Marie Smysor Watson
This is the kind of thing a writer comes up when they reminisce about their most beloved great-grandmother... it's totally meant as a compliment, I swear! Her name was Bertha, and she was a dream grandma: she read my brothers and I all the Little Golden books, cheated at every game we played, kicked Grandpa's cats when they tried to trip her and made the most delicious peach pies you ever tasted - even though she didn't think peach was a real pie (don't ask me what that means?!?) And yes, she had a outdoor root cellar, where she kept her home-canned goods, just like in The Wizard of Oz. You never knew what you might find when she sent you down there...
It is me, it is me. Down the crickety stairs, into the dank root cellar, I am waiting for me. All of these are my faces, or will be, or were, although I don’t recognize this at first. I am only nine.
What are you all doing down here? I am more confused than afraid.
Baby Me coos and grabs at my ankle. I don’t particularly like the feeling of her fat fist crimping the downy hair there, so I kick at her. She cries.
Don’t kick the baby, Forty-Year-Old Me says. She doesn’t understand.
My chest is hot, but I don’t contradict her. She looks too much like me, sounds too much like Mother, although her voice has less meat.
Don’t tell her what to do, Fifteen-Year-Old Me tosses her head. She is wearing heavy eyeliner and has three pimples above her left eyebrow, which is pierced. She sees me staring, tosses her head. Mother’s dead, it doesn’t matter, she explains without guilt.
Don’t tell her that, hisses Sixty-Year-Old Me. She is not to know what comes after. We’ve been warned.
I say nothing. Baby Me is pulling on my dirty toes. I don’t like this either, but I don’t dare move against her again.
Grandmother is looking for beets, says Thirty-Year-Old Me. She reaches behind, to the dark shelves, pulls forth the dusty, red-purple jar. She hands it to me by the metal ring. Grandmother does not like me to carry them this way. Turns accidents into foregone conclusions, she says.
I hate beets, says Eighty-Year-Old Me, coming forth from the others’ shadows. Her hair is mostly dark brown still. At thirty-five, Mother’s hair is already unnaturally gray. Grandmother’s is white, just as her kind should be.
You are all wrong, I say, cradling the jar under my arm for safety. Beets are delicious. Better than babies, I add. Baby Me’s wails of sorrow carry me up the stairs, into the waiting yard, blanketed by a feathered sky.
Is it you? Grandmother asks as I darken the kitchen, a laughing tilt to her round voice.
Who else would it be? I think but do not say. I do not want to spoil the mood, I want to preserve this afternoon, my Grandmother, put her high on the shelf, safe, without having to look forward or back.