I should have known that when the grandmother I had never met showed up, banging on the door like she was the police in pursuit of a criminal, that things would never be the same. I actually knew before she showed up. He had been gone for close to ten days and our mother hadn’t gotten out of the bed at all that entire week and a half.
We didn’t know where she had come from or how she had known to come. Curtis guessed that mom had probably called her as a last resort. We all knew that she hated her mother and where she had come from back in North Carolina.
“She’s a wreck,” Curtis had said after he had come from her room, his hands empty of the bowl of chicken noodle soup he had entered with.
Claude was quiet, his analytical demeanor sizing up the situation. Dad was gone and mom was quickly deteriorating into a useless heap. He glanced at the small pile of mail that sat on the coffee table. Bills would be due. So would the rent. It wasn’t looking good. He wouldn’t tell us for years that he had been the one to call Grandma.
I had never seen a picture of her. She was a myth. Resembling the fairy godmother from Cinderella, in my mind. She would float in, not on wings, but something like wings, smelling of cinnamon and peppermint and sprinkle us with her sweet hugs and kisses. So when Claude finally opened the door to her, I was taken aback. She was tall, which none of us were expecting since our mother stood at a measly five feet and four inches. At twelve, I already towered over her.
Besides her height, I couldn’t help but to notice how pale she was. She looked like the sun was her enemy. I could see the blue lines of her veins through the skin in her arms, which were clutching a brown bag close to her chest. Atop her head was a mass of curly brunette hair with sprinklings of gray, the front that she had pinned back with gold bobby pins.
“Curtis?” she asked apprehensively looking back and forth between Curtis and Claude.
“Claude,” he corrected her and stepped back from the door to allow her inside.
“Right. Claude,” she said as if she were committing his features to memory.
She would need to in order to tell the difference between him and Curtis. They were twins; fraternal, but still similar enough in looks that sometimes it took a second glance to confirm whom was who.
“And Imogene?” she said, turning her attention to me as she stepped through the threshold and into our living room.
I nodded. Not sure what was appropriate. A “nice to meet you” or a hug. I didn’t offer either and neither did she.
She glanced around the living room, taking in the pale yellow on the walls, the English ivy plants that hung from the corners looking thirsty, and the brown leather couches that had been discolored and sunken in over the years. In our mother’s absence, only Claude straightened up regularly, placing our dirty dishes into the dishwasher and picking up our discarded snack containers. The floors had gone with out vacuuming and dust had settled onto the surfaces.
“Where is your mother?” she asked, finally looking back to the three of us huddled together near the door, unsure of what we should be doing.
“She’s in her bedroom. Last door on the right,” Claude volunteered.
She nodded and gazed down the hallway to the left taking a few steps. She stopped momentarily and looked back at Claude as if to confirm that she was going in the right direction.
Claude nodded. “Last door on the right,” he repeated.
Curtis waited until Grandma knocked and entered our mother’s bedroom before he headed down the hallway.
“Where you going?” Claude whispered loudly from behind him.
“To listen,” he said, not bothering to whisper.