– I think your guardian angel visited you, Oscar. You should be happy!, said my Granny Rosa with excitement when I told her I’d seen a ray of light coming in from the window of my room the night before and that it spoke to me.
It was raining, and the light standing in the middle of my room woke me up. It was the size of a person. A voice was coming out of it, speaking to me. I couldn’t understand the words it said; just one thing: “Do you promise? Do you promise?”.
I said yes I promised because I was scared, but didn’t know what I promised.
– The angel wants you to be a good boy, Oscar. I think that’s what you promised him, Granny Rosa said with her smile. Pink thin lips and worn discolored teeth, it still glowed like a girl’s.
But I didn’t know if she was right or not. She was too good, and far too old to know about scary things that appear in the night. I was eight when I promised the light to do something I didn’t understand. This was many years ago. I was a good boy then; I wasn’t happy but I believed I’d be a happy man one day.
My maternal grandmother was on a wheel chair. I was sitting beside her on a stool and had my head on her lap. I spent the afternoons with her. She had a disease since before I was born, and it paralyzed her starting from the feet up, one piece of her at a time. She could still stroke my hair with her one good hand. One day she wouldn’t be able to talk or breath. I was always checking if her hands got cold, and if they indeed were, I rubbed them with mine, one at a time, until they were warm again.
She told me she wasn’t afraid of dying, but I worried about her all the time. I loved her. She was my only friend.
We spent the afternoons in the living room or in the yard. She watched me do my homework, or play with my train set. I also liked to read to her. When the weather was warm I’d push her wheelchair outside so she could feel the sun, and I wheeled her back in the house before it got dark.
Mom was teaching me how to change her clothes, her diapers, keep her clean and put her to bed, she said one day it was going to be like having a baby in the house and that we were all going to help. I was only a kid, but Granny Rosa was getting smaller every day so it wasn’t hard for me and I wanted to do it.
In one corner of the living room we had the family photos on top of a large, very old cedar trunk Granny Rosa got as a wedding gift. All of us, the dead and the living, were all looking at us from inside their frames.
There was a picture of my great grandparents, and many pictures of my mother. There she was as a baby, a little girl, when she graduated highschool, and then her wedding picture with my dad. My Granny Rosa was also there, very young, when she married my grandfather who died when my mom was five. He had my mother’s features. Granny had jet black hair like mine and dark circles under her eyes, and didn’t look like a happy bride, despite the white lace all over her. Somehow she looked younger now than she did in the picture.
Granny Rosa never talked about her husband. But she said the night of the day she got married stars had rained from the sky and that it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She grew up in a farm in the country, and swore the stars are different there than in the towns or cities.
I was in our family picture collection too; as a baby in my bassinet, and then at the park as a toddler, walking on my fat legs; on a little wooden horse as an older boy. All of my yearly school pictures were there too.
We had two photographs that looked special, and had large oval frames. They were both of Benjamin, my baby brother who died years before I was born.
My mother was holding him, sitting on a bench that still is in our yard. The shadow of her thick curly hair obscured her eyes. She is not smiling as opposed to the little boy in her arms. He shows off his new bottom teeth, his eyes are big and round like a seal’s. A small amount of glistening drool is visible on his chin. The other was a studio image, you could tell that the photographer had darknened his eyelashes and put highlights in his pupils. In both of the pictures he is holding a dark stuffed dog that seems made of velvet, with a ribbon around his neck and floppy ears.
Mom never told anyone who the father was. She dropped out of highschool when she became pregnant with Benjamin.
– I worked so she could take care of him. I wasn’t going to leave my only daughter alone when she needed me most. We didn’t care about people who judged her, Oscar. To hell with all of them, Granny Rosa said when she told me the story of my mother’s first child.
One night Benjamin woke up crying with a very high fever, so he was rushed to the hospital. He died before they knew what kind of infection he had or what they could do to save him.
– They put him in your mother’s arms for her to bring back home for burial. His tiny body stayed warm for hours, we almost expected him to wake up from his sleep any minute. For years after we put him to rest your mother couldn’t stand the rain. Specially at night. She said when she closed her eyes she could see muddy water coming into Benjamin’s casket, making him wet and cold.
It all changed when my mother met my father, she said. They had a wedding, and a honeymoon and then they had me.
– You made her whole again, Oscar. Your daddy knew about Benjamin from the start and he understood. Then you were born and she got over the death of her first baby. You gave back what life took away from her. We are now a family again and I can die in peace when my time comes.
Granny Rosa’s smile had started to look askew, her face muscles were beginning to paralyze. Still her eyes were wet and playful like a puppy’s.
Mom worked as a secretary, Dad was an engineer. Granny Rosa and I took care of each other after I got back from school. When I was younger Granny Rosa fixed our lunch on her wheelchair, we’d eat together and she’d see me through homework. But in the later years I had to take over and feed both of us with whatever mom cooked and left in the fridge. I’d do the dishes and then we’d sit together all afternoon until mom and dad got home and put us both to bed.
I didn’t want my granny to die. I worried about it all the time, but she always told me not to be afraid when her time came, because she’d go to heaven and watch over me from there. She’d probably find Benjamin. One day, after many years had passed, we would all be together, and watch what happened in the world.
Months later, one night, I woke up because I heard somebody calling y name. The voice of a man. As I opened my eyes, I saw the ray of light appear in the middle of my bedroom again. I wanted to scream, but couldn’t find my own voice. I closed my eyes, swallowed and asked if he was an angel.
– Baby brother, he answered. I could hear him clearly this time.
– Are you Benjamin, my baby brother?, my throat hurt and my eyes watered.
– No. You are my baby brother. I am twenty two years old, he said.
– Are you watching over us?, I asked.
– I am watching you. That’s all. I am cold and bored, growing up by myself in nowhere. I miss my mom. I know she misses me. She loves me more, you know…
I remembered how Granny Rosa told me my mom was afraid her first son was cold and wet in his grave, but didn’t think of asking him if that was true because what he said made me angry and less afraid. I closed my eyes and talked directly into the light.
– She loves us both the same…
– That’s what she has to say, but it’s not true. She leaves you here with your grandmother all day. She used to be with me all the time.
– Granny Rosa is your grandmother too…
– It used to be just the two of us, me and mom. Your grandmother was the one who worked and left us both alone all the time. It was like we were the only people in the world. It still is… but you are all here now…
– Why are you coming back now?
– I never left. I’ve been here the whole time, it just took all this time to get someone to hear me. You are so dumb. Walking all around these old rooms and the yard without noticing me with no one to talk to but granma. It is mom’s fault I am stuck here. She hasn’t forgotten me, she can’t let go of me. I can feel her pull, grabbing me to stay. If she could see me I wouldn’t care being tied to this place, but she can’t because of you. If you were gone my mom would know I’m here.
– I know she missed you, but now she has me and my dad. My Granny Rosa too.
He got quiet. A pair of eyes appeared in front of mine and a wave of dread took over me. The hair in the back of my neck felt prickly and a dry heave shook my stomach.
They were the eyes of a grown up, not the ones the baby cradling a toy dog in the photos.
– You really should stop trying to be happy. All of you people. It never happens. It’s the only thing I’ve learned from watching your lives go by.
– Do you ever go out and watch other people? I asked.
His eyes were still in front of me, angry slits looking directly into mine. I couldn’t see anything else. I felt cold and stiff.
– No. I don’t go outside the house. It scares me. I’ve tried to follow my mother when she goes out, but I’m afraid of what’s outside. This place is all I remember. That’s why I stay but I hate it. I want to leave.
– You are supposed to be in heaven…
– I don’t know how to get there. Nobody told me the way. Maybe someone did, but I was too damn little to understand the directions.
His eyes turned desolate in front of me and for the first time I felt bad for Benjamin.
When I was older, not long ago, I found out there’s a french horror movie called Eyes Without a Face, and I looked for it to find if it was about a ghost appearing to you in the form of eyes floating right in front of yours. But it was about a girl who got disfigured in a car accident and constantly wore a white, mask without features, just holes for her eyes.
– Nobody showed me the way. No road appeared in front of me. No angel took my hand. I can’t remember what it was like… to die, but I got stuck here. I believe mom was the one who kept me from leaving here, but if I knew the way to go to heaven I’d disappear, Oscar. I swear.
Benjamin’s kept talking to me.
– If you died, baby brother, maybe you’d get called into heaven and I could just follow you till we both got there and I’d be free. And we’d be together.
The eyes opened wide, then shut and disappeared. But his voice said something else: “Remember you promised to help me”.
The next afternoon, instead of finishing homework and talk all afternoon with Granny Rosa, I decided to go through my mother’s things. I didn’t know what I was looking for. I just told grandma I wanted to take a nap in my room but I checked everything in my mother’s closet, her dresser and her vanity.
I wanted to know more about Benjamin. Granny was really surprised I’d left her alone. I probably took an hour or more, it’s hard to tell.
I had to climb on a chair to get to the top of her closet. Inside an old box made of cardboard and lined with felt I found a little white dress and a bonnet, that velvet puppy that smelled like mildew and had rotten patches all over it, baby pictures, a chewed up rubber teething ring, his death certificate and something that looked like a dry, brown twig. I took the box to my grandmother who was waiting for me in the yard.
– That’s Benjamin’s christening outfit, Oscar, she told me when I showed the dress and bonnet to her.
– Put those things where you found them, dear. You shouldn’t be going through your mother’s stuff and climbing up to get to the top of her closet. What am I going to do if you fall?
I held up the dry twig, and Granny Rosa’s eyes got big and scared.
– What is this?
– Put that back, honey. You shouldn’t be touching that…
Her fear made me more curious.
– Tell me what this is…
She hesitated and sighed.
– Put it back, stop touching it and I will tell you what it is. You are not going to like it.
I dropped the twig inside the box again and started packing all the things I found in there.
– Put it all back, Oscar…
– First tell me what it is…
Her good hand started trembling.
– It’s one of Benjamin’s bones, Oscar.
My hand felt weird after having touched it. I looked at her in fear.
– Years after we put Benjamin to rest, my sister died. We didn’t have money to buy her a grave. So we decided to use his. At her burial, the grave digger took out your baby brother’s casket out of the ground, opened it, put his bones inside a cloth bag and buried them again in the same tomb, this time inside my sister’s coffin. When she was covered, he found a tiny bone had fallen in the ground, so he picked it up and gave it to your mother.
I couldn’t look at Granny Rosa. I couldn’t get over the fact that my mother had kept a dead person’s bone in her closet and that I had just held it as if it was some normal object, like a toothbrush.
– What did you want your mother to do with that bone, Oscar? She couldn’t throw it away like it was garbage. Besides, after my sister was buried with Benjamin she finally stopped thinking about the rain coming inside his grave. She was happy he had some company at last.
I didn’t answer, I took the box and went to my mother’s room to put it back in her closet.
That night the light from the window came back, and a second later the eyes of Benjamin were in front of mine in a way I couldn’t see anything else.
– It’s that bone my mom is keeping what doesn’t let you go? I asked.
– Don’t be stupid, Oscar. I told you I need to know the way to heaven. I need to follow somebody. Yes she is holding on to me, but I am not still here because of a dumb bone.
The grownup eyes stared at me angrily.
– Can’t Granny’s sister guide you?
– She died years after I did, and I never even met her. She and Granny weren’t close. No. If you want to get rid of me, someone has to die so I can go after them and escape this place. It could be you, Oscar. If you die you could come with me and finally have a brother. All you do is hang out with the old woman. You are sad and very boring. Dying is not that hard, baby brother. And if I have learned anything from life and death is there is not point in trying to be happy. I never was, nor is anybody in this house. I bet it’s the same in the whole wide world. Maybe that’s what heaven is for, to be happy at last.
– Granny Rosa, do plants go to heaven? You know, if our tree dies, will it go to heaven?
– I think so, Oscar. Spirits and souls are the ones that go to heaven, but maybe trees and plants go too because they are good to humanity. Heaven must be full of amazing trees and flowers.
I then realized I had no idea how to kill the tree in our yard. Or the grass, for that matter…
– Granny Rosa, do animals go to heaven when they die?
– Oh, I’m sure they do, dear. I’ve told you how I lived in a farm when I was a girl, haven’t I? We had rabbits, pigs, chickens, sheep, cows and a horse. I loved them all and I know they are in heaven now, waiting for me. Animals have souls like ours, that’s why we can’t help but love them.
I had no idea how to kill animals, or what animals to kill even if I knew how.
Benjamin kept coming. Most of the time he didn’t speak to me. I just saw the ray of light appear in the middle of my room, and then his eyes were in front of mine. I tried to shut them tight but I could still feel his stare.
One night, before my baby brother showed up in my room again. I went to Granny Rosa’s room very quietly so mom and dad wouldn’t wake up. She was lying on her side and I woke her up.
– What is it, dear?
Her tongue had started to get slow and her words were a bit slurry.
– Granny, I want to show you something. Come. It’s raining stars outside. I started pulling her out of bed like mom taught her. She complied and helped push herself up with her good hand.
– I don’t think it’s raining stars, honey. I can hear the regular rain outside. The sky has to be clear for the stars to show… What time is it?
– Please, Granny Rosa, let’s go before it’s over…
– Let me put my shawl on…
– We have to hurry! Quick!
I pushed her wheel chair out of the room and to our front door. I had two large garbage bags with me and cut them at the sides to make large sheets out of them to cover us both. Before going out, I wrapped one bag around Granny Rosa like a hooded cape and the other around myself.
The rain was pouring. Thunder and lightning were doing their thing. Grandma was only wearing her old flannel night dress, I was in my pajamas, slippers and bathrobe.
– All I see is lightning, Oscar. We should get back in the house. It’s getting cold…
– Wait, Granny! Remember that angel? He told me stars were going to rain tonight and he wanted us to see them…
– Oh! He spoke to you again?
– Yes. You were right. He told me to be a good boy, and I promised him I will. Keep looking at the sky…
I got down on my knees in front of her wheel chair and took her bare feet off the stirrups and set them on the wet grass.
– Baby, what are you doing? I’m cold …
– I want you to feel the rain, Granny, it’s nice. Smell how good it is…
– Dear, bring me inside please…
I unwrapped the plastic bag from around her, and unbuttoned the front of her nightgown. Then I put the break in her wheelchair.
– I’ll cover you again right now.
And I did, I covered her with my body, I protected her from the rain and the cold for a minute or two. I cried inside her hair. “I love, you Granny Rosa, I love you so much. Please be happy in heaven. Forgive me”, I whispered in her ear trying not to yell because I was bawling like a dying animal. I stood up and looked at her. Her eyes were closed, I don’t know if she was crying too.
I kissed her wet forhead, I kissed her cold hands. Then I took the garbage bag and loosely covered her head and body with it. I used the bag I was wearing to cover her from the waist down, and walked back into the house, closed the door behind me.
In my bedroom, I shut my eyes really tight while tears kept pouring out. I called Benjamin over and over again. “There she is, follow her, you asshole. Follow her to heaven and leave me alone”.
Hours passed, and before dawn, I got up from my bed and went out of the house again. The rain had stopped but deep puddles were all over our lawn. I removed the garbage bags covering Granny Rosa. Her head had dropped to a side like a puppet’s. She looked white and was cold as a metal. I wheeled her back into the house. Once in her room, I dried her off with a towel, buttoned her night gown, and put her back into bed.
I still couldn’t stop crying. I went back to my room, hid the garbage bags under my matress and laid down under the covers.
Granny Rosa wasn’t dead yet. When my mother tried to wake her that morning she thought she was but there was still a weak pulse and her breathing sounded like a cricket trapped in an oil drum. She assumed the dampness in her mother’s clothes was sweat from a feverish night. Granny passed two nights later at home. No use taking her to a hospital, the doctor said.
Before going to the funeral home where her body was sent, I saw my mother go into her closet and take out the round box of Benjamin’s things. I believe she recovered her first son’s bone and to put it inside her mother’s coffin, to be rid of it at last. I hated to think that Granny Rosa had to spend eternity sharing her grave with that bone.
When it rains at night I can’t wipe away the thoughts of my grandmother, helpless in her wheelchair under some garbage bags, struggling to breathe, her frail body fighting for hours to stay warm knowing it was me who put her there, and that she wasn’t going to survive.
Years passed and not a night went by without me crying for myself and my Granny Rosa. Benjamin’s eyes stopped speaking to me and I never saw the ray of light again. For a while, I was afraid my dead grandmother would be stuck in the house just like it happened to my baby brother, but as far as I know she didn’t become an unquiet spirit attatched to the world of the living.
Life just kept going on. I went to school and spent my afternoons with the sole company of the family photographs that stayed on top of Granny Rosa’s chest.
I am now about to start college. Mom told me to undo my bed because we are buying a new one. As I do this, I find the garbage bags I used that rainy night. They were still under my matress and have degraded a little, staining the old mattress.
It’s the middle of the Sunday afternoon when this happens. No ray of light is visible but Benjamin’s eyes appear in front of mine, older and still full of spite after all these years.
– Guess what, baby brother? Heaven doesn’t exist.
© All rights reserved Gabriela Fonseca.
Gabriela Fonseca. Born in Mexico City, she married journalism at a young age, but not long after that decided to take fantasy story telling, as her lover. This threesome has proved productive, longstanding, and not likely to end anytime soon. She’s published the novels in Spanish Peso Muerto and Secretos del Mar y de la Muerte, as well as the short story collection Los Diablos de Teresa.