Grandma sings: a pinch of grandpa there you see sprinkle him around like sweet sugar. She’s given the two of us cousins a plastic cup of dirt she had collected from the garden. She’s wearing her best housecoat and given us each a pouch of grandpa’s ashes. We didn’t want to do this but our grandmother insisted. Grandpa’s gone but he’ll live on she sermonizes, then instructs us to bless our cups of seeds with grandpa’s ghost. We’re all adults now living in outer space and grandma is a witch. She mumbles an incantation and waves her hands over our cups.
I remember the garden. How grandpa tilled and weeded and stomped the earth. Where he tasted the ripeness of the dirt off fingertips. Where he went to get away from grandma, from all the women’s eyes, who were toxic like potato eyes he said, always watching him. We two girl cousins ran like rowdy dogs through rows of yellow squash blossoms and corn sprouts. Maybe we did it to terrorize him like grandpa said or maybe we were running for our lives. He’d chase us with a paddle, his pipe firmly gripped between his teeth. Inevitably he’d catch one of us and sing hush your baby girl mouth or you’re going over the knee. Didn’t matter if we sucked all the sound out of the universe into our guts, we always went over the knee. Hellions born or hellions raised, I’ll never know.
One time we stole his pipe and tobacco and hid behind the shed. We took turns holding a match to the bowl and inhaling, punching each other for a cough. Remember that time, I ask my cousin while we sprinkle ashes around our cups. She had been the one to cough and get us caught. She nods and dips her finger into her pouch of ashes. Remember what he did? I ask. She nods and smears a blot of grandfather’s ashes around her eye like a black eye. I remember the taste of blood but suspect it was another time I am remembering. I dip my finger into the ashes and smear it across my mouth. I lick my lips and taste fire, taste death. This must be what hell tastes like.
Girls! grandma scolds and says we are being disrespectful. What’s in the past is in the past, she says.
Later, when I’m back in my own apartment, I place the cup of dirt and grandpa’s ashes on my sunniest windowsill. After a few days, a tiny sprout unfurls. It continues to grow for several days. I water it and stare at it and decide I hate it. It grows bigger. It sprouts two viny arms and two stalk legs. I hate it even more. I shove it in a cupboard. Out of sight, out of mind. After two weeks, a tapping noise catches my attention. I follow the sound to the cupboard. The tapping grows louder. I slowly open the cupboard and scream.
The spindly arms are now thick and long; they wrap around my wrists and pull me closer. I’m so close now to the plant that I see a bulbous flower or head has sprouted. It looks hideous, like a tumor. It’s got my grandfather’s face, his eyes, his nose, his mouth. He’s gnashing pointed little thorns for teeth. I scream. And before I pass out I swear I hear my grandfather saying, hush your girlie mouth or I’ll bend you over my knee.