She put his hand around the warm cup of tea she’d made him, and watched him sip, and smile and nod his head.
“You’re the best, Josie.”
She didn’t really like the nickname, but it was grandpa, and part of her knew that when he was gone, at some point she’d probably look in the mirror, smile and say, “Good morning, Josie,” as he did every morning, whether it was good or not.
She kissed the old man’s cheek, not minding the strong smell of mint over the light scent of decay that permeated his skin now.
“The taste of death,” he told her once. “Stop kissing my cheek.”
“You love it, old man,” she teased.
He chuckled with admiration for her steel; he was a proud grandfather, and she was the best thing he was leaving behind in this world.
“You’ve been down by the ocean…”
“Yes.” His sense of smell was extremely sharp.
“So many times, I’ve asked you not to go; if you do that in front of them, Josie, they will know, and the walls of this house were built for shelter, but not protection.
“Do you understand that?”
“I understand, grandpa.”
“Don’t want you to end up like…”
She saw him wince, and regretted her somewhat spiteful outburst. After all these years, it still bothered him that his daughter was gone, as cruel as she’d been to him.
But as quickly as it came, it left, and he actually had a little bite in his voice when he answered her.
“Your mother was a coward, and your father was worse, but you, dear Josie…”he put his parchment soft hands on her smooth cheeks, “are by far, my best legacy.”
Her face registered a pleased surprised, and she placed her hands over his, pressing them to her cheeks, kissing his cheek again.
“I have to go.”
His smile slowly disappeared, and she helped him get more comfortable in his chair before she went out.
He heard the door shut, and the all too familiar silence settle around him like dust.
“Be careful, Josie. You’re all I have.”
The moon was over the ocean, and the waves were small.
The scent of brine and seaweed and dune grasses rode the evening breeze like cavorting children.
Sitting naked on her blanket, her legs bent under her, she tilted her face up to the moon, and looked at it, her eyes moving, as if reading a page, or the way grandpa’s eyes shifted under the rheumy film, as if trying to break the shell of it for him to see again.
Satisfied with what she saw, she closed her eyes then, and focused her attention on the sounds around her.
It always amazed her that people thought nights were actually quiet; if you paid attention, the noises were just as frequent, and loud.
In time, she heard the footsteps come behind her, smell the light floral scent of perfume, and she kept her back turned, and her eyes closed, waiting for the presence to speak first.
It’s been awhile since we’ve talked, Joselle.
“It has, mother.” She turned and smiled. “Grandpa calls me ‘Josie.’”
He’s always loved nicknames; it was a big part of his own childhood.
“I didn’t know that.”
I never told you, dear.
“He says I shouldn’t summon spirits, either.”
I may be the exception, but he’s not wrong about that. You haven’t yet fully developed your gift.
Joselle turned again, staring accusatorily as the specter walked around to sit across from her.
“I had no mentor.”
The specter smiled.
Don’t seek to make me feel guilty, Joselle. I am past feeling.
“It didn’t take you being dead to get there.”
Her mother disappeared.
Joselle sighed. “Tantrums? Really?”
Sand was thrown in her eyes.
When she was through with her invective tirades against her mother’s childish behavior, her mother sat across from her again.
We aren’t going to accomplish anything here. You will have to leave when your grandfather dies.
“Why can’t I stay there?”
Many reasons, and none of them are good.
“I don’t like that.”
Try being dead. You won’t like that either.
Joselle laughed. “No, I suppose not.”
His time is coming, dear. Already we see glimpses of him here in the underworld, how young, and strong and handsome he was then, and now…
“And now, I take care of him until the end.”
His end will mean for you a new beginning; take heed, there is restlessness in the lands men sail to now. You may not be welcome, and things can go wrong in an instant.
“I know,” she said, standing up, brushing the sand and walking back to her villa, feeling the shadow of her mother’s eyes on her back.
Her mother’s spirit began to sink into the sand as she took her leave.
Be careful, Joselle she said, to the empty space in front of her.
You’re all we have…
© Alfred W. Smith Jr. 2015