I’ve been working indoors all afternoon, and find them afterward sitting on the driveway painting. The grandkid has a swatch of orange across her forehead.
“You’ve got some orange paint on your forehead, kid,” I tell her.
She wipes her hands across her face several times. Now her forehead, bangs, and eyelids are smeared with red paint.
“Well, you took care of the orange,” I say.
They’ve painted a small coffin pink.
“Hey, that’s dope! What will you put inside it?”
“People!” They say, and hold the small carved pieces of wood up for my inspection. They’ve painted the heads yellow, red, blue. There’s a tiny one still to be painted.
“Is that a baby?” I ask.
And here’s the thing, nobody tells you how it is. Sunlight through the honey locust trees, the hose nearby to wash paint from hands and foreheads, the small girl and her grandmother sitting on the black driveway with their little wooden bodies, and their pink coffin. You can’t anticipate this when you are twenty-two and dreaming of family. You can’t say how you will startle at the dinner table — you and her grandmother and her great-grandmother — when the child hands Mary a bow from her pants and says, “Grandma, this fell off.”
Our faces lit by a glow like firelight.
“She called you grandma!” I say before I can stop myself.
Mary nods. “She does every once in a while. The rest of the time I’m Mary. I tried to get her to call me, OG, but she wasn’t having it.”
They are both sitting on the driveway with their legs twisted up in a horrifying way, their feet bare. I can see it, my wife as a slight towheaded child.
Fortune in every direction. Dappled in primary colors.
“I painted this zombie for Gavin!” The child holds up a sheet of green monster.
“Do you know why I make him art?”
“So maybe he’ll want to be friends with me when I’m a big kid, too.”
We get to keep all this. The world howling somewhere beyond this huddle of trees, these beauties. I have felt a step to the outside so much of my life. The writer, always a witness. Even to her own flaying. Thinking now of the way her heart goes on in her chest in its furious way, keeping track of everything.