David E. Hughes
Uncle Seppos disappeared as he spun a vase on his potting wheel. That's when we knew we had to go.
The journey to Old Grandmother's hut deep in the Asara Forest took us ten days. We lost eight more family members along the way. Little Eddie, who'd barely been old enough to walk, was the first. One moment he toddled behind his mother, the next only his footprints were left in the damp earth. A day later, my father's pack dropped to the loam beneath the palms when the man that had been carrying it vanished. I had been sure that Old Grandmother would remember him, great and strong as he was. I'd cried myself to sleep that night. When I awoke the next morning, the sleeping mats of my brother Taromos and five cousins were empty.
By the time Mother rapped on the bamboo door of Old Grandmother's hut, I wondered if she would forget all of us before she died. It had happened to other families-families that were no more.
"Enter with my blessing," came the dry, frail voice inside.
Mother opened the door, and I followed, trailed by sister Catal, my Aunt Ne, and my Uncle Cavos. The hut was barely large enough to hold us all, and it smelled of earth and herbs. A small fire crackled in the hearth, casting shadows over Old Grandmother, who lay shriveled in her string bed. She breathed slowly and watched us as we entered.
"Who has come?" asked Old Grandmother. "My eyes are not as bright as they once were."
Mother shivered. "Do you not recognize your own daughter? It is me, Helasa. And I've brought my daughters, Winna and Catal."
We all stepped forward, hoping we'd spark a glimmer of recognition in Old Grandmother's eyes.
"Helasa? No, I'm sorry, I know no Helasa."
Mother barely had time to shriek before she disappeared.
I was too stunned to speak, but Uncle Cavos strode forward, his thick mustache moving as he spoke. "No, Old Grandmother! Please, think and try to remember me. I'm your youngest son. And remember my beautiful bride, Ne? How proud you were of me on the day of our marriage parade. Look at me closely before you speak. Do not say you do not remember."
Old Grandmother pushed herself onto one of her stick-like elbows. "A wedding parade, you say?" She fell silent, as if deep in thought. "I wore yellow flowers in my hair! I was so beautiful, so naive. I thought babies came from under banana trees!" She laughed, soft and musical like a young woman, not the cackles of a crone.
"Old Grandmother," said Aunt Ne. "Cavos was not speaking of your wedding but of ours. Surely you remember. It was a mere fourteen moons ago."
Old Grandmother slowly shook her head and lay back. "I never attended such a wedding. Why would I go a wedding parade for strangers?"
Ne and Cavos faded into shadows, and their shadows faded into nothing.
Catal began to weep softly, and I started to wonder what I wished to do before I went the way of the rest of my family. I remembered the last time I visited Old Grandmother. Her eyes had been bright, her hands soft, and her words kind. It was only two moons ago. How could any of us have known she would be stricken by the forgetting sickness?
I remembered the way Old Grandmother had held me next to her in her bed, singing softly until I fell asleep. And suddenly I knew that was how I wanted to go, like I was napping again in the safety of her wrinkled arms.
I crawled into the string bed next to Old Grandmother and looked into her face. She studied me, as if trying to solve one of the Craftmaster's wood puzzles.
"Sing to me," I said. "The song you used to sing about the grasshopper and the monkey."
Old Grandmother's face broke into a smile, and her voice came out smooth and clear. "With a hop in the springtime Grasshopper came, making his way through the green sugarcane . . ."
She sang the whole song, never missing a word. When she finished, she patted my head and said, "Go to sleep now, Winna."
Those were her last words.
Catal looked at me with her big, wet eyes. "What do we do now?"
"A time will come when you get married and have children," I said. "I will remember all of them. Our family will be strong again, and they will call me Old Grandmother."