The way I look forward to their visits, you’d think they happen once a year rather than once a week. But today is Sunday, which means my darling son Robert is coming over with his two children, Annabelle and Mark, nine and seven. I never thought I wanted children—though don’t get me wrong, I loved raising Robert. So when friends gushed about how Grandbaby Troy had learned a new syllable or how Sadie’s sweet little Scarlett finally rolled over, I just couldn’t comprehend why these empty-nesters were so excited about having another batch of children to raise.
But when Annabelle was born, all that changed. My heart melted when she fell asleep to the sound of my singing and again when I understood that Mark’s, “I-li-la,” meant, “I like that,” and that the “that” sometimes, meant me. There was something about being a grandmother, and when I discovered that all I had to do was babysit them once a week, feeding them ice cream and leaving the job of begging them to eat vegetables to their parents, I finally understood.
And they were so much like my little Robbie, it made me feel young again, not stuck in this body that invariably decides, more often than not, that it would rather be a pain in the knee than take the walks my doctor keeps insisting upon. There was the time I did go for a walk, ending up at the strip mall five miles away with no idea how I’d gotten there. I can’t risk that happening with Annabelle and Mark.
So I make Robert and I some tea and pour the kids some milk so they can dunk the chocolate chip cookies I baked. As we play Monopoly, I tell them stories about my family and my childhood because who knows how many years I have left. I am 77 after all, and these kids need to know what it was like when I was young.
I always begin where any widow does, with my husband, Ken, and how we met in high school and used to go on dates at the soda shop and share milkshakes and fries. I can still hear the purr of his dad’s ’32 Ford truck as we drove up to the lake. The murmur was punctuated with Ken’s stories about every carburetor and brake pad and transmission he’d replaced.
As Robert rolls the dice for Annabelle—they’re playing as a team—I’m still lost in memories of the lake and the time Ken and I got in a big fight. It was dumb really, I can admit so many years later. I confronted him about flirting with Sally Abrams, his childhood neighbor. She eventually got knocked up by one football player or another, ended up with a bratty little girl, Katie, before whoever the dad was left her for some woman he met in his office.
That Katie, always leaving sticky fingerprints all over the house, has a crush on little Robbie, like mother, like daughter. I’ve just about had it up to here with her coming over and trying to make musical instruments out of plates and flatware, waiting to be fed as if she hasn’t been in a week.
Suddenly, I can’t contain myself. I look at Katie, who’s sitting on Ken’s lap. She always has this smirk on her face, like Sally sent her over here because she knows how much Ken is hoping I’ll cave and decide to have another child, a daughter this time. As if I can choose. But Katie’s smirk is also somewhat familiar, like the one Robbie makes when he has to go to the bathroom but is having too much fun to leave whatever it is he’s doing.
“Listen to me you little twit.” The words explode out of me, years of contained rage and jealousy I didn’t even know I felt spilling out. “Your mom’s a whore who would’ve fucked Robbie’s daddy if it wasn’t for me. You are never going to grow up to be anything more than the slut your mother is.”
Katie starts to cry, as if on cue. The little monster. Ken’s wide eyes tell me he’s shocked and disappointed, but there’s a softness and admiration in them, as if he’s mimicking the look Robbie gives me when he wants me to buy him a pack of gum at the market. “C’mon, Mom,” he’s saying, “let’s go lay down.”
But his tricks won’t work on me, not today. “Don’t talk to me like that, Ken. I’m not your mother, I’m your wife.”
Brianna J.L. Smyk is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area and now lives in Santa Monica, California. She earned a Master of Professional Writing (MPW/MFA) from University of Southern California in 2015. She is a former culture journalist for Nola.com, and her fiction work has been published or is forthcoming in Drunk Monkeys, FORTH, and The Human Touch Journal.” Brianna is an editor of Exposition Review and the former Nonfiction Editor and Associate Editor of Southern California Review. She holds a master’s in art history and teaches yoga. Find out more about Brianna on Twitter: @briannasmyk.