by Sharon Short
When we were little, we played with blades of grass.
First, of course, we’d search for four-leaf clovers on the hill behind Grandma’s house. Remember her tiny house with the finished attic? The attic where we shared a creaky fold-out cot, and wrestled for possession of one thin, mothball scented blanket?
Yes, wrestled, hard and loud. Maybe we hoped to rend that blanket so Grandma would have to get a fresh one down from her closet shelf—a soft, fluffy, lilac-scented one.
(You always said I made up that other blanket—like I’d waste a fib on a blanket—but I swear I saw it on our first visit when I went exploring. That first visit, when exploring still seemed okay. Possible. That first visit, while you clung to Mama, and I poked into forbidden nooks and crannies.)
Anyway, we wrestled over the mothball blanket like it was a real prize, until Mama, across the room on the bare mattress leftover from her childhood bed, whispered hush and still and so we hushed and stilled and waited for Mama’s soft sobs to stop and for silence, which had clutched us in the car on the drive up, to finally catch up with us. As if silence maybe had to stretch its legs after we all got out of the car, take a stroll around town.
By the time silence finally rejoined us, I pretended to be asleep. But you—you’d shoulder right past silence with our blanket and cover Mama up.
Mornings, silence had taken off again, of course. Like the bastard it was. So Grandma sent us out back with our breakfast toast on the hill behind her house, so Mama could say luck just ran out and Grandma could say what did I tell you.
And we’d lay on our bellies on the dew-damp hill and pretend that Grandma’s kitchen window wasn’t open, and pretend that their voices didn’t carry, and pretend—at least I did; did you?—that Grandma’s hill led to other hills, hills beyond hills, and not just to the town dump. We’d dutifully eat our toast. Then we’d search for four-leaf clovers. Finding none, we’d pluck the blades. Blades of grass.
Then, we’d roll on our backs, our damp soft bellies to the afternoon sky, the sun on our faces. And we’d make our whistles play random tunes or sometimes The Battle Hymn of the Republic, like Mama used to sing, before the car rides with silence to Grandma’s house. Yes. We’d play the Battle Hymn with grass blade whistles.
Sometimes, ants would crawl from the blades into our mouths, and we’d laugh and swallow and eat them and the grass blades too. So moist and chewy after dry, burnt toast.
Other times, the grass blades would slice our lips or tongue tips. And then we’d get to taste our own blood.
Grass blades are surprisingly sharp.
Now I whistle with just my lips, and the tune falls flat in the alleys and on the streets, and the only blade I carry is a switch blade, and usually, I don’t think of you.
But sometimes—sometimes after I’ve cut someone free of this life, and maybe turn their soft bellies to the night sky, and maybe there’s moonlight on their face, and maybe for just a moment silence has caught up again—sometimes I do. I do think of you.
And I wonder: when might I be so lucky again to find a hill of blades of grass?