*Continuation of Seaside Goodbye (Part 1)
My grandmother’s house was one of my favorite places in the world. It had timeworn, dinged wooden floors and threadbare couches, but it felt cared for and loved and never had that old, abandoned feeling. There had been a number of family pets throughout the ages, and the dogs were always allowed on the couch and the bed, and squeaky toys could be found in the most unlikely places. You could easily picture the house’s inhabitants gathering around the kitchen table for nightly dinners and games of scrabble. Children’s drawings were always proudly displayed on the walls and the fridge. It was the kind of house where you could expect to see a kind old woman singing as she did the dishes at the kitchen sink (which is something my grandmother did often), or while she hung out the wash. It was the kind of house that just made you feel at home.
“Oh! You’re here!” My grandmother’s voice rang through the house when she spotted the three of us by the backdoor.
My grandmother was a small but strong woman. Her hair had been completely grey since before I could remember, her hands were always cold, she could speak fluent Italian, her skin barely had any wrinkles, and she was tanned from the work she did in her garden and from long days spent lounging in the sand. Corina had raised four children, three boys and one girl, buried a husband, and lived alone in her big old house. My father had always joked about wanting me to move in with her. Even though I knew my grandmother didn’t need anyone around to take care of her, the idea sounded better and better to me every day.
“Nonna!” I found myself wrapped in my grandmother’s strong embrace. She smelled like lemon soap, fresh laundry, and the ocean breeze.
“Bambino, I’m so glad you’re finally here. But,” she held me an arm’s length away and studied me, “look at you! You’re so thin! Don’t you eat?” Grammy Corina’s voice took on a scolding edge.
“Of course I eat,” I laughed way her accusation.
She “harrumphed” and pinched my cheek before she wrapped an arm around my shoulder. It was then that she turned her attention to my mother and sister.
Althea walked towards us. “Hi Grammy,” she said softly, unsure.
“Oh,” Grammy gathered her up in a hug, “Althea! Look at you! So big now! Pretty as a picture too.” She patted Althea’s cheek. “You look just like Iuliana. Lucky you.”
I had to resist the urge to roll my eyes. It always irritated me the way that people felt the need to point out my sisters and I’s similar looks. Althea and I saw each other every day, clearly we realized we looked alike. But I certainly wasn’t going to say that to my grandmother.
Althea nodded, her lips pressed in a thin line. “Oh yes. Lucky me.”
My eyes locked with hers. I was surprised at all the anger in them. What did she have to be angry with me about? We stared at each other until my mother spoke.
“Corina,” my mother walked toward Grammy and grasped her hand in hers, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Her words were like a knife to my heart. Grammy’s loss? Was she serious? The man used to be her husband. He was the father of her children. He was the man she shared a bed with for eight fucking years. It wasn’t just my grandmothers loss, it was all of ours. I looked at my mother as she stood there, in this room filled with my father’s relatives and closest friends. Really looked at her. How could she stand there in her tight black dress and bright red heels and offer her condolences to my grandmother like a stranger. She didn’t deserve to be here. She shouldn’t be here. She never deserved my father. Neither did Althea.
“My loss,” Grammy Corina said slowly, “Is it not yours as well?”
Margaret dropped her hand.
“My loss.” My grandmother repeated again. She backed away from Althea and my mother, shaking her head. She looked at my mother like she had never seen her before.
“How dare you?” The words left my mouth before I could stop them. “How can you come in here and act like he meant nothing to you? Like he wasn’t your family once.” Anger dripped from every word. That bitch. “He was my father for god’s sake! My father.” I looked at Althea, “Our father.”
My mother reached out for me. “Iulia-”
“No,” I twisted out of her reach, “don’t you touch me.”
I couldn’t look at her grief free face or her stupid red shoes. I couldn’t be near her anymore. Her or Althea. How could my sister hear the things our mother was saying and not care? All I wanted to do was hit her. Screw them both. I turned and fled to the only place I ever truly felt safe.