She had been talking about Scotland. You were pretty sure she’d never lived there, but she talked like she had. She didn’t seem to notice that you weren’t speaking much. Her passion gave way to a pause, then a wordless silence, and now you’re alone with your grandmother and the sounds of her house.
She squints, searching for words, like a dazed child actor. You don’t like seeing her so lost, so you stare at the grandfather clock in the corner. When you were a few years younger, six or seven, you loved watching the pendulum swing. Now it looks like it’s shaking its head.
Your grandmother shakes her head. Her hair is like Santa’s, you think. Or, Santa’s eyelashes: coarse, white, and thin. They could be friends, her and Santa. He doesn’t get out that much, and she could talk about living in the North Pole.
You don’t want to get old. At your brother’s birthday, you decided that you would rather not have any more birthdays, even if it meant giving up cake. Even your mom’s cake.
These weekly dinners were your mom’s idea. You remembered your grandmother’s house, sugar cookies, and card-playing cousins, and thought it sounded nice. Memories are funny that way. You tap your foot and gaze out the window. Your grandmother hasn’t mentioned the sundress she gave you, which you wore on purpose. You ask to go outside.
She takes you down the brick path, around the garage, into the greenhouse. She shows you her favorites, the zinnias. You pick a petal and roll it between your fingers. It’s squishy and soft.
She plucks one herself and smiles at you. You’d forgotten her smile. You smile back, and giggle, and take more, and she takes more, and you’re both rolling the petals, laughing, you’re tugging off handfuls at once, smearing zinnias on your arms. She is too. She’s smiling, and crying. She leaves the ground.
She rises steadily, like whatever’s lifting her knows exactly what it’s doing. You don’t touch her. She looks happy, drifting toward the glass roof. There are birds in the sky, beautiful and colorful like the zinnias. Your hands find the latch to the ceiling window. You open it, wide open, and out she floats, her eyes dreamy, her body easy, the clouds between her ears now the clouds between the mountains, wispy, white, and beautiful, like Santa’s eyelashes.
Noah Cohen-Greenberg studied literature at the University of Oxford and Williams College, where he was a Roche Fellow, a Wilmers Fellow, and a two-time winner of the Dunbar Student Writing Award. He grew up on a hay farm in upstate New York and is looking forward to the fame and fortune that typically accompany a career in the literary arts.