Grandma was a huge Duke Ellington fan. That’s why instead of having us call her Jasmine, she was Grandma Jaz.
For the longest time, she had her own sweet shop over at the mall. She’d bring me there every day and have us taste her newest additions. Every day we’d try out new types of caramel, chocolate, and candy. Brook wasn’t born then.
Dad, who was a dentist, was mildly frustrated with his mother, but never stopped me from being with her in the shop. In fact, he came along, making sure that I would take care of my teeth.
Life was great. Grandma would come to our house sometimes and sing me some of her favorite jazz songs, her turquoise glasses glinting in excitement. I loved every moment of it.
Grandpa, her husband, had passed away as a middle-aged man, and I had heard about how much that had hurt both Grandma Jaz and Dad, but I wasn’t alive at that time.
After his death, she had lived with her younger son, my uncle Bill, for a very long time. When Brook was born, Grandma moved into our house to help us take care of her. She’s lived with us ever since. I was six then, so for more than half of my life she was like a third parent to me.
As the years passed by, she started to need a walking stick, and then a wheelchair. Her health was getting worse too, so she had to take her pills twice a day. Sometimes we felt that she was slowly drifting away, slipping into her own world. Fading. Dad said it was normal, that things such as this happened in old age.
It was only a few days ago when she told me the story that would change my life.
She had me sit beside her on her bed and get comfy in the covers. I remember her telling me to call my sister. I said it’d be nice if she wasn’t there for that day since I was sick of her endless teasing, but Grandma Jaz insisted anyway.
Once Brook had joined us on the bed, Grandma began the story with her usual whisper. “Once upon a time, there was a kid. He’d go every day to a cotton candy shop next to his house. The owner there was a very nice old man. The boy was friends with the man for as long as he could remember. He’d tell the tales of his day to him every time he visited, even if sometimes news wasn’t always great.”
She coughed and then continued. “One day, while he was driving down the road, the old man bumped against another car and got caught in a nasty accident. This took place very close to the little child’s home. When the ambulances arrived, he heard the loud wailing of sirens. Of course, he didn’t know whose accident it was, until later that evening.”
“Oh, man this story sucks! Did the old man just die?” Brook interrupted.
“Wait for her to finish, okay? But did he, though?” I added.
“You’ll see.” Granda Jaz whispered, and then continued on with her story. “When he went to the cotton candy-store, a sign on it read: “closed.” He came home and told his mother, who was also good friends with the man. Both knew that he would never close so suddenly. The mother called the man’s daughter, to ask if he was okay. By this time the boy was starting to contemplate what could have happened. He did hear those sirens, now didn’t he? His fears came true when his mother told him that the old man was at the hospital. The entire family rushed there, devastated to see their neighbor on a stretcher, tubes stuck into his nostrils, blood soaking his bandages. He was unconscious.”
Brook shifted her position to get closer to Grandma. “So he’s dead?”
“What? No, not yet. His heart was still beating, but very slowly. Then it made a final stretch as if yearning to hold on to life one last time, and then faded into silence. The whole room was swept with a force. Not darkness, no, it was definitely not darkness. . . . It was peace. In silence, a few tears on everyone’s cheeks, the people in the room felt peace. Everything was silent for a while.”
Grandma sighed. “That was the old man’s dying gift to the world. Peace. But then everything rushed again. Doctors, cries of heartbreak. But no one would ever forget that moment, especially not the boy, as it would change his life forever. Sometimes, when he would be completely alone, he could feel the peace. He could feel the old man.”
“The end?” I asked, shaken by the sad, quick tale.
“But you said he wouldn’t die!” Brook moaned.
“I never said that. I only told you to wait. But that’s not the point. I want you to always remember, no matter when or how someone dies, they will be with you forever.”
I shrugged. “That kinda makes sense.”
Grandma Jaz smiled. “That’s okay.”
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
The next morning, I was awoken by horrible nightmares. It was about 5:40 am. I stretched once and then attempted to float into wonderful dreams of happiness and chocolate. I was unsuccessful.
Somehow, I managed to spend another hour sulking in the comforter, too tired to get up, and too awake to fall back asleep. What was my nightmare, anyway? I couldn’t remember.
At approximately 7:00, I got up and decided I wasn’t going to let a Friday go this way. I quickly brushed my teeth, took a hot shower to wake myself up, and rushed downstairs at top speed. Because it was summer, I had no school today.
“Morning! You sure are up early.” Mom greeted, looking up from her phone, as I took a seat at the breakfast table. Dad was in the office working, and Grandma Jaz and Brook were still asleep.
“Yeah. I couldn’t go back to sleep.”
“Aww, that’s okay. Luckily, I made pancakes today!”
I gasped. “Wait. Really? Banana?”
As I sat to eat the delicious heap of yum, once I had arranged it, the memory of yesterday's story floated into my mind. It sure was strange.
I shrugged it off as I got ready for the day’s activities.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
It had been six days since the last story. Grandma had been really sick the past few days. She was having a really bad fever and felt really hot. She even joked that she hoped she looked hot, something she wouldn’t normally say.
It happened when I was watching TV in the living room. Half-past four. A pained cry came from upstairs. It was Mom.
Panic struck me as I froze in place. Then I got to my senses and rushed to Grandma’s room. Dad came soon after, and so did Brook.
When I saw Grandma peacefully sleeping on her bed, Mom beside her, I didn’t know what to think. Had Mom seen a mouse? A cockroach? Something else?
Then everything fell in place. I burst into tears when I realized what had happened. I fell to the floor as dizziness shook me. The whole world was gone. I didn’t want to think about it, but
Grandma Jaz was gone.
The only thought in my mind was, No. Not yet. We didn’t say goodbye.
That, plus a small nagging. One that I tried to ignore, but couldn’t. I thought about how she said everything would be alright. It wasn’t. She said I’d feel peace. All I felt was the pain.
She betrayed me.
I said nothing as I rushed out, into my room, and on the bed. I cried. For hours, maybe days, maybe a lifetime. I didn’t know. I didn’t care.
What would I do now? How did it happen?
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
My eyes were dry at the funeral.
Why? I asked myself as Dad gave his speech in remembrance to Grandma. Brook was standing beside me, Mom in front.
I’ll never see her again. I thought. No more stories or Jazz or candy.
Why were we so powerless in such things? Why couldn’t we bring her back? I kept telling myself that that’s not how it worked, that it happens to everyone, but that just made me feel worse.
I didn’t remember much. Only the gleam of the coffin. The burial. The soft crying.
I didn’t know why I felt angry.
After the funeral, my family had a small picnic under a tree at the park. I felt a little bit more positive in the serene, calm environment.
“Wow. The clouds look like cotton!” Brook murmured.
The sky was streaked with clouds of all the hues: orange, blue, pink, purple… The sky itself transcended from a calm midnight blue to blazing orange. It was a beautiful sight. How could something we looked at everyday look so new and different all of a sudden?
Then I realized. It was as if Grandma Jaz’s bright and spunky spirit had seeped into the heavens and turned the sky into a rainbow of colors.
Her story. . . this was her gift to the world. I kept that thought in my mind, She was still here. She’d always be.
“Pink cotton…” Brook murmured, and after a moment of thought, she asked, “Mom, what if the clouds were made of cotton candy?”
Mom was sound asleep. How could she be asleep? Then yawned. I was tired as well, but the other emotions were stronger.
I managed a small grin. “Cotton candy? That’d be absurd. You know clouds are made of water molec---”
She interrupted me again. “No, but what if they were. Would we eat them, or would we just look at them and admire their beauty?”
I thought about this for a while. If we would have planes, wouldn’t they just get stuck in the clouds? Passenger airplanes wouldn’t exist. Oh, wouldn’t there be any rain!? I was right. This was an absurd question.
Then I realized what Brook meant. She didn’t mean it literally. I thought of everything we had faced. Without Grandma Jaz, I didn’t know where I would have been. She was our own cloud of cotton candy. If the world was full of people like her…
I could almost hear the soft jazz music in the air.
I smiled. “If the clouds were cotton candy, the world would be a much sweeter place, wouldn’t it?”