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My Grandfather, 1997 This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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During the service, my aunt and I leaned our heads against the back of the pews, her veil revealing only slight traces of her prominent nose and lips, and even at that age I was embarrassed because she was crying. Her breath came out in huffs that made the veil flutter like a curtain blown about by an indecisive wind, and the tears caused her veil to stick to her eyelids; the two contrasting images spoke of some emotion or notion of the afterlife I had yet to grasp, and so I sat with my knotty legs kicking the air and my hands clasped between my thighs. "Do you have to go?" in a whisper: this was my mom. I shook my head with juvenile violence. "We say 'no,' Jordan." I was about to parrot but then my aunt (who was not my aunt but my grandfather's second wife; my actual grandmother sat several rows behind us and I would glance back at her and her jowls would contract into a half-moon grin; the point is my parents have still not told me she was not my aunt, familial strife being a subject my parents nimbly sidestep), my aunt howled, there is no better word for it. The air irritated by her gasps seemed to gain weight, to become tangible; everyone shifted and muttered in their seats. I needed to comfort her not out of some intrinsic moral obligation but because I was simply annoyed, vexed that she was able to do this and I couldn't distract myself by playing with the toys my brother was currently teething. My grandfather was dead, so what: he had simply gone away and would come back again, a vacation to somewhere I wasn't yet allowed to go, big deal. I had to do something. I took a slip of paper used to write notes for the sermon and began to sketch out an image I believed acceptable: my grandfather, dressed in the suit he wore in his coffin, his head tilted to the people he left, nailed to the cross. I didn't know what symbolism was, didn't know there was a word with that many syllables, but now it's obvious what I meant to convey: he had sacrificed himself but wanted to let my aunt (screw it: other grandmother) know that it's OK. I drew the legs with a cubist's proportions, gnarled trunks converging at a nailed apex. Arms flew out like fingerless dirigibles to opposite expanses. I took careful time shading his face, the shadow like a stain across the left side of his face. (It looked like a bruise but my other grandmother would know what I meant: he had not suffered.) Feeling competent and with a pale glow of self-admiration I presented the paper to her. She unstuck her eyelids from the veil, and whispered "Oh, honey...." She then lifted the veil to the back of her head, and with her fingers pinching the bridge of her nose and her eyes wiping away the nictitated glaze of grief she looked puzzled. She turned to me. "What is this supposed to be?"





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