I can’t hear you, but I know what you’re saying. My Nonna taught me how to read lips. She refused to wear a hearing aid. She said she’d earned her right not to listen to people’s shit. I was sitting on the floor watching F Troop. I thought the leading actor, Ken Berry, was cute. I was eating Twizzlers and cracking them like little whips. My grandma with a broom in one hand and my Twizzlers in the other swooshed me away.
“These Twizzlers are for everyone,” she said gesturing over her shoulder and out the back door.
My four cousins were out there. I decided to stay inside with Nonna. We poured over her photo albums. I liked the books of her youth. The ones that death had filtered out everyone but her. The black and white photos already unearthed their ghostly quality. Nonna made up for the confiscated Twizzlers and shuffled a few Vienna Fingers to me. I made a production of eating them, which is probably why she kept giving them to me. But really, I didn’t care for them. I was waiting for the cookies to run out so grandma to go shopping. I’ve been waiting for 4 months. Didn’t she eat them all? I think I did. I spied Grandma reaching for a brand new package of Vienna Fingers. It wasn’t quantity that was in question. It was quality. Nonna liked these old things. As we ate our cookies with our tall glasses of milk, mine was in the Fred Flintstone cup, she would turn down the volume and teach me how to read lips. I realized it was also reading body language and facial description. It even extends to self-expression in clothes. Nonna had a hard time with the clothes. She said as far as she could tell, everyone was crazy these days. When I looked at the fashion in her old photos, I was inclined to agree. Clothes didn’t scream back then like they did know.
“How long did it take you to learn to read lips?”
“Over time, it became a necessity, ” she shouted.
I giggled low so she wouldn’t hear me. But she couldn’t miss my grimace like Smedley, the dog. My grandma ushered me to the back porch to sweep. If I was going to linger in the house, then I was going to be helpful. The broom was taller than me. I wrestled and wrangled with it. With some luck, I might actually sweep up some dust. I doubted it. Grandma cleaned Nonna’s house every Wednesday. I looked out one of the many windows on the screened-in porch where my cousins played. Grandpop, who lay in the front bedroom dying rather noisily at intervals, had enough of Nonna’s wrath in his good days. Back then, there was apparently an abundance of mud being tracked in from his work boots. Rather than have the same argument again and again, grandpop took an old rusty maul and buried it in the top concrete step to the right side edge. While dulled from time and use, it was still a menacing feature to pass going in and out of the house, mostly since there weren’t’ any rails. The steps were also tall. I guess grandpop had made them suit his 6′ frame. Little guys like me (six years old) found it scary to navigate. Grandma spent half her sentences yelling warnings at my cousins they did not heed. They played Blade Jumpers. Each one would take turns running up the steps then turning to make the jump. To date, no one had been hurt, unless you counted bruised egos and bottoms of my cousins.
I leaned out the back door to taunt my cousins ripe in the heat. My sweeping or shimmy across the back porch had caused the little braided rug to scrunch. With the broom in my right hand, I could not catch myself. My left hand, lazy by nature, never could catch or throw with any accuracy. My left arm buckled under all 44 pounds of me.
My right side, my best side, had taken the brunt of the fall. At least, that was what I always imagined me saying to a big Hollywood director. How did one know if they had a good side? I was about to learn. My right cheek with enough force fell on the rusty maul ending with a gouge in my right ear. The pain shot from my mouth to the side of my head.
When I came to, I was in the hospital. The gash that remained unseen to me was wrapped thickly, and done by professional hands that had wound more than a thousand injuries in her day. When I tried to imagine her, I pictured a nurse with dark blonde hair, a smile, and a macaroni bracelet painted in poster paints with all the colors that it gave off a purple-black hue. It was the token from a small child, smaller than me because, by my age, you knew of the flaking of poster paints. It was the bracelet of a capable mom. My bandages greatly exceeded the actual real estate of the wound. A small opening at the mouth allowed me to drink my meals. I was probably going to lose weight. I didn’t see how that was possible. Grandma wouldn’t stop holding my hand. Nonna was at home, blaming Grandpop from the distance of the living room to his bedroom. Grandpop’s stopped dying for a day or two until Grandma brought me back on Wednesday. I was surprised the maul hadn’t killed me. And I swore I was never going to go out that door again.
Grandma had called grandpa to relieve the maul and reset the steps without the blade of death. Technically, I didn’t die, but all my cousins felt the need to provide a funeral march near the fallen steps. They laid bare with the lilting guttural sound only children could give to the terror. It was a big send-off, once grandpa was done with the demolishing, they danced in the early twilight with the sparklers that grandma had dispatched a week early. Moving about the yard in early dusk singing the death knell of the “Death Maul”.
When I was able to take the bandages off, a week later, grandma and Nonna were the capable hands to do it. Grandma unwrapped, and Nonna held up the mirror. They felt it was best for all of us to just take it in and see it for what it was. The scar was red and angry. It ended in a deep narrow cavity that was my ear. Grandma assured me the scar would fade. I had been lucky. I didn’t lose my eye. I was thankful because being down an eye would probably hamper lip reading. But down an eye would mean playing pirate all the time. Apparently, they didn’t make ear patches. Oh well, that didn’t sound cool anyway. I asked Nonna to twist the mirror. I was looking for my best angle, and I was amused by the shirk in my face caused by a severed dimple. I looked long into the hand mirror. Nonna’s gnarled hand delivered a small tremor.
“I guess my left side is my best side. But my right side is my bad guy side.”
Written by Leah Holbrook Sackett, Saint Louis, Missouri – United States
Feature Photo by Here to Travel