Empty Shelves - Empty Shelves

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Empty Shelves
Jim Carnicelli
4/19/2021   |   6/21/2021   |   7/12/2024   |   7,770

7,770 words
FNASR offered
Kira Carnicelli
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Empty Shelves

by Kira Carnicelli

4/19/2021    6/21/21    7,770    34:31
Chapters in this section:
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Tick tock, tick tock.

Okay, I didn’t really have a watch to hear the seconds go by. Or any clock, for that matter; just my six-year-old imagination. The bus rolled towards the pink house with the Collie statue on the porch. That meant I was almost home. All we had to do was go through Todd Street and my house was on the next road.

I was always excited to get home and tell Mom and Dad what I did each day, (once they came home, that is) but today, I was especially enthusiastic. Grandma was coming over to help us bake cookies for a party at my dad’s work, and she promised we’d make enough for us to keep. I couldn’t get off the bus fast enough! There was Grandma’s blue car in our driveway, and there was Grandma, waiting for me in the front yard. I trotted off the bus, ignoring the driver’s warning to be careful, and greeted her with a big hug.

“Hi, Eric! How was school today?”

“Great! I got to choose our first song in music class, and in gym, I was the last one out in Across the Canyon!”

“That’s wonderful! You’ll have to tell me all about it inside.”

But by then, I had finished and moved on to show her the gold star I got on my additions test, as well as the story I wrote about my cat Gunther. She seemed most impressed by the drawing I added of him chasing a mouse.

“Oh, that reminds me,” she said, going for her purse, “this is from Grandpa.” She handed me a soft toy kitten with orange fur and big green eyes, just like my cat.

“Cool!”

“Yeah, he found that in the hospital gift shop and thought you might like it.”

Grandpa had fallen a couple days ago and had been in the hospital since. I hadn’t gone to see him, but Mom had, and though she hadn’t said anything to me, I thought he would be okay. After all, I fell all the time and never had to go to the hospital. It must have been a really bad fall.

“I do.”

She smiled. “I’ll tell him. He’ll be glad to hear it. Now, let’s get started on those cookies!”

Mom came home right as we put them in the oven. I helped stir the ingredients together and put the dough on the pan, and now I was cleaning the bowl ... with my finger.

“You better not be spoiling your dinner,” Mom warned.

I assured her I was not. Then, “Mom, look what Grandpa got me!” I ran to get my new toy from the couch, where the real Gunther was sniffing it with cautious interest.

“No, Gunther, go away,” I scolded, rescuing Toy Gunther. My cat had snipped holes in other stuffed toys, so I didn’t allow him around my things anymore. I ran back to Mom and Grandma. “Isn’t it soft?”

She gave it a brief pat. “Yes, that’s very nice. Did you say thank you?”

Oh, right. It was hard to remember my manners all the time. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Grandma chuckled, clearly not upset that I’d forgotten.

“So, how is Dad?” Mom asked, using the softer voice that meant I wasn’t supposed to listen.

“Well, he’s doing all right,” she replied. (Grandma never used the quiet voice.) “But they are going to do some more tests to make sure it’s nothing serious.”

“Do they have any idea ... ?”

“They don’t know what caused it yet. He said he was feeling faint when it happened, so they think it might be his blood pressure. He feels fine now. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.”

Despite Grandma’s confidence, Mom sounded plenty concerned when she replied, “I hope not.”

I, for one, was confused. I didn’t understand why they were so worried. I just knew that whenever I fell, it was because I tripped over something, and half the time, it didn’t even hurt. My parents explained that it changes when you get older, that you have to be more careful because it’s easier to get hurt. They kept saying how lucky Grandpa was for not breaking any bones. Again, I didn’t see the big deal.

When Dad came home, the three of them talked (more about Grandpa, I assumed, since my parents both used their quiet voices) until the cookies were done.

“Those look good,” Dad commented as Grandma took them out of the oven.

“Let’s hope they taste just as good. We worked hard on them.”

“The dough was yummy,” I offered.

“You’ll have to try one,” Grandma told me, “after they cool off.”

“Not before dinner,” Mom objected.

“Yeah, you already had the dough,” Dad added.

Grandma came to my rescue. “Oh, one cookie won’t hurt him.”

“Yeah, come on. Please?” I begged.

My parents exchanged a look. “We don’t want him bouncing off the walls tonight ...”

“I won’t, I won’t!”

“He’ll be fine. Besides, he deserves a reward after all the hard work he spent making these, and in school. Tell them about your gold star, Eric.”

I showed them the test, along with my Gunther story. And I told them about Across the Canyon.

“Okay,” Mom conceded. “You can have one.”

“Yay!”

The next day at morning recess, I played Fighters with my friends Dan and Rory. We ran around the playground shooting electric rays out of our fingers. If one of us got hit by a ray, we had to join teams with the one who shot us and catch the last fighter. Usually we got more people to play, but our two other friends were absent, and no one else wanted to join. I was doing a good job avoiding the other fighters. I’d gotten Rory on my side in Round One without getting shot at all.

Eventually, I dove to the ground, shouting, “Aahh! I’ve fallen, I’ve fallen! Take me to the hospital!”

“You haven’t been shot,” Dan pointed out.

“And you don’t go to the hospital when you’re shot,” Rory chimed in. “You join my team!” He pointed down at me. “Bang, bang! I got you! Now help me defeat Dark Dan!”

I leaped to my feet and stated, “My grandpa went to the hospital for falling down.”  

“He did?”

“Why?”

“Because you get hurt more easily when you’re older.”

“My dad’s old, but he doesn’t get hurt more than me,” Dan countered.

“Same with my parents.”

“And mine. So why did my grandpa?”

“Maybe he broke a bone,” Dan offered. “Like Emily when she was in that car crash.”

“No, he didn’t break a bone. They think it’s because of his ...” I tried to remember. “His blood pressure.”

“Hm. That makes you fall?”

 I shrugged in response.

“What is that anyway?” Rory asked. I glanced at Dan. We had no clue.

That night, Dad and I went to the park after dinner. When we came back, Mom looked at him and murmured, “Well, turns out it has to do with his heart.”

“She called just now?”

“A few minutes ago. It may be a severe form of Arrhythmia.”

“Oh.” He turned to me. “Eric, why don’t you go play a while before bed?”

“What are you talking about?” I inquired.

“We’re just talking about Grandpa,” Mom answered. “He’s okay; he just has to take medicine.”

“For his fall?”

“Kind of. He fell because he was sick, but if he takes his medicine, he’ll feel better.”

The last time I saw Grandpa was during a sleepover a week later. He and Grandma picked me up from school, and we went to dinner. Grandpa looked and acted the same as usual. No one would think him sick just by looking at him.

When he finished watching the news that night, I asked, “Are you still sick, Grandpa?”

“No, I’m better now. Don’t you worry about me.”

“That’s right. As long as he takes his medicine, he’ll be fine,” Grandma said.

“Pish posh!” he snapped playfully. I laughed, knowing when he was really angry, he used expressions much uglier than that. “I’m not an invalid yet, and I’ll prove it. Why don’t we go to the park, Eric?”

The next morning at breakfast, he refused when Grandma tried to give him his pills. Grandma insisted, adding, “You don’t want to go to the hospital again, do you?”

“Don’t nag me! I’ll take them when I take them. Since when did my life revolve around pills?”

“It’s been a week, and you can consider yourself lucky. Some folks are on meds their whole lives, and you’re in good shape for your age.”

“Yeah, so it won’t kill me to skip a little here or there.”

“Come on, John. You may be in good health, but don’t push it. You’re not immune.”

“All right, I’ll take them,” he grumbled, giving me a wink to ease the tension.

“I think Grandpa’s having a tantrum, don’t you?” Grandma teased.

Some time went by where everything was normal. Then one day, my parents’ cars were in the driveway when the bus brought me home. This was unusual. A babysitter was supposed to stay with me until Mom got home at 5:30. The only exceptions were when she or Dad stayed home and when Grandma and Grandpa came over.

In the house, I could sense something was wrong. My parents were sitting on the couch, not doing anything. Dad had his arm around Mom like he was comforting her. When he saw me, he trudged over to take my backpack.

“Hey, sport. How was your day?” His voice was barely more than a sigh.

“Good,” I replied, but suddenly nothing that happened in school mattered.

“Come in here. There’s something we’ve got to talk to you about.” He seated me on the couch between himself and Mom, who looked like she’d been crying.

“Son, we don’t really know how to tell you this ...” Dad began. “It’s about Grandpa.” He took a deep breath before looking straight into my eyes. His brown ones were too moist, and his skin looked weathered and wrinkled. “Eric, Grandpa died ... late this morning.”

I didn’t cry immediately like usual when something made me sad. I didn’t believe it, even though I knew my dad wasn’t lying. Nor did I fully understand what it meant for someone to die. I couldn’t comprehend someone being gone and never coming back. I first cried later that night with Mom, but mostly because seeing her like that was upsetting. I stayed home for the rest of the week, but it wasn’t fun. I felt ... strange. Not quite sad, but empty and heavy at the same time.

At the funeral, many people (most of whom I didn’t know) hugged and wept. They were sad because Grandpa was gone, that much I knew, but being only six, that was all I knew. I didn’t understand why, when I saw him lying in his coffin, I burst into tears. Maybe because, deep down, I’d hoped to see him. The body in the coffin – that wasn’t Grandpa. It looked nothing like him. The complexion was different, and Grandpa never wore suit jackets. Also, when Grandpa slept, his mouth dropped open and he snored. This man was too quiet, too still. If I wasn’t going to see Grandpa walking and talking, I at least expected to see him ... somewhere, somehow. But this was a dead body. This was Grandpa dead, and this is how he would be forever.

That realization was what brought my tears. Mom and Dad walked me to another room, where I couldn’t see the body. They murmured, “It’s okay, we know, we know it’s hard. It’s okay.” For the first time in my life, they didn’t tell me to stop. When we first arrived, we saw Grandma, and she hugged each of us and gave me a brave, reassuring smile. I never saw her cry. Even Mom broke down while viewing Grandpa’s body, and Dad looked completely somber the whole time, like he was trying to be brave for us, too.

When it was time for the minister to speak, Dad took me to get ice cream, even though I wasn’t hungry for it. I asked if he was as sad as Mom.

“Yeah. I’m sad in a different way, because Grandpa was her dad, but I do miss him.”

“Is Grandma sad?”

“Absolutely. She loves your grandpa very much, but she wants to be brave for you. And she’ll be okay. Remember, Eric, when we lose someone we love, it can feel like we’ll never be happy again, but it always gets better.”

We started to visit her more often. Mom would go without us for nights at a time. When all three of us went, my parents would sometimes send me to another room to play, which they never did before. They used their quiet voices more often, which I used to be good at not listening to; but it was harder now. They were worried, and I wanted to know why. Grandma still never used the quiet voice, but she also didn’t argue when they sent me to another room. When I could hear what they said, it was about Grandpa.

“I think it was hard for him to accept getting older. I think it hurt his pride, and he decided he didn’t want to be tied up taking pills all the time. That’s why he fought against it,” Grandma confided to them one night.

“He did cherish his independence.”

“We both did. That’s where you get it from, Ellen.”

“Well, thanks for that,” Dad teased. “I can’t compromise with her on anything.”

“Yes you can,” Mom scolded.

“Yes dear, of course. You’re soft-hearted and open-minded.”

“And frugal,” Grandma added. “You got that from both sides, too. Growing up in the Depression, we learned not to be wasteful, or we had nothing.”

“Huh. As I remember, Dad was always buying us things.”

“Well, when he could afford to, which he could while you were growing up. But he wasn’t careless. He treated what he bought as gifts, and he always had a reason for getting them, even if it was as simple as showing his love.”

“That’s why he did, most of the time. Either because he was proud of us or – I remember him saying, ‘I was just thinking how lucky I am –’”

“‘To have you as my daughter,’” they finished in unison.

“Or in my case, ‘as my wife’.” Grandma sat back and sighed. “No, I was the lucky one. You two, appreciate each other now, while you can.”

Dad leaned forward. “Are you sure there’s nothing more we can do?”

“Oh, you’ve done so much already. I’ll be fine. I’m not an invalid yet.”

By now, I faced them from my position on the floor as openly as if hearing a story they knew they were telling. I wondered if Grandma remembered Grandpa saying that when he refused to take his medicine.

***

“Do you like my picture, Grandma?”

I’d just arrived home from school, and Mom and Grandma were seated in the living room with cups of tea. My cat lay against Grandma’s denim-clad leg.

“I do. Now let’s see ... it looks like that’s you.” She pointed to the crayon drawing of the boy – which was, in fact, me. “And that’s Gunther ...” I nodded. “And ... is that Grandpa?”

“Uh-huh, although that’s not the real Gunther. That’s the toy Gunther that Grandpa gave me from the hospital. In the picture, I’m visiting him, and he’s getting ready to come home.”

“Isn’t that nice.” She smiled, handing the picture back.

“Have you thought about when you were going to clear out his stuff?” Mom asked, taking a sip of tea.

“Well, I thought about it. Part of me thinks it would be better to wait a few more months – or maybe a year – and let some time go by. That’s the tradition, after all. But on the other hand, maybe I’m better off just getting it over with. What do you think?”

“I don’t think you should wait. If you do, it’ll bring back fresh pain, and he was never one to follow tradition anyway. We’ll help you. I’ll call down the other kids –”

“No, don’t do that. They’ve already done enough – you all have – and I don’t want to take up any more of their time.”

I didn’t follow the conversation beyond that, because it just consisted of Mom repeating her offer to help Grandma in any way possible, but I noticed that she must have taken Mom’s advice to clear out Grandpa’s things sooner rather than later, because our next few visits were spent going through his clothes, papers, and other items. This was boring because nobody had anything to do with me. Most of the time, they acted like I didn’t exist.

I wasn’t sure I liked going to Grandma’s anymore. It was too lonely. Not only did my parents and Grandma ignore me, but the house felt emptier without Grandpa. I started bringing toys to keep me company, and sometimes I’d tell them how different things were. I started to ask them if things would ever be the same again. They didn’t have an answer.

The next year, I asked Grandma if she was still sad, and she told me that she still missed Grandpa and always would, but she was better. When I tried getting her to clarify with a simple yes or no, she wouldn’t, so I took it as a no and started to worry about her more. What if Dad was wrong and she never felt happy again? What if something happened to her, too?

I decided to voice my concern one night. “You won’t get sick like Grandpa, will you?”

“Of course not! I’m healthy as can be,” she promised. “And if I get so much as a scratchy throat, I’ll be sure to call the doctor. He’ll give me medicine, and I’ll be good as new in no time.”

I should have known she’d be okay, I told myself. Nothing would ever happen to Grandma!

She invited us over a month later with good news. I was hopeful about this visit, thinking I might not be excluded, but I still brought my toy Gunther just in case. In her kitchen, she had a spare cabinet she used for knick-knacks and ornaments, which now had a few cardboard boxes in front of it. She warned Mom to mind the boxes as they set the table.

We ate dinner and talked about nothing particularly special until dessert. She brought us our plates and began as we dug in: “Now for the reason I asked you here: I hesitated in telling you this because it’s so outlandish, and I didn’t want to risk you thinking of putting me in a home. Surely you noticed the cardboard boxes in front of the cabinet, where I keep my more valued items?” We nodded. “Well, you know I’m not superstitious, and Ellen, Dad and I never raised you to be, either. But I swear, a miracle has happened.” She paused, letting her words sink in. Now, being seven, I was far more eager to accept the news than Mom or Dad. I leaned forward, waiting to hear of this miracle.

“Just a couple weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night, and sitting beside me on the bed ... is John.” Grandpa?! “He looked just as he did when I first met him, right down to the dress shirt and tie. And he said, ‘I’m okay, Grace. Tell the kids I love them.’ Then he reached into his pocket and took out this ring that looked exactly like the one I gave him for Valentine’s Day our first year as husband and wife. He called it proof that he’s still with us – in our hearts,” she clarified for my sake. “And that he’ll be watching over us. Then he disappeared and I went back to sleep. When I woke up, I thought it was just a dream – I mean, you know how I’ve been dreaming about him every night – but then I found the ring in my hand. I specifically remember putting that ring in the Good Will box last year.”

“Which ring was it?” Dad cut in.

“The one with the gold band and large green stone. I’ll show you.” She went to the cabinet and came back with the ring. Mom and Dad examined it.

“Yeah, that’s the one,” Mom confirmed. “I remember you showing it to me. You must have kept it without realizing.”

“No, I specifically remember putting it in that box.”

“It’s not possible,” Dad argued. “Unless he had another ring just like that.”

“He didn’t. But let me finish. I wondered what you must be wondering now: am I going crazy? Did I put that ring back by mistake and pick it up in my sleep? But he came back the very next night and gave me a set of earrings like the ones I wore the first time we met – or so he said. I don’t remember what I was wearing that day. And he’s come back every night since with a piece of jewelry or little ornament for the house. I keep them all in that cabinet, but they’re starting to take up so much room, I have to clear stuff out. That’s what the boxes are for, until I find more space. But I can’t complain. I mean, can you believe it? You must think I’m crazy, but I’ll show you if you want. Come on.”

“That’s okay,” Dad said, motioning for her to sit back down. “That is pretty incredible, but we don’t need any proof.”

“So you believe me then? Oh, good! I was so worried you were going to –”

“Well, we just need to think this over. It’s a lot to digest.”

“Oh, certainly. It gave me quite a start, too. Like I said, I didn’t want to tell anyone for fear they’d have me committed, but then I thought: if I can prove it, what is there to worry about?

Mom changed the subject. “So how have you been? Aside from ... seeing Dad?”

“Since he’s been coming, I’ve never felt better.”

“Does he say anything about me?” I spoke up, unable to contain my curiosity any longer.

“He wants you to know that you’re a good boy and that he’s very proud of you.”

In the car, Mom and Dad were silent. When I went to bed, I heard them speaking in urgent whispers. Concerned, I crept out to join them.

“... to make him feel better?” Mom was saying.

“That can’t be. The problem is she went all year trying to hold it in, and now she’s –”

“Hi,” I whispered, stepping through the entryway.

“Eric, what are you doing out here?” Dad didn’t sound angry, more like he wanted me gone really soon.

“What are you two talking about?”

“Adult topics. Things you wouldn’t understand yet.”

“You sounded worried.”

Mom said, “We’re not worried, sweetie. We’re sorry if we gave you that impression.”

“We’ll try to be quieter so we don’t disturb you, but you have to go to sleep,” Dad said, taking my shoulder.

“Do you think I’ll see Grandpa some time?”

“I, uh ... I don’t know about that, sport. I wouldn’t get my hopes up.”

“You know those dreams that seem so real, you think they really happened? Grandma was having those dreams when she thought she saw Grandpa,” Mom explained.

“But she had proof.”

“She’s confused. She found those around the house but didn’t remember bringing them to her room.”

I looked at Dad. “You said you believed her.”

He knelt to meet my gaze. “Have you ever told someone what they wanted to hear so you wouldn’t hurt their feelings?”

“You mean lie?”

He glanced back at Mom, who replied, “It’s a little different than an outright lie.”

“And we didn’t say we believed her,” Dad recovered. “I only said I didn’t want proof.”

“Then how do you know she was dreaming if you won’t let her prove it?”

He sighed. “You’re too young to understand, son. Look, we’ll talk about this tomorrow, but it’s late, and you’ve really got to go to bed.”

***

“Where’s Gunther?” I cried in frustration. Three days after seeing Grandma, I realized my stuffed toy was nowhere to be found. Real Gunther hid in my parents’ room, upset with me for interrupting his nap during my search.

“Where did you last see him?” Mom asked.

“I don’t know! He should be on my bed, but I’ve searched the entire house and I can’t find him.”

She thought. “Is it possible you left him at Grandma’s?”

“I brought him home with me!” At least, I thought I did. I would have realized he was gone before today, I argued with myself. And if not, Grandma would have called to tell me. But I never forget my things! I’ve never left them at someone else’s house before. 

The next evening, the phone rang, and Dad handed it to me after answering.

“Guess who I’ve got over here?” Grandma said in her cheerful voice.

“Who?”

“Little Gunther.” (She differentiated between my two Gunthers by calling the real one Big Gunther and the toy Little Gunther.)

“Where’d you find him?”

“It wasn’t me who found him. Grandpa brought him last night. He must have paid a visit to your house and decided not to wake you.”

“Are you sure I didn’t forget Gunther when I brought him on Friday?”

“I didn’t see him until last night, so I don’t think so. Would you like me to drop him off tomorrow?”

“Yes, please,” I replied, remembering my manners. “Grandma, why would Grandpa visit and not let me see him?”

“Maybe he was afraid he’d frighten you.”  

“Well, can you tell him that I wouldn’t be, and that I want to see him?”

She chuckled. “Okay. Maybe he’ll give you something too, like he gives me.”

“Yeah! That would be so cool!” Suddenly, Dad was there grabbing the phone away. “Hey!”

“Grace,” he barked. “What were you telling him?”

I tried to make him give it back, but Mom took my hand and walked me to the kitchen, where she asked what Grandma was talking about. After I told her, she repeated the same words from Friday about Grandma being confused and not to believe her about Grandpa’s visits.

Grandma’s car wasn’t the only one in the driveway the next day. Mom’s was there, too. But no one was in the front yard to meet me. That didn’t matter once I was inside and reunited with Gunther. I hugged Grandma and showed her my story from Writing. It was about Grandpa and how I wished he’d visit me soon. I added a picture similar to the one of him in the hospital bed giving me Gunther. Only in this one, I was in my own bed and he was sitting beside it, giving me something I hadn’t bothered to give detail yet, since I didn’t know what it was. I hadn’t forgotten Mom and Dad’s warning not to listen, that he wasn’t going to visit, but they must be wrong. They were parents – what did they know about this magic stuff? And they chose not to see the gifts he left, so how could they be certain it was made up?

She liked the drawing and story, but Mom seemed upset by them. Before she could yell at me, I did what she did so often and changed the subject.

“Did you have a half day? You’re home early.”

“Yes. Now, you should go to your room and start your homework. We’re going to spend a little extra time counting change tonight.” (Counting money was harder than plain addition, especially when it came to nickels.)

“But I want to be with Grandma!”

“You can spend all the time you want with her another day. Now go on. You don’t want to be up late tonight.”

I groaned.

“Oh, let him stay – just for a little while.”

“No, Mom, he has to get his work done. And I want to talk with you about something, too,” she insisted. “Eric ...” I recognized the warning in her tone and trudged to my room.

I struggled with the vocabulary sheet the teacher had given us and considered going to ask for help, but when I opened my door, I could hear Mom and Grandma arguing. I heard Mom snap, “That doesn’t matter. I don’t want you talking like that in front of my son.”

“Is he upset by it?” Grandma sounded concerned.

“No – that’s part of the problem. You don’t know what you’re teaching him to believe, and I’m afraid that if this goes too far, it will hurt him, Mom. I don’t want that, and neither do you.”

“He’s just a little boy. It must be very hard for him to cope with losing his grandpa, and I don’t think it would do any harm for him to have something hopeful to believe in.”

“You’re not listening to me! I’m concerned – not only for Eric, but for you. It’s one thing if you’re just telling a story for the sake of his grief, but that you actually believe what you’re saying, that’s what worries me. Mom, I think ...”

When she didn’t speak for a few seconds, Grandma cut in. “I told you it was outlandish, Ellen. And I’ve offered to show you the proof. All the gifts he’s brought me are in that cabinet. I know the idea scares you and Ron. It would scare me too, had I not experienced it, but it’s so wonderful. He looks just as he did in life. He’s happy, healthy-looking, and he sounds just like his old self. I’m sure he’d change his appearance for you three, to look the way you remember him. For Eric, he’d make himself seventy years old again. But I swear you would be so glad you saw him, and it would make him so happy. Probably the reason he’s stayed away is because he knows it would upset you to see him.”

“Listen, I love you. We all love you. Eric practically worships you. We want you to get help, see a doctor, maybe someone to talk to about Dad’s death. We’re really worried about you.”

She made a sound of disgust. “Now that’s ridiculous. I don’t need a doctor.”

“Well ... this is hard for me to say, but we’ve talked about it and ... until this business with Dad is worked out ... we don’t want you around Eric.”

My heart skipped a beat. I bolted out of my room and into Grandma’s arms, shouting, “No, no! You can’t do that! You can’t!”

Dad came home to Mom demanding, “Eric, were you eavesdropping?”

I didn’t answer, just kept shouting my protests while Grandma patted my back and assured me that everything was okay; nothing was going to keep her from me. Mom ordered me back to my room, but I screamed my defiance, which was barely coherent.

Dad’s stern voice came from behind us, and though I wasn’t looking at him, I pictured his glare as he said, “Grace, I think you’d better leave.”

“I can’t leave him. He’s upset,” she protested quietly, still rocking me in her arms.

“Mom, we’ll take care of him.”

She glanced at me. “Well, I guess I’d better go, before your mom and dad get too angry.”

“I want to go with you.”

“That’s probably not such a good idea,” she said, softening her voice even more as I began to cry. “But I’ll talk to you again real soon, okay?”

“No,” I sobbed.

“Come on, Eric, Grandma has to go,” Mom urged. I loosened my hold on her shoulders as she stood up. Mom walked her to the door. Dad tried to pick me up, but I pulled away and escaped to my room, where I slammed myself in with a bang! 

I screamed, threw pillows and toys at the wall, and yanked the covers off my bed – the worst tantrum I’d had in a long time. When I calmed down, Mom and Dad came to talk to me.

“Do you understand why we sent Grandma home and why I said what I did?” I shook my head. “I said that because Grandma may be sick, and it’s affecting her mind, making her say things that aren’t true.”

“Even though they seem true to her,” Dad added.

“How do you know they aren’t?”

“Well, what she says about Grandpa – the truth is, when people die, they don’t come back. That’s the way it’s been forever, and as sad as it is, it’s not going to change anymore than the sun will stop rising each morning.”

“But how do you know that when you won’t look in the cabinet?” I demanded.

“We don’t need to. But if it will help you understand, we’ll look in it the next time we visit.”

I lit up. “We’re going over there again?”

“We’ll see.”

I didn’t have to wait long for the next time. That same weekend, Mom ran a few errands, Dad made a few calls, and we drove over right after lunch.

“Now remember, Eric,” Mom reminded me. “This may not be a very fun visit. We have to talk to Grandma about some serious things, and it could be upsetting – for her as well as us.” I nodded along, but I was confident this would go better than they expected. I couldn’t remember a time Grandma had been wrong about anything. And maybe if Mom and Dad finally believed that Grandpa visited, they wouldn’t be so afraid, and he’d feel better about coming to us. Then we could all be happy.

I ran to knock on the door as soon as we parked.

“What a nice surprise!” Grandma exclaimed upon seeing me. They must not have told her I was coming along.

In the kitchen, more boxes had piled up in front of the cabinet. My parents glanced at them and proceeded to the living room, where they sat and exchanged pleasantries as if last week hadn’t happened. I stood in the center and made indications that I wanted them to hurry to the point, but they dismissed me the first couple times. Finally, Dad began, “So, the reason we’re here actually has to do with ... what we talked about last week.”

“Oh?” Grandma sounded surprised, but her pleasant smile didn’t waver.

“We thought it might be best if we all look in that cabinet. It’ll be good for you, and good for Eric. I should warn you, I made a call to Hope’s Institute and gave them this address, and they’ll be here in a half hour unless I call to tell them otherwise.”

Her face fell. “Well, I wish you’d told me beforehand that you were having me put away ... That’s okay. We’ll be quick about this.” She sauntered to the cabinet and slid the boxes to the side.

“What’s Hope’s Institute?” I asked Mom as Dad assisted Grandma, who spoke up: “It doesn’t matter, Eric. We won’t have a use for them, anyway.”

They cleared the boxes. “Okay!” She took the cabinet’s handles, pausing to exchange a grin with me as we both recognized that this was the moment Mom and Dad were going to believe her – believe us – and thrust the doors open to reveal –

Empty shelves. Well, not totally empty. They still contained a pair of salt shakers, a tea pot, and a porcelain doll. Items that had been there all my life. Well, they also had a couple pieces of jewelry that hadn’t been there before, but one of the pieces I recognized as one of her favorites that she wore all the time. They weren’t gifts from Grandpa.

“See, Grace?” Dad said. “There’s nothing there! Those are keepsakes you’ve had for years, and this jewelry – you put it there yourself! This ring –” he grabbed the gold and green ring off the shelf. “You kept that. We asked if you wanted to get rid of it last year when you were clearing out John’s stuff, and you said no. Do you see that? There’s nothing there!”

“What do you mean? Can’t you see?” she asked, confused and hurt. “The only things you’ve seen before are the tea pot and the doll. All the rest, John gave to me throughout the past year. He stopped bringing them every night, but once a week or once a month, he’ll give me something. I have more in the bedroom, and you can see throughout the house where I’ve added little trinkets. I swear I’m going to run out of room to put them! The house is starting to look cluttered!”

By now, Mom had tears in her eyes. “The house doesn’t look any different, Mom. You haven’t gotten rid of anything, and you haven’t added anything. Just these useless boxes.”

“You’re joking!” she exclaimed in that shocked little voice. “Aren’t you? You must be joking.” Mom and Dad just stared at her. She turned to me. “Eric? You see them, don’t you?” I shook my head. She glared at my parents. “You told him to say that, didn’t you? You can’t accept something so extraordinary. You’ll go to any length to deny it – even making me out to be insane!”

“You know we wouldn’t do that!” Mom wept.

“Until last week, I didn’t believe you would cut me off from seeing my grandson, but you almost did that.”

“We’re trying to do what’s best for everyone,” Dad tried reasoning.

What’s best, what’s best? I’m tired of hearing what you think is best. I’m not even seventy yet, and you’re acting as if I’ve gone senile! Well, it stops now. What do you see, Eric? Go on, tell the truth; don’t be afraid.”

I looked from Grandma, to my parents, to the cabinet and back. She looked different. Her eyes were wild, their confident shine lost like a good picture under scribbles. “I see a teapot, salt shakers, a doll, a couple rings, and necklaces.” There was that crushed expression again. “Maybe he doesn’t want us to see them,” I offered.

She considered. “Maybe you’re right. I don’t know why that would be the case, but let’s see ...” She reached inside. Her hands folded around the air, and she handed me an object only she could see. I held out my hands.

“Be careful not to drop this,” she cautioned. My hands mimicked hers, folding around something that wasn’t there. “You’re holding it, so you must feel it. Do you know what it is?”

Again, I had to shake my head.

“Eric, put your hands down,” Dad scolded. “Don’t encourage her.”

“Do you feel it?” Grandma pressed. “It’s a small statue of an angel.”

“It feels like air,” I admitted. But still, I couldn’t bear to drop my hands. Whatever she saw she would see hit the floor, and it would upset her – possibly more than our denials. So I extended my arms, without moving my hands, and returned the statue.

Dad turned to Mom. “Do you want me to take him home?”

“No, don’t go yet,” Grandma protested.

“There’s no need for Eric to be here anymore,” he said. “And I don’t think he should see what happens next.”

I wanted to speak up and say, No, I want to stay. But I was scared. I didn’t like seeing Grandma this way. Before anyone could reply, there was a knock at the door and two men in white coats entered without waiting for an invitation.

“I see we’re a little early,” the man in front apologized. “Do you need more time, or are you ready now?”

“I’m not going with you,” Grandma snapped.

“Mom ...”

“I don’t come into your house and make you think you’ve gone insane. I don’t go behind your back and ask a couple of White Coats to lock you up. Honestly, Ellen, I’m your mother. How could you do this to me?”

The first man spoke up. “Now, it’s going to be fine, Grace. We’re not locking you up. You’re just going to be staying with us a couple days. We’re here to help, that’s all.”

“You can help by getting out of my house, that’s what you can do.”

Dad glanced at Mom. “Get him out of here,” he ordered softly. She placed her hands on my shoulders and guided me past the men. Grandma reached out.

“No! Eric –”

The last thing I saw in the house was Dad and the men moving in to restrain her, and her expression, betrayed and desperate. The last thing I heard was her screaming, “No! Get your hands off me! You can’t take me out of my house! You can’t take me from John! Please! Don’t separate me from my treasures!”

Mom pushed me towards the car faster, to the point where I had to run. Once inside, I thought she was going to speed away like in a movie, but instead she buried her face in her hands and sobbed. I did, too. Outside the house, the last I saw of Grandma was her being dragged out by the White Coats and forced into an ambulance, struggling the whole way. Dad watched from her doorway until they drove off. Then he shut the door and made his way to us, stroking Mom’s hair as he took his place in the car.

“Want me to drive?”

She wiped her eyes. “No, I’m okay.” She started the engine and backed up.

“Sorry you had to see that, Eric,” Dad said. “We hadn’t intended you to. She’ll be all right. They’ll take good care of her. They’ll help her get better.”

But if she could see something we couldn’t, I thought, doesn’t that make us blind? Shouldn’t we be the ones getting help?

It was cruel. And frightening. It seemed so wrong. And yet ... it didn’t. She looked crazy. And I wasn’t blind. I saw nothing on those shelves.

Still, I couldn’t give up. I prayed that night that I would see Grandpa, that Mom and Dad would see him, that we could get Grandma back. I never did see either of my grandparents again. But I’d be lying if I said I gave up hope. For months after, I continued to pray for that visit. I began waking up at midnight to wait for him. Even today, though I’m old enough to know those kinds of miracles don’t happen, I had never known Grandma to be wrong about anything else. So if you find me sitting up in the middle of the night, at least now you’ll know why. And I’d also be lying if I said that once in a while, I didn’t start to see a figure ... maybe the shape of a man ... vanish from the shadows as I turned to stare at him.