Things I Don’t Remember
By Sandra Alland
Hospital grass isn’t like real grass. It has no smell and it’s full of cigarette butts. But that’s where I’m sitting because I’m too young to go inside.
My grandmother’s in the hospital because she has cancer. None of the adults tell me that, they just say, “Grandma’s sick.” Then they point up high to a form in a window and say, “Wave hello.” I think I see her, but can’t be sure. I don’t remember her face like I used to. I do remember her voice because her ghost talks to me whenever I come here.
“It’s booby cancer,” my brother said a week ago, pinching mine hard. My brother is four years older and knows things. “She’ll be haunting you soon,” he added with a freaky smile.
I chew on some tasteless grass and wonder if she’s got booby cancer because she’s French. The French movies on TV are always about boobs. But Grandma never speaks French and neither does my mom, so I think maybe in Cornwall French means something different. I wouldn’t know because I don’t remember Cornwall either.
My mother’s inside, and I know she’s crying though I can’t see her. She’s been crying a lot lately, even when I don’t eat my dinner, which is really no big deal. Mom thinks I’m not eating because I’m sad, but she’s wrong. I am sad, because my mother’s always in the hospital and never with me, but that’s not why I don’t eat.
My best friend is Jody Sumi. She’s also my next-door neighbour, so I go see her every day. We’re always stuffing our faces with rice balls covered in seaweed. I especially like the ones with egg in them, though any kind of seaweed will do. I like seaweed because it reminds me of mermaids and I’m pretty sure that’s what they eat.
I don’t know why I’m so into mermaids, seeing as I’m terrified of water. Maybe it’s because Jody’s into them, and I’m into Jody. She has shiny black hair and her dad lets her drink from his beer bottle.
“Tais-toi, ma p’tite.”
That’s my grandmother’s ghost talking French in my head. I don’t know how she got to be a ghost before she’s dead, but Grandma always seems to do whatever she wants. I also don’t know how I understand French.
“Ribbit, ribbit,” I answer, imitating my father. Grandma goes quiet and I know she’s mad. To change the subject, I pick up a pop can and wave it at Dad, who’s pacing in front of the hospital entrance. “Don’t play with garbage,” he growls. Then he goes back to pacing. I start to worry about my mother. I want her to come out. Why can’t she just talk to Grandma’s ghost like I do?
“Touche pas le nez, p’tite. Tu n’es pas un cochon.”
I take my finger out of my nose. Grandma’s ghost rarely has anything nice to say, but this time I listen since I was rude about the frog noises. “Grandma,” I ask, “why do you have booby cancer?”
“On parle pas de telles choses.”
There are very few things Grandma’s ghost does like to talk about. Mostly she just likes to tell me to be quiet. She’s into silence. Sometimes I think that’s why she got cancer — every time she wanted to say something important or French, she just tucked it in her bra like my mother does with money, and all those unsaid words started to eat away at her boob. Mom says words are powerful things and I believe her.
“Tu dois la protéger, p’tite. Chaque jour, les fleurs meurent dans son coeur.”
Whenever Grandma’s ghost says too much for her own liking, she starts to make bad French poetry. I have no idea what she means by it, but I do like rhyming.
I watch my mother as she comes out of the hospital. She doesn’t look like she needs protecting, though she does look smaller. I run to her and smush my face between her boobs, being careful to check for any unsaid words stuck to her bra. I don’t find any, but somehow I know they’re there.
Mom goes over to Dad, and I’m left with Grandma’s poetry. The real Grandma, or someone that might be her, is standing at the window up high.
“Ne mange pas du beurre. C’est l’heure. T’es la soeur.”
My brother suddenly appears from nowhere. He has Dad’s necklace and starts waving it frantically in front of my face. “I’m a part-time hypnotist,” he grins. He’s always a part-time something. “Follow the medallion with your eyes and you’ll forget all of this.” As always, I do as he says.
Sandra Alland is a writer, multi-media artist and activist. She has published four chapbooks and two full-length collections of poetry–Proof of a Tongue (McGilligan, 2004) and Blissful Times (BookThug, 2007). Check out her writing and work as a bookseller and micropress publisher at www.blissfultimes.ca.