking at that old man and even more peculiar was the way that he glowered back at them. Even though the minister was still talking, more and more people were taking notice of this strange staring contest.
Just when I thought it couldn't get any stranger, the tall one that led the parade leaned over and whispered something to the man that had led the horses.
Then, as if they all heard and understood, the entire group turned and walked out of the cemetery as the minister began the last part of his sermon.
“Ashes to ashes... Dust to dust...”
I watched him leave and stared at the spot where they had stood, anything to keep from watching as my grandmother's coffin was lowered into the ground.