Gramma’s house was the last place I wanted to be yet the only place I could go. The summer before my final year of high school would be sent hours away from my friends looking after Gramma Trudy and I had no say in the matter.
Don’t get me wrong, Gramma Trudy was my favourite of all gramma’s, actually the person in my family, extended and immediate, that I loved the most but things were different now. I was 16 and in love with Charlie. With just days left of grade 11 and a week left before my escape to solitary I filled my remaining pages of each scribbler with “Jesse loves Charlie”. Mindlessly thinking about all I would miss while the teachers rambled on about hypothesis and isosceles, trying to prepare us for the next grade while knowing only the keeners would be paying attention.
The only class I really cared about was English anyway. Before Charlie, Mr Fraser was the hottest but now he was just ok, but he was a good teacher and it was a subject I loved. Writing was something I was always interested in so when he regularly challenged me with writing different genres I took him up on it. Today was my final class with him and he wanted my poem.
I wrote it, of course, always ensuring I did whatever he assigned, and was a bit embarrassed that it focused mostly on my angst of having to spend the summer with my grandmother, away from my boyfriend and friends. He asked for me to stay back after class which was fine as it was the end of day anyway and I knew Charlie would be cleaning out his locker.
“Thanks for staying back,” Mr Fraser said as he approached. “While you were all reading each other’s last assignment I briefly read your poem but I want you to read it out loud to me. Are you ok with that?”
“Now?” I wasn’t ok with that but wasn’t about to tell him my dozen excuses. It was the last time I’d see him, at least for a while, and he took so much interest in me through the year I thought I owed him. Besides, Charlie wasn’t there yet. “I guess so.”
I surprised myself by tearing up in parts, particularly the stanzas about losing my grandfather and how my grandmother was now quickly fading. It put things into better perspective for me. I’d have more summers with Charlie and not many more days with Gramma, not clear ones anyway. While it felt like a burden to be the one to stay with her and keep her house tidy, it would be nice to have the time alone with her and learn more about her past.
Keeping the tears under my eyelids I thanked him for encouraging me all year, especially now. He knew what I meant and offered to continue reading my work throughout the next year, even if he wasn’t my teacher. He also gifted me a journal and suggested I write in it daily while away. I promised I would and left him alone in the classroom.
Surprised to not see Charlie waiting for me I started the trek to his locker but noticed he wasn’t there either. His friend Jack was there with his girlfriend so I asked if he knew where Charlie was.
“He said he was going home. Thought you had already left.”
I thought that was unusual but gathered my things and started the short walk to his place. He was on the front step waiting. “Sorry, Charlie, I had to talk to Mr Fraser for a bit. I thought you were going to wait.”
“I did but when I didn’t see you I came home. Are you going to the party with me tonight?”
“Oh shoot, I totally forgot. I promised to babysit Lucy and thought you’d stay with me. She goes to bed at 7 and my parents won’t be home until late.”
“I told Jack I was going to the party. I thought we agreed.”
He was trying to pick a fight with me. Ever since I was committed to going to Gramma’s for the summer he started arguments about the smallest of things. I didn’t want to contribute so shrugged it off.
“Let’s hang out tomorrow then. My day is clear. Maybe a movie? A walk?”
“I’ll call you when I get up. Have fun babysitting.” He got up and went inside without even a kiss. I knew he was upset but couldn’t get into that now, I had to get home.
I used the babysitting time to pack and was ready for my departure, ensuring my journal was left on top for easy access. When lunch time passed and Charlie didn’t call I decided to go to his place. It was really the last day we had to hang out so I didn’t want to wait. Unfortunately his father told me he left hours before, said he was helping a friend paint a house. Pretending I knew and just forgot, I held back the tears until I got to my bedroom.
I didn’t see anyone else that day or the next and on the last day of school Charlie came to give me a hug and tell me to have a good trip. I was leaving right after school, my bags already in the car. “What happened to you on Saturday? I thought you were going to call.”
“Yeah, well, I thought we were going to the party together and spending the summer together. With you gone I thought I’d get a job and it started on the weekend.”
“Will you still be able to come up in August for the weekend?”
“We’ll see,” he said and went to class.
I was miserable for weeks. Happy to be done school but missing Charlie and Gramma’s house was so big it made being lonely even more real. I wrote every day. First a letter to Charlie and then an entry in my journal. Then I had work to do.
Getting Gramma up and dressed then making breakfast. She didn’t have much so I had to be creative which did cause a delightful distraction. One day when she was clearer she encouraged me to take her grocery shopping. My parents gave her a bit of money to help, knowing how much I ate, so she wanted to have me go and get foods I liked. It would get us both out of the house but it was hard work as I had to keep an eye on her while trying to find my way around the strange store.
We made it and when we got home she announced she needed a rest. Instead of helping her up the stairs to her bed she agreed to lay on the couch. I had to get the groceries away and opened the door to the pantry soon after I heard her snore.
In the pantry I noticed a lot of old expired foods and some jars with no labels on them at all. Deciding it needed to be cleaned before the new stuff shelved I hauled over the garbage bin and quietly started to rid the pantry of what I deemed to be bad.
Moving a jar of some orange concoction I noticed hinges behind it. “That’s weird,” I whispered to myself. The pantry ended on the back wall, there was no reason for a door or window there. I cleaned off the rest of the shelf, throwing some items out and moving the rest, to discover a small door, just the right height for me crouch through. It was apparent it wasn’t used for years if not decades and when it creaked I froze.
Waiting until I heard Gramma snore again, I bent to look through and saw sunshine. Remembering that it was raining when we went to the store and that it was supposed to be overcast all day I was puzzled. I went to look in on Gramma but quickly returned and walked through the door, feeling summer sun beating down on me instantly.
I was transported to what could only be a greenhouse with thriving plants, a fountain and such fresh air I was awe struck. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this? Why didn’t I see it from the outside?
I knew I had to write about it and ask Gramma about it when she woke up but it was so weird I didn’t know how. I also knew I needed to finish putting away the groceries before it was time for supper. Regretfully I closed the door, finished tidying up and took the garbage out to the curb. Walking back towards the house I looked around to where the pantry ended and just saw a brick wall. Maybe I was confused but there was no time to worry about it, I saw Gramma struggling to get up through the kitchen window.
Going back inside I rushed to help Gramma to her feet and finally to the kitchen table. “Oh dear, I needed that. What’s for supper?”
Like me, she was always hungry so I started putting together a meal trying to figure out how to ask about that other room. “You’re so quiet, Jesse. Everything ok?”
“Umm.. yeah, sorry Gramma. I guess I’m just tired and confused.”
“Aren’t we all, dear? Anything I can help you with?”
As I sat a pot of water on the stove to boil I replied “Well, actually, I was putting things away in your pantry and I…”
“Oh my, thank you. I haven’t been in there for years.” She had to have been as amongst the expired food there was new boxes, too, but I wouldn’t argue.
“Yeah, well, I noticed something weird on the back wall. There was a door…”
“Oh goodness. Yes, that’s the door for our community garden. The neighbour, Bruce, uses that and keeps me fed sometimes.”
“But Gramma, I don’t see it from the outside of your house. It’s glorious but doesn’t exist and yet, I was in it. I saw the fountain and the plants. Felt the sun and it’s so rainy and cool out.”
“What’s for supper, dear?”
Her clarity was over and it wouldn’t do me anymore good to pry. “Spaghetti, Gramma, made with macaroni noodles just like you like.”
“Oh goodie. I’ll go wash up.”
Only she didn’t go to the washroom, she went into the pantry instead. It took me another moment as I needed to get the boiling water off the stove before I could follow her. Only she wasn’t in the pantry and the inside door was opened. Walking through I saw her sitting on the bench with a man I recognized but couldn’t be there.
“Grampa?” I said just before I fainted.