From behind the wheel my father sighed, releasing a thick huff the muddled with the sound of the engine. My mother reached across the armrest and squeezed his knee, offering a faint smile.
“Honey, I know this is difficult for you, but her final wish was to see her grandson one last time. We’ll be in and out quickly.”
“That’s what you said last time. And the time before that. Hell, every few years she knocks on death’s door then pops back to life.”
“It’s serious this time,” Said my mother, her mouth pursed.
“Better be,” My step dad said, glancing in the mirror, “That bitch belongs in the ground.”
My mother frowned, but found nothing to say in retort. She herself had no blood relation, and my original father had detested his mother as well right up unto his own death. Of the rest of my great-grandmother’s family, only a smattering of uncles and aunts remained, as she had completely outlived her own children. And of those living, we were the only ones coming.
After an hour we pulled into a hospital lot littered with cars that had handicapped tags hanging within their interior. Clouds brewed overhead, making the noon sky appear like night. And despite the warm humid air, I shivered. It had been two years since I had least seen my grandmother, but I always remembered how cold her hands were.
The nauseatingly sweet smell that can only be found at dentist’s and doctor’s filled my nostrils as we entered her room. A heart-monitoring machine beeped in the corner, while an instrument attached to her finger glowed, casting her face in a deep red light except for the creased wrinkles that remained dark. Her breathing rasped, her eyelids flickered half open, and her mouth curled into a slow, satisfied smile.
“You came,” She whispered, the words slithering from her throat and pushing me backwards with a slight pressure, “No one else bothered.”
“It’s been a rough few years.” My mother said, “After, well, after Doug passed away last year, his family hasn’t made it out much.”
“Ah, yes. So young to die.” Her toungue flashed across her lips. “I have the pleasure of seeing him one last time before the incident.”
“You did,” My father said, the tone of his voice just short of accusatory. I knew why.
Even at my young age, I was no stranger to funerals. In the past five years, no less than seven members of my family had dropped dead, from suicides to a particularly nasty plane crash that had made the news for a solid month. Each of them had been young and healthy. And each of them had paid my grand mother her last respects beforehand, when she was hospitalized for one of her major ailments. And each time, she recovered.
With an effort my grandmother raised her hand, beckoning me forward.
“Come,” She whispered, “Let me kiss you one last time.”
My mother pushed me forward as my heels left skid marks on the white tile floor. My grandmother’s hand touched my face, her fingers so cold that it felt as if she had been holding a glass of ice water just a moment before. Around her neck she wore a silver necklace with a centerpiece shaped like an ear of corn.
“Ah,” She said, “We’re not so different, you and I. I see much of me in you.”
I felt the cold spreading from my cheek to the rest of my face and reaching down my spine. My breath became short, as if the oxygen in the room had spread thin and I gulped in the air.
“I’ll miss you, my sweet.” She continued, and I felt the words wrap around me, pulling me forward as her voice became stronger. My vision blurred, and I wondered where my glasses had gone, before I realized they were still on my face. Her hand tightened.
“Now give me one last kiss.” The words barely took shape in my mind, and I felt myself lean forward involuntarily. I could just make out the outline of her overused lipstick.
Stop, I thought, even my blood now cold. Stop.
I lifted my foot to move backward, and felt it catch of the bed. Her hand glided along the front of my face, ripping my glasses away, and I felt a wrenching as if she still held it as I fell. The last memory I have before my head hit the floor was of her shocked whisper.
The one positive aspect about passing out in a hospital is that no ambulance is required. Blankets were packed around me but the tips of my nose, fingertips, and toes suffered from a cold that emanated from my chest.
“Ninety five degrees.” I heard a voice say. “Martha, get me another thermometer, this one is busted.”
I rubbed my head, where an aching throbbed just behind my eyes.
“Looks like somebody just woke up.” Said the voice. “How are we feeling?”
I groaned in response.
“I’m Doctor Harrison, and I’m going to need you to open your eyes for me so I can make sure you don’t have a concussion. Alright?”
“Alright,” I said, and felt his gloves press against my eyelids. I felt the light of his instrument against my retina, and sensed is proximity. But I saw nothing.
The hospital released me two days later, when the doctor’s felt my body temperature had reached a level resembling homeostasis. While I had come to the hospital empty handed, I left with a cane. I had never returned to my grandmother’s room.
“It was a freak accident.” I heard the doctors explaining to my father, “He hit the ground just right. It’s like his eyes were just unplugged from his brain. There isn’t anything we can do.”
But with my blindness, I still see shapes. Faint blurs and outlines that push just at the edge of where my sight would be. It took me nearly a week to realize they were pieces of my grandmother’s hospital room. It took me another twenty four hours to realize it was from her perspective.
Two weeks after the incident, she drew her last breath. And the shapes changed. Their hues were now reddish, and I saw faces, laughing faces with hideously sharp smiles and dark eyes. No matter where I turned I saw chains and creatures that thrashed and beckoned me towards them. And when these visions grew the worst I shivered, slipped into a coat and waited until my body temperature would rise and they would go away.
After her will was read, I discovered my grandmother had left me something. Just after my visit she had amended her will, writing me into it as the sole benefactor. It arrived in the mail, a small envelope, with nothing but a note and the silver chained necklace she had worn around her neck.
My father read the note aloud for me to hear.
“To Leo, I will always hold a piece of you within my heart. I give this token for you to remember me by, though even without it I know you can never forget.”