It was only after the car was packed that Grandma said she wouldn’t come.
“You have a good time,” she said. She sat down in the uncomfortable stiff-backed chair in the living room with a paperback.
“But this was your idea,” said Mother. We were getting out of the city to visit the new state park. She and Grandma had been up since six, making the picnic lunch. But now Grandma refused to budge.
“I’ve changed my mind.”
“About what?” we asked.
“Shh,” said Mother.
“I don’t have to remember,” said Grandma.
So, finally, we went on without her.
It was a bit dreary when we set out, and we thought perhaps it was best that Grandma hadn’t come to walk around in the cold. There was traffic and Peter got carsick and threw up out the window, and after, the car smelled sour.
But the traffic cleared, the sun came out, and by the time we got to the park, it was the sort of perfect sparkling day you want to bottle for winter.
We, the three children, piled out of the car in a rush: Peter then Anna then Jessie. We wanted to eat the sandwiches first or, no, run across the rocky field and back. Anna was fastest and Jessie said no fair, but it was difficult to cry on such a beautiful day.
The park stretched forever. It used to be part of a town, until the state had claimed part of it for making weapons. That was many years ago, though. There were delightful walks that wended about the hills and half-demolished buildings. We pretended we were soldiers, while Mother drank the thick black coffee she had packed especially for Grandma.
“There’s an old statuary over there,” said Mother, seeing we were starting to get bored. She set down the thermos and herded us up a path through a copse of trees.
A man in a wheelchair by the entrance cranked a glass box of hot, buttery popcorn. Both of his legs were gone. A sandwich board sign next to him stated price of admission. Mother was normally too cheap to pay for that sort of thing, but it was a holiday and we had driven all that way. She paid the man and bought us paper cones of popcorn too.
We went over the hill chattering and snacking on popcorn. Beyond, there was a square plot between two shallow hills, and a low, lazily constructed fence that was half falling down. Enormous statues, some with their heads bashed in or banged up at the knee, stood every which way crammed together in the plot. There was a chaos to the placement of the statues, as if someone had brought them on the back of a flatbed truck and unloaded them in haste.
“Is this supposed to be art?” said Anna, wrinkling her nose and licking the salt off the inside of the paper cone. She looked up at a looming rusted metal woman, shoulders broad, one arm pointed toward the sky.
Mother didn’t answer. She stood hunched in its shadow, like a mouse facing down a cat.
We had never seen statues so big. Anna was right though, there was a palpable meanness to the materials. The statues looked like defeated superheroes, heavy and serious and grey. We tried to climb an enormous leg, until Mother called us off. Our hands came away orange with rust.
There was one that caught our imagination: she stood with a boot on a ladder that stretched up to nowhere, and with a turned head she looked back at us with blank eyes. It looked like she had decided to leave the earth. Peter put his small bony shoulder against the ladder and pushed as hard as he could.
“Stop it,” said Jessie.
Mother walked behind us reading each laminated sign attached to a wooden post with a zip tie. The shadows were lengthening, and we wanted to go home. It was afternoon and Grandma would be making plates of cookies to nibble with our tea.
The drizzle of the morning returned. “Look,” Mother called to us. She stood in front of a particularly ugly knot of giants, arms around each other like they were singing. “This one is from your grandma’s village.”
She read the sign aloud: the people of the town donated their best pots and pans and tools for the production of this fine statue for the glory of the nation. We looked up again. The gentle rain darkened the statues and ran down their upturned faces. It seemed now they were begging someone bigger than the sky.
Mother turned and pointed behind us. “As a matter of fact, she might have lived over there,” she mused. We stared where she pointed. There was nothing but wild meadow and a few young trees.
It was late when we got home. Grandma sat in the parlor with the lights off, reading a book in the gloom. She didn’t like to waste electricity when there was still a smear of sun left. There were the individual plates of cookies, and the kettle on the stove was almost boiling. She must have gotten up every fifteen minutes or so to reheat the water, not knowing when we would be home.
“Did you enjoy yourselves?” Grandma asked after Mother turned on the light, and we sat around her drinking our tea. She was same as we had left her, and yet, it felt like we had gone around the sun.
“We ate popcorn,” Peter told her.
“The statues were very big,” said Jessie.
“I didn’t like them,” said Anna, burying her face in the soft wrinkled skin of Grandma’s neck.
“Yes,” agreed Grandma.
She spooned too much sugar into her cup, as usual. Then, she picked up her book and began to read again, as if she didn’t feel the creeping darkness and the rain that washed the bones of those giants, who were dead maybe, or merely sleeping.
Yume Kitasei (www.yumekitasei.com) lives in Brooklyn, NY with two cats, Filibuster and Boondoggle. Her stories have appeared in publications including SmokeLong Quarterly, Baltimore Review, and Room Magazine. She chirps occasionally @YumeKitasei.
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