Unraveling History

Submitted into Contest #31 in response to: Write a short story about someone tending to their garden.... view prompt



"Please call Steven in,"  my mom says to me, with a tired tone. “He's been out there for a while now.”

“Yes, please do. I don’t want him digging up my garden.” my Grandma adds. “That garden has been around since your mom was a little girl. Actually, I think it has been here since your Grandpa and I bought this house and moved in.” she adds, chuckling a bit. A bit of a smile on her face and a small twinkle filling her eyes.

Whenever Grandma talks about Grandpa, she smiles. Like he's sitting right beside her, laughing along with whatever she said. I never met him, but whenever we visit Grandma, she tells Steven and I long, wonderful stories about the past. Making sure to include as much detail, as she can remember.

“Wow. How does it stay looking so fresh, all these years?” I ask.

My mom reaches out and touches Grandma’s knee, smiling just as wide and beautiful as Grandma. Mom looks like a younger version of Grandma, except for a single blonde streak, running through her thick brown hair.

“Lots of care, and taking care of.”

“Very true Sarah, very true. Plus, Grandpa loved working on it. He’d tend to it, almost every few days.” Grandma says to Mom.

I nod and go outside, into Grandma’s backyard. Steven is digging in one corner. I see the dirt on his shirt and as I walk closer, I can see that his fingernails are filled with dirt. Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.

“Hey Marley! You wanna dig with me? Maybe we’ll find some worms!” Steven says, handing me a shovel. A huge smile plastered on his face.

Holding it by the edge, I put it down. “No thanks,” his smile shrinks. “Mom wants you to come in,” I point to the kitchen window that overlooks the backyard. Just as I thought, my mom is watching us. When she catches my eye, she waves me in.

“Ok fine,” he grumbles. Steven has a hobby for dirt and worms. A gross, disgusting, distasteful hobby. I despise dirt. Or anything messy.

I offer my hand, and he takes it. For a seven year old, he's pretty heavy. I feel the wet, spring dirt, as he hoists himself up. Using my hand and arm as a rail. Wonderful.


“No more playing in the dirt,” my mom says, to Steven. She sees his shoulders sulk. “At least not for today, ok?”

My mom lets us explore our interests. Unlike my old friend Stacy’s mom. Apparently Stacy has to finish her homework, then practice math, science, spelling and play trombone! “It sucks! I literally have no free time!” She always tells me.

“Fine,” Steven whines, bringing me back to the present.

Why am I still here anyways? “Can I go now?” I say, matching Steven’s tone.

“Yes,” my mom replies. Then adds, “But please work in the garden today, before six o’clock. It looks a little dry.”

“Ok,” I nod. 


“Ok, bye.” pause. “So yeah, maybe later this week,” another pause. “Yeah, got it. Bye,”

“Who was that?” my mom asks, folding a piece of laundry.

“Stephanie,” I say. Putting the phone on a nearby stool.

“Ok, maybe her mom and I can arrange something,”

“It's ok,” I say, finishing up my pile of laundry. “I’m done,” I add.

“Please go do the garden,” she says. Then points to the clock, that shows its 5:43.

“That's where I was going to go,” I lie. No I wasn’t.


I can tell she doesn’t believe me either.


I head outside in my purple raincoat and matching rain boots. The earthy, spring dirt smell, fills my lungs. I can hear and feel the squish, squish, under my boots. Some of the water from the jug I am carrying, falls out and drips onto the grass.

I run over to the spot, where I left Steven’s shovel, and grabbed one of those fork tools, used for digging. Balancing the gardening tools, I look over to the garden, on the other side of the back yard. Yay, more running. Why in the world is Grandma’s backyard so big? 

I start tending to the marigolds, then the roses. Yelping a bit, when one of the thorns grazes my fingers. I should have worn gardening gloves.

“How's it going?” my mom calls from the window.

How long has she been there for? 

“Going great,” I call out. “Ouch,” I say, another thorn. Yanking my bare hand away.

She looks worried, so I give two thumbs up. She returns the gesture. I see her head back into the kitchen, and  I get back to the roses, careful to avoid any more thorns. 

I finish the roses up, and start to move to the next plant, some kind of purple flower, when I realize the dirt around one of the rose stems, looks very dry. I must have missed a spot.

“You want to be nice and fresh, just like the other rose plants, right?” I say to the rose petals. Mom says plants need love too, and talking to them might help them grow. Sounds stupid I know, but hey, the roses are looking pretty good today, so somethings working!

As I am turning up the soil and adding some water to the root of the stem, my gardening tool that looks like a fork snags against something. 

I pull gently, just in case it's a root. 

Nothing. This has got to be one thick root.

I pull, again (more like a tug). This time with both hands.

“What… is... going… on?” I wonder aloud, with each breath. I probably look so weird, from the kitchen window. 

Finally the tool is free. On the edge of one of the prongs, is some kind of yarn. Inspecting it a little closer, I see it is not a string of yarn, but some kind of vine. It kind of looks like a thread.

Using my fingertips, I pick at the thick, brown thread, trying to get it off the hook. I follow the thread, feeling more wet dirt on m y fingers. Great, just great. Maybe I should get Steven to do this. Nah, he would probably rip it.

Eventually, the long thread stops. I pull on it feeling a slight tug, of whatever is on the other side. So cool.

I check my watch. Quarter past six. Ok, I got time before dinner.

I pull slightly harder, and end up pulling the thread out, along with a brown plastic rectangle. I wipe the dirt and dead roots off the rectangle. 

“Oh my gosh,” I breathe.

In my hands, is an envelope, placed carefully in some kind of plastic cover. I flip it over, careful not to mess anything up. 

On the weathered old envelope, is thin writing. “To My Beautiful May,” I read aloud, whispering each word, like if I say it loud enough, the envelope will disintegrate. 

May. That's my Grandma's name.


I run in the house, still remembering to take off my boots and whip my coat off. Holding the envelope, still in the plastic cover and still attached to the thick thread.

I speed past Steven, who's drawing a mud pie with dark brown crayons, past my dad who’s reading last week's paper, past my mom who’s watching some show on Grandmas old TV. 

She sees me running, and comes out of the room. “Marley, slow down. What’s wrong.”

“Come,” is all I manage to say.

I find Grandma on her bed, reading an old book. I come in without knocking.

“You… need… to… read… this...” I say, gasping. How fast did I run? I hand her the envelope.

My mom comes into the room. “Are you okay? Is everything ok?” she asks.

“Fine, we're all fine,” I say, assuring her. I sit beside Grandma on the bed. 

Mom pulls a chair from the corner and sits, eyes glued to the envelope.

I look at my Grandma. For once, she isn’t smiling, she has no emotion on her face. She’s blank.

“Grandma, are you okay?” I ask hesitantly. Mom and I share a look.

“I… I’m fine,” she says.

“Do you want us to leave?” my Mom asks, already getting up.

“No, no. Don’t leave.” Grandma pat's Mom’s knee.

“This,” she starts. Holding the envelope delicately. “This is your Grandpa’s hand writing. Whenever he wrote my name on cards, presents and other envelopes he would send from the hospital, he would write; to my beautiful May.”

“That's so sweet,” my Mom says.

“So... this is from him?” I say, gesturing towards the envelope.

“Yes, no one else called me that,” Grandma replies.

“Are you gonna open it?” I wonder. 

“Yes, yes. I guess we should.” She takes the plastic slip cover off the envelope, and sets it aside on the bed.

Mom leans in closer. Then she scoots her chair closer up. Guess I am not the only one who wants to see what's inside!

Grandma carefully opens the envelope. “It's a letter... from John.” she says. “John’s your Grandpa.” 

I nod.

She pulls out an old cream coloured paper out of the envelope, that is folded into thirds.

So cool! I think excitedly. It's just like one of my mystery books!

Unfolding the paper, very slowly, Grandma reads the words. Not even a whisper slips out of her mouth.

My mom and I wait patiently. But I can see how anxious she is, through her dark brown eyes.

I start to wonder if we should leave and let Grandma be by herself, when Grandma looks up. She stares at the ceiling, then at the old black and white photo of her and Grandpa at the carnival fair. She smiles.

One minute passes. Two minutes. My mom looks tired.

“This letter… is from John,” she finally says. “He wrote this a few months before he died. Marley, you know that Grandpa died from a disease, right?”

“That was going around the hospital. Infecting most of the nurses and other workers.” I say, nodding.

“Well, Grandpa knew about the risk. He kept working, and helping the sick patients. Those sick patients had the disease Grandpa died from.” She pauses.

I realize Mom is still here and look at her. 

She's staring intently at the letter, still in Grandma’s hands.

So far, I know all this. So does Mom. But, I have always felt there is more. More to the story of Grandpa’s death. More to our family’s history. More to Grandpa.

“For years, I thought I knew the story. I had thought Grandpa went into the hospital, worked with the employees, and took care of the patients. Then one day, he caught the disease from one of the patients. It stayed dormant in his body and he got sick a few weeks later and passed away.” Grandma explains. The tiniest tear escapes her eye. She doesn’t wipe it.

I know this. Is that not what happened? Is there more? Is Grandpa still alive? Other scenarios and endings fill my head. I’m nervous and confused and excited, all at once. Excited to find out what happened. Like one of my mystery books is being played out in front of me.

“This letter explains this. Grandpa also says that he,” she checks the letter.

“That he went to the hospital one day, aware of the disease in his body, and went into the lab section. He stole some experimental vaccines and gave himself one, thinking it would cure him or at least help. The vaccine was supposed to help with the disease he had. But, the vaccine was a prototype.” She looks at my mom.

She’s silent. I think scenarios are running through her head too. Mom is as blank looking, as Grandma.

“Is… is that what killed… killed him?” Mom hesitantly asks. 

I can hear the worry in her voice. I wonder if she's thinking of the lost time she could have had with him. After all, that is her father. I don’t know what I would think, if I was her.

“Yes. Well, in the letter he wrote, ‘Sadly, I feel I may pass because of my decisions. I had no intent of trying to commit my own death. I want to tell you this, to tell our beautiful Sarah  and her husband Oliver, to tell our grandchildren; Marley and little Steven, to tell everyone what I have done and what may become of me. Please believe me.’ ” Grandma reads. Only once do I think I hear her voice crack.

“And that's what ended up happening.” Mom says, dumbfounded.

Grandma nods.

I don’t know what to think. Grandpa was never really good with goodbyes. He was alive when I was younger. Maybe around when I was seven, and Steven being two. 

Suddenly, all my memories of Grandpa and I are flooded into my brain. Images flash through my mind. Grandpa and I smiling at the carnival fair, Grandpa and I laughing at one of my jokes, Grandpa crying when Mom got sick and kept vomiting, Grandpa wrapping his arms around me when I couldn’t sleep, me asking Grandpa for advice. 

My eyes tear up. I start wishing we had talked about Grandpa more.

“It's okay, it's okay.” Grandma whispers, wrapping her arms around me. 

I look up through glassy eyes and see Grandma and Mom are also teared up. Guess we all weren’t expecting this.

“It's okay. It's okay.” she keeps saying.

I nestle my head in Grandma’s shoulder. Just as mom leans and wraps her arms around us.

We stay like that for a while. My head nestled in Grandma’s shoulder, Grandma leaning on Mom and Mom wrapping her arms around us both.

It’s slightly uncomfortable, but it's warm, it’s safe and it’s protecting. Somehow, I feel like Grandpa’s watching us from above, right now. Probably smiling, with tears in his eyes. Who knew one little thread would bring us closer?

March 07, 2020 04:27

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