Grandpa Lied to Us
He’d tell us stories about ghosts in the attic. He said we’d be ghosts in the attic, too, someday, and that he was going up there all the time to make sure everything would be ready for all of us. Mom would get nervous whenever he told us these stories.
She chased us out of the house and away from grandpa’s parlor talk. We’d been hoping for a magic trick. So we settled for fireflies. If you stand still, they fly all through the air around you. If you squish them, they leave a smudge that glows in the dark.
Dad and Uncle were pointing at the roof. They were saying words, making sounds, stepping all around.
“Rain drip guard?”
“Well, that’s that, then.”
“That’s that, then.”
Then they walked off to point at something else and we kept on right there, playing with the bugs, jumping through the air. There was a purple skyline to our left and a dark one to our right. The earth underneath drank in the water from the storm after the draught.
Screen door slap, and grandpa was standing right there at the edge of the porch, like he might let himself drop into a swimming pool one last time. He was motioning with his left hand—I remember that distinctly—motioning with a slow wave through the heat and mouthing to us, “Viens-lá, les oliphants!”
Screen door slap. Mom stood there as a shadow against the Thanksgiving warmth.
“Will you all come inside for dessert?”
“Oh!” grandpa said, and we ran all the way to the porch and up the stairs.
His eyes shimmered like the puddles we jumped in. I understood.
“Dad, they won’t sleep tonight.”
“Great! More for me. That’s the true meaning of Thanksgiving, am I right?”
Later, grandpa was dozing in his chair in front of the big game. So we woke him up and asked him our big question.
“You said it’s all good down there. But the attic is up there.”
He said, “Up and down, good and bad, here and there, it’s all the same.”
Grandpa said funny things.
Mom and Dad would take us to the community center Wednesday nights. It was a serious adult class, but they would let us join in the Yoga. It was fun. There were flags from lots of countries on the walls and pictures of kickboxers fighting each other. They had all sorts of fighting things, like big red pads and punching bags that we could play with.
We were really good at sitting straight and doing Darth Vader breathing. The teacher said we had to breathe that way. He was really nice and funny and always came to play with us and Jeremy when the class was over. He had long, brown, curly hair and a bushy beard. He could twist himself up like a pretzel.
I think we liked him best because he talked to us like he talked to the other grown-ups and I think that’s fair. He’d let us do grown up things whenever we wanted. He helped us to stand like a mountain and like a tree. He taught us to be a warrior one, a warrior two, and a warrior three. But he wasn’t like Mr. Bakker at school. If we got tired or bored, or if it was too hard, he wouldn’t get mad if we went to the back and made spaceships.
I think that was our favorite part of it. Mom and Dad and all the other adults were very quiet, very concentrated. They made bridges and could even stand on their head or almost float when they were sitting down.
We didn’t like to do Savasana. That’s when everyone lies down on the ground and sleeps. Our hands and legs were too excited to sleep. There was a vending machine near where we would build our spaceships. It buzzed the whole time. It was louder when they were doing Savasana. Jeremy sometimes wanted to make us laugh because he was making faces. But we knew we had to play quietly because it was important to them and it’s good to do things because they are important to someone you care about.
After they woke up and sat really quiet, they made a special sound. It was like a song sung low. It made the air ripple, like when you drop a rock from the bridge. It sounded like the sounds Dad and Uncle make.
Adults are like oliphants, they just do things in adult ways. The teacher and Dad walked around and pointed at things we made.
“Stabilizers are all out of whack.”
“Engaging mindfulness drive and glutes to compensate… Now.”
“Oh… Ho, ho, ho, ho…”
The teacher sounded like Darth Vader, the bad guy, but laughing.
They laughed a lot. That made us laugh a lot, too.
But we were surprised when we saw Mom and Dad’s teacher on a cartoon. I don’t remember which one it was. We showed it to Mom. At first, she didn’t believe us. But she saw him. He had long hair, a bushy, curly, brown beard, and he could fold himself into a pretzel and fight an octopus.
“Oh my God, honey, you’ve got to see this!” She called Dad to come and sit with us. He also laughed a lot. We were sitting like we were all on each other’s laps and laughing at Mom’s phone.
But we had to philosophize about what we saw. That’s what Mr. Bakker taught us to do at school. How could Mom and Dad’s teacher be in a cartoon? We had seen that real people could be on real people videos. But real people can’t be cartoons.
“Maybe it’s just a cartoon that looks like him.”
“Maybe adults can become cartoons.”
“When do they become cartoons? We never see them do that.”
“He was on Mom’s phone! Maybe they become a cartoon when they do Savasana. We can’t become cartoons because we’re too little, so we play make-believe.”
We had to bury grandpa. We all knew around then that it was going to happen, eventually, at some point, sooner than later. Mom and Dad knew more than us. But they were still very sad. Mom had a dark cloud that followed her around. It was good that she stayed in her room. That’s what she told us to do when we acted out. That was always good for us.
We went into a big, white room made out of stone. It was a special place that felt like the Yoga classes, but there was no kickboxing and there weren’t any trophies. It smelled fresh. It wasn’t salty dog smell.
Everything was as it was in this place. Sparks rose from inside a big rectangle in the ground that they lowered grandpa down into.
Everyone was silent. Everything was absolutely silent. I understood: everyone is sad and that’s why the adults were doing Savasana. I joined them.
“He said he was going up.”
“To the attic. But he went down.”
“I dunno. His brother said it was fine.”
“No. He lied.”
“Hey. Promise me something?”
“Come and visit me like Jolly Ol’ Chuck if you go first?”
“Grandpa lied to us.”