Something Special

Illustration by Carolyn Hawkins
Illustration by Carolyn Hawkins

WEDNESDAYS I GO to to Grandma’s house and she watches me while Mum’s at work. Her backyard is sprawling green grass and fruit trees—lemons, apricots, apples. She doesn’t believe in planting flowers, but her lawn is still scattered with tiny golden dandelions. I’m picking a bunch for Mum when Grandma finds me. She takes them from me and throws them over the fence.

“Those are weeds,” she tells me.

I say they were for Mum.

Grandma sighs through her nose and I can feel her staring down at me. I stand there like a dummy, staring at her skirt. It’s grey with pleats and runs all the way down to her ankles.

“I’ve got something special,” she tells me.

I hope she means cake. Instead, she brings a three-legged stool out of the kitchen. She sets it down on the redbrick pathway and hooks her bony hands under my armpits, lifts me up and puts me down on the stool. It rocks back and forth, clicking against the bricks. She smells like talcum powder and sour butter.

“Don’t move,” she tells me.

I watch as she sets up a canvas and a set of watercolour paints. In no time at all I’m bouncing around on the wobbly stool like I’m riding a living thing. The pouch of old skin under her neck bobs as she looks up at the canvas.

“Stop,” she tells me.

Grandma can make one word a threat. I cross my arms and sit there for what feels like hours. The only sound is her brush tinkling against the sides of an old jam jar and the casual squawk of the blackbirds that live in her garden. I begin to think there won’t be any cake at all.

She finishes the painting and brings me around to see it. It’s my face—except I’m smiling.

When Mum picks me up Grandma gives her the painting. She’s delighted with herself.

Mum tells her, “thank you.”

When we get home Mum puts the painting in the bottom drawer of my pine dresser.

“It’s special,” she tells me. “One day you’ll be glad you saved it.”

I ask Mum if Grandma ever painted her, when she was little.

“Yes,” she tells me.

I ask her if she still has it.

She gives it some thought.

“Yes,” she tells me.

I ask her where she keeps her painting.

“Somewhere,” she tells me.