Pulling aside the curtain, I looked out on the back yard below. Disgusted, I let the musty fabric flop back to the middle, closing the gap between myself and the vision outside. Flip-flops slapping against wooden stairs, I trounced downstairs to let Momma know.
"Grammaīs sitting outside again, over the grave."
Momma was washing dishes, standing on one leg, which was always a marvel to me. Barefoot, she had her right foot braced against the shin of her left leg, making a T-shape that seemed hard to balance on. But Momma was able to balance that way. She was strong, like the farmers from whose stock she came.
Momma sighed and shut off the water. She dried her hands and handed me three packets of seed from the kitchen drawer. "Bring her these."
I stared down at the small paper packages. One said "Asters" and had colorful pictures of wild flowers arching in every direction on the front. The second was a pack of marigold seeds and the third said Queen Anneīs Lace.
"What are these for?"
"I want you to take them to her."
"But we buried Suki a week ago; you donít expect her to plant these?"
"No, Mary, I expect you to plant them for her."
Before I could object, she had shoved two leather gloves in my hand. "Youíll only have to push them down half inch or so. Do it for her, itíll give her something to care for."
Momma gave me a direct stare that would take no rejection, so I slumped outside, letting the screen door bang my objection behind me.
Crossing a threadbare lawn, quilted with grassy patches in various states of death, my feet startled dragonflies who took off in front of me like little helicopters of summer. Gramma was sitting in an old metal chair in front of the grave, a three-by-two-foot scar in the earth.
"Gramma, what are you doing?" My tone was nasty and I knew it, but something about the way she had been sitting there since the burial bothered me.
I wanted to put it behind me, forget about Sukiís emaciated body, the way her head lolled after the doctor had emptied the syringe; forget about how limp she was and how her eyes no longer held life within their gelatinous lanterns; forget about rolling her body into the grave and topping it with dirt. But Gramma was sitting there, holding vigil, and it kept refreshing it for me, ripping open a wound that struggled for closure.
"Iím keeping Suki company," she said, not turning my way.
I pulled another lawn chair next to hers and sank into it. My flip-flopped feet kicked at the edge of the grave where grass parched from the sun was sucking onto any moisture it could find to stay alive. A few shards of green stood up here and there, defying the odds of the summer drought. "Sukiís dead."
"Sukiís right here," she insisted. "She likes me being near, it makes her feel better."
A harsh breath emerged from my lips. Suki had been sick for months. It had been Mommaís decision to put her down and it had taken weeks to convince the old woman that it was the right thing to do.
Suki was Grammaís dog and constant companion, never more than a foot or so away. But ever since weíd brought the dog home from the visit to the doctor that put a peaceful end to her life, Gramma had refused to leave her companionís grave for more than a few hours to sleep or eat.
"Here, Momma wanted me to give you these," I lied.
Gramma looked at the crumpled paper packages in my palm. "Sukiís not hungry." She resumed staring over the top of the grave. "What she is, is cold. Itís cold down there, you know."
I missed the dog too, didnít she realize that? "Weíre gonna plant them over her, itíll make a blanket of flowers to keep her warm." Iíd say anything to make Gramma come inside, to stop prolonging this, even humor her in her delusion that Suki was still alive.
My hands slipped into the leather gloves and I kneeled on the edge of the grave. The packets were already open, so I cast the seeds wide over the soft dirt, letting wind and fate take them where they would go. Once they had fallen, I set to pushing them under the soil and patting the dirt over, just like Momma had taught me seasons ago. Momma was an expert gardener. Me, not very much. But still, something about seeds did appeal to me. They were flower eggs.
I walked the fifty feet or so to the spigot, scaring up more dragonflies, in order to fill a battered metal watering can. Returning to the grave, I sprinkled the cool water of life over my tucked in flower eggs.
"Not too much; Suki didnít drink too much water."
I ignored the way her voice trembled between agony and grief and set the can down to survey my work. It looked good and rich and nourishing. Everything pushed under, covered and watered. I plopped in the chair next to Gramma and brushed dirt off my knees.
In the distance, blackbirds were swooping out of a tree and returning to a branch to snap at something between their feet. I watched three birds perform these cartwheels before I realized they were catching bugs in mid-air. Iíd never noticed that before. Were they eating my little helicopters of summer, too? I saw a beak snap over the thick body of a dragonfly and realized that they were. I had scared them up out of their hiding place and now they were bird food. It made me feel bad, but I forced my thoughts onto baby birds and felt a little better. Life was sad, always changing.
Time passed easily out there in the back garden. We sat silent, an hour ticking away in the midst of life going on as usual. Although I was motionless, motion was all around me. It felt good to be still and let life pass me by. The sun slipped lower and it grew cold.
"Iím going in," I said at last.
"Iím going to stay a little while longer. Keep Suki company," she said.
I figured she would bring herself in.
It wasnít until thunder cracked overhead in the middle of the night that I sat up in bed, wide awake, wondering if she had indeed come in. I raced to the curtain and pulled it aside. There was a dark shadow in the chair and rain pelted mercilessly all around.
Throwing on clothes and sneakers, I ran outside. "Gramma!" She appeared not to hear. "Youíve got to come inside," I shouted over the water streaming down on both of us. I lifted her forcibly by the arm and brought her inside.
"Suki is afraid of thunder," she said.
Not in the mood for an argument, I removed Grammaís wet clothes and fed her arms and head through a nightgown. "Go to bed now," I scolded, closing the door to her room.
The next morning, I followed muddy tracks from the screen door to Sukiís grave. Again she sat, staring in front of her at the lawn still moist from last nightís thunderstorm.
"Sukiís not here," I stated.
Grammaís gaze swung round on me. "Of course she is. I was here when you buried her."
"Yes," I said, hugging myself to keep from trembling, "but that was just her body. A shell. Sheís gone now, to heaven."
"Do you believe that?" she asked.
My tongue stopped at my teeth, tripping over an answer that would not be a lie.
"Next time you tell someone something," she said, rising out of the chair like a geyser, "youíd better believe it yourself."
My eyes met Grammaís and I realized then that she knew Suki was gone, knew the dog had to be put to sleep out of kindness, knew why her precious pet wasnít any longer by her side. All this time, I thought she had just lost her mind and needed humoring.
"Iím sorry," I faltered. "I want to believe it, but Iím not sure I do. Maybe this life is all there is."
"To me," Gramma said, "it doesnít matter. What matters is that I do something to honor her, so I sit here. I need somewhere to direct my love, so I sit here. I need somehow to say Iím sorry sheís not by my side any more. Me being here is all these things. What else can I do?" She burst into tears.
I pulled her close and our anguish mingled together, moistening our faces with salty, warm water. As she held me, all the pain and grief and confusion about death seeped from me. I had been holding on to my sadness for so long that when the facade burst it left me feeling wrenched and drained. But also better.
"Sit with me," Gramma said. "Sukiís spirit is happy; she likes what you have done."
And so I sat with her, for hours at a time. Within one week, small sprouts emerged from our well-tended garden. By two weeks time, the grave was studded with little green champions, healthy seedlings who soaked up water, cracked open their shells and reached out to the world again. Stretching their luminous arms upward, they searched for sun and light. Though anchored in darkness, their true nature was displayed in the fresh emptiness of each new day, adding purple and yellow to the blue of the sky.
The success of Sukiís garden made me want to garden all the time and I began stripping areas of the lawn bare for new rounds of seeds. I tended them all like a mother, removing weeds and making sure to keep them wet, giving them every chance to live.
Not long after, Gramma developed a cough that led to deep, racking wheezes and eventually pneumonia. She could no longer join me outside. "Remember Suki," she asked, and I promised to keep Sukiís garden alive.
One cold morning, Momma woke me to say Gramma had been taken to the hospital in the middle of the night. I slipped out of bed. Part of me wanted to part the curtain and look outside. Surely she was there. Surely she would be there again, when the doctors cured her. Instead, Momma handled me a scribbled note and shook her head.
In blue ink scrawled on hospital paper it read, "Believe."
The next day I planted a willow tree whose branches arched over Sukiís garden like arms that hugged. All around it, flowers transformed dark earth into fluorescent buttons of hope. In only a few weeks time, every part of the parched wasteland had become radiant with color, with life. I hadnít realized how much I had done until I planted the tree. It seemed to anchor the garden with a vertical path, a striving toward the sky; toward light; toward heaven.
I sat in a lawn chair and admired the kaleidoscope. The sun warmed my head and breezes tickled my nose. I felt something else too. I could feel them watching me. I didnít just believe it; I knew.