The Leaving

grandmotherfairycover“Yoshi, would you be a darling and fetch another loaf of bread from the pantry?”

“Yoshi, would you be a darling and fetch another loaf of bread from the pantry?”

“Yes, Momma.” I was eight, and I was big enough now to help in the soup kitchen with my mother.  Many things had changed since my sixth birthday.

The winter that year was icy and very wet, many friends up and down our street got sick that year, and some died.  Sadly, I lost my older sister that winter to the sickness.  Momma said it was pneumonia that took her.  In my mind, I had imaged a great monster that sucked the very breath from her lungs in the middle of the night.  I cried for a long time, only speaking to Poco Nonna for comfort.

Months came and went.  When spring came again, new people moved into the homes left behind from those that died or moved on.  No new children came to our little street, but more people came to the soup kitchen and Momma worked harder and longer to keep it going.  Late at night when she would get me from Ms. McCaffrey’s home, she and Grandma would spend an hour in a quiet discussion about some of the new men that were frequenting the neighborhood. I would sit quietly by holding Poco Nonna in my small hands waiting for when Momma was ready to take me home.  Sometimes I would catch them looking at me, and my Mother’s face would take on a deeply worried look.  I didn’t understand why, but it had to do with the strange men that occasionally came to our street.  I was told more often now that I couldn’t go outside to play, that I had to stay indoors in an inner room or even upstairs.  But I didn’t mind, for I had Poco Nonna to play with and she was all I ever really needed.

Momma continued to work long hours, and I stayed with Ms. McCaffrey.  My father had not returned home for many weeks I realized, and I asked Grandma about this.  She at first did not answer me, but at my repeated request, she told me one afternoon that my father had gone far south to be part of another Evolved project.  When I asked my mother about when Daddy would come home, her eyes filled with tears up, and she took me in her arms and held me for the longest time.

My father never did return that year or the year after that.  On my eighth year, I accepted that he was gone too.  Was it like my sister?  Did he die from sickness?  Mother never said, so in time I let it drop.  It was when Ms. McCaffrey fell ill that I started to help in the kitchen with my mother.  In that same year that I began in the kitchen, Grandma McCaffrey died in her sleep.  Momma hired some men to take her away, and I never saw her again.  I had never seen my mother both so sad and so worried.  I didn’t at the time understand why she was worried, but I knew the sadness she felt.  For I loved Grandma McCaffrey too.

Romalis was sixteen now and still he was the same.  He continued to sit on the steps of his home and watch the people come and go around him, all the while tapping his code out with his fingers on his knee.  I didn’t get to spend as much time with him these days like I did just a year ago, but when I was finished with the lunch shift at the soup kitchen, Momma would let me visit.

I walked up the street from the soup kitchen and found him sitting on his step.  I sat down next to him and pulled from my pocket, Poco Nonna.  She had grown grayer, and her movements were slower in the last year.  I pinched a small piece of bread that I had grabbed from the kitchen and proffered it to her.  She took it from me and rolled it around in her tiny little paws till she found the part she wanted.  Romalus reached over with one finger and stroked her gently.  Poco stopped her progress on the tidbit of bread to look up at him.

He stated quietly, “Vecchia Nonna.”

I corrected, “Poco Nonna.”

He amended “Vecchia Poco Nonna.”

I asked, “What does Vecchia mean?”

“Old.”

I protested, “She’s not old!”  I knew he didn’t mean to upset me, and I could see that he was right.  But I couldn’t think of a time without Poco Nonna.  I had lost too much in the last two years already.  I stared at Poco and tears began to fall from my eyes.  Angrily I withdrew Poco from his light touch and turned a little away from him.  I brought Little Grandmother up to my and looked at her little black eyes.  She reached up and grasped my nose with her tiny hands and stretched herself to sniff at me.

Next to me, Romalus shifted on the step uncomfortably.  I don’t know that he fully understood why what he said hurt me but he did understand that I was upset by it and in his own way in an attempt to fix it he said, “Yoshi, I’m sorry.”

I turned a little to face him with tears still wetting my cheeks. “She’s not old, okay?”

I watched him as he processed my request and finally he said, “Poco Nonna.”

I almost laughed. “Yes, Poco Nonna.”

Another week had gone by, and my mother was at my door telling me to get up.  I yawned and stretched.  I had fashioned a little cloth nest next to my pillow where Poco slept at night near my head.  She never left it at night that I was aware of, as each morning she was there with her bright black eyes to greet me and get her morning portion of bread.  But this morning she lay still curled up in her tiny nest and did not move.  I gently reached to pet her, and she was cold to the touch.  Panic began to set in I found I couldn’t breathe, and my heart hit the inside of my chest painfully.  I scooped her rigid little form and sat up holding her close to my body.

I said in denial, “Here Nonna, let me get you warm.”  I pet her with my thumb gently at first, but when she didn’t respond I used two fingers more urgently.

Mother came into the room to find me sitting on the edge of the bed, still holding the mouse close to my chest with tears staining my face.  Upon, seeing her, sobs broke from me.  Speaking through my sorrow, “She won’t wake up.”  My mother was in front of me, kneeling and looking at Poco in my cupped hands.

She reached around me and pulled Nonna and me into a tight embrace.  “Oh, baby I’m so sorry.”

“Moma, help me wake her up?” I pleaded.

She let go and pulled herself away from me to look me in the eyes.  I saw only the deepest sympathy in her face. “Honey, mice just don’t normally live this long.  Poco Nonna lived far longer than most.  You took good care of her.”

Anger rose in me.  “No! She is only asleep!”

My mother’s hand gently brushed the tears and my hair from my cheek.  “No, honey, she’s not just asleep.  She had gone on to another place.”

More sobs choke my throat, and I asked, “Where did she go?”

“I don’t know, baby. I don’t think anyone really knows what happens after life.  But I think she is in a better place, like your sister and Grandma McCaffrey.”

I noticed that she had not included my father in her simple statement.  But at the time, in my grief filled state, I didn’t care about him, only that my companion, the last treasure I had ever gotten from my sister was now forever gone, like Jennette.  I leaned forward into my mother and buried my face into her breast and bald.  She held me and gently patted my back and let me cry it all out.