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Grandemaman

“Come, sit with me and talk,” I wish my Grandemaman would say.

But she sits silently on the beach house porch, sipping on coffee and staring out across Narragansett Bay toward Galilee. The seagulls soar and dive above her, anxious to get at the leftover dinner of crab legs and steamers strewn across the nearby patio table.

She takes a deep puff of her cigarette, exhales, her smoke mingling with the thick fog that greets us nearly every morning here.

“It will burn off,” the aunts say to the teenagers who are anxious for tans. And it almost always does.

The faded cushion Grandemaman sits on is plump with humidity and sand. For as long as I can remember, it’s been a fixture on the beach house porch.

My Grandemaman lost a baby girl, too; more than fifty years ago.

“Crib death,” my mom told me once. “Nobody knows what happened and we never really spoke about it.”

The haunting tones of the buoy bells alert the approaching ships to the shallow water at the entrance to our harbor.

I wonder what it must be like for her to have lost a child and not be able to talk about it. How painful it must have been to stuff down the sadness and the fear and the guilt that goes along with losing a baby.

Still unaware of my presence, Grandemaman reaches underneath the towel that covers her newly dyed hair and scratches. She used to scratch my head as I fell asleep up in the attic of the beach house; the soothing sound of her thin nails through my hair put me to sleep almost immediately.

She hasn’t spoken to me about Sophia.

“She just can’t do it,” my aunts told me. “It’s too painful for her. They just didn’t talk about those things back then.”

A small part of me is angry that she has retreated completely during the worst time in my life. But a bigger part of me forgives her; because I don’t know what it would be like if I couldn’t talk about Sophia; if I had to stifle my screams and hide my tears. If I had to endure my loss in silence. I don’t know what kind of person I would be in 50 years.

All I know is that I ache to sit along side her now, on that plump cushion, staring out at the sea.

Sophia’s 5th Birthday

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer plays on the downstairs TV and Jingle Bells chimes on the Christmas clock in the kitchen. The smell of pine fills the living room and lit candles adorn almost every flat surface in the house. The bells on the front door jingle every time we come or go, which seems to be a lot today. The Christmas lights on the front shrubs blink under the soft white snow that began falling around three o’clock.

And I water the withering poinsettia.

I open the holiday cards that arrived in the mail.

I make a list of the gifts I still need to buy.

I make pork chops with rice for dinner and serve it on my good Christmas dishes.

And then I warm up hot chocolate on the stove and pour it into a snowman mug, topping it with whipped cream and mini chocolate chips.

And I sit on the couch, watching Alec play with a toy truck on the floor.

And finally, I cry.

Actually, I weep. My body heaves and my head throbs and I mop at the tears with my sweater sleeve. And I decide that I just want Christmas to stop. I just want everything to stop.

Annabelle and Eve come upstairs and ask me what’s wrong and I tell them I’m sad.

“Because today is Sophia’s birthday,” I say. “She would have been five years old.”

They look at me, wanting me to stop crying, I know. But I don’t hide my Sophia tears from them. Because they know that for every time I cry for her, there are a hundred times that I smile.

Annabelle decides the table would be decorated with Hello Kitty because that’s what she’d be into this year. Eve thinks Sophia would have worn a fancy dress and an orange bow in her hair (because orange is her favorite color, too.)

Annabelle wants to take the pink photo album out of Sophia’s trunk and I agree. We page through the photos slowly and with each one, Annabelle and Eve giggle about something.

“Look Mom, she had two teeth on the bottom, just like Alec!”

“Mom! She looks just like Eve in this one!”

“Ohmygosh! Remember when we took Sophia to the Zoo?!“

I wipe away the last of my tears and I smile.

And the Christmas season stops for just a minute.

Because today is Sophia’s birthday.