Ben Turner burst through the door, kicked off his shoes, dropped his backpack and ran into the kitchen. As expected, a shiny red apple awaited him on the counter. Without word, he snatched the apple and climbed into a bar stool to enjoy it.
“Hungry today Benny?” Asked Grandma, as she took inventory of the contents of the kitchen. Ben smiled through his mouth full of apple and nodded excitedly.
He loved everything about having Grandma live at his house. Even getting her moved in last summer was a great adventure. Ben got to ride with Daddy in a big truck all the way to Grandma’s. He felt so grown-up as he helped carry boxes and possessions from her house to the truck. All the way back home he and Grandma sang and laughed.
On his first day of third grade, Ben came home to find the largest, most succulent red delicious apple sitting upon the counter. Grandma smiled and handed it to him. That day, and every day since, they would sit together as Ben finished his apple, happily discussing the events of the day. Mom and Dad were at work, so Grandma even helped Ben with his homework. He would never tell them, but Grandma was a much better teacher than his parents. She was warm and patient where they were usually hurried and flustered. Even when he struggled, Grandma would smile, pat his head, and slowly start over.
Homework wasn’t the only thing Grandma was the best at. Grandma always cooked the most divine meals. He appreciated Dad’s morning Eggo waffles. Mom’s packed lunches were certainly edible. Oh but dinner… Ben looked forward to devouring Grandma’s dinner time creation every single day.
“No homework today, Grandma!” Ben exclaimed as he wiped the sticky apple remnants from his face with the back of his hand. She grinned and shook her head. She motioned him toward the sink and turned the faucets to just the right temperature. He put his hands under the running water and allowed Grandma to gently wipe his face.
“Good”, Grandma replied, “I am making a special dinner tonight. I could use your help. Wash those hands up like I taught you.”
Getting to help Grandma in the kitchen was always a treat. She called him “the official kitchen taste tester” and let him sample all of the food before it was served. He scrubbed his hands as clean as a surgeon in preparation.
As they got to work, Ben wondered what was so special about meatloaf. Sure, Grandma’s was the best as far as meatloaf is concerned, but this certainly didn’t constitute a “special dinner”. His disappointment was quickly replaced with elation when he realized that they would also be baking a chocolate cake for dessert. Not only would he get to taste test the batter, but he’d also get to apply the frosting and lick the spatula. His Grandma was the best grandma.
Mom and Dad gushed over the luscious food that Ben and Grandma had made them. The cake was delectable and moist. The homemade frosting was a perfect balance of light, sweet, and chocolaty. Everyone ate until they were stuffed to capacity.
After dinner, while the adults cleaned up, Ben headed upstairs for his nightly bath. He wanted to hurry to allow Grandma enough time for a bedtime story. She was even better at storytelling than she was at cooking. Grandma didn’t even need a book. She made up plots that twisted and turned. Characters that became as real as life. Stories that would make them laugh and some that would make them cry. The more time she had, the better the story would get.
Grandma peeked into Ben’s room just as he had finished donning his pajamas. He climbed into bed and Grandma sat down to regal him with the story of “Super Bird”. Ben giggled at the title. Of course Grandma knew exactly how to give that bird life and suck Ben into her world of make-believe.
She told him of a little bird, smaller than all of the rest, who longed to be special. The other birds teased him relentlessly because of his minuscule stature. When he just couldn’t stand the bullying anymore, the little bird ran away from home. She painted a vivid picture of the bird’s travels and especially his destination, the circus. Ben’s eyes widened in wonderment as Grandma’s words portrayed a magical place, full of color and laughter, where the little bird was accepted and loved as the “World’s Smallest Bird”. Ben’s expression turned to concern as the little bird began to grow until he was no longer the smallest or unique. His concern turned to relief when the bird didn’t stop growing until he was the circus’ newest attraction, “Super Bird”.
By the time Grandma finished her story, Ben’s mind was full and his eyes were heavy. Before he drifted off to sleep, he told Grandma, “I am going to sleep now. I want to dream about Super Bird.” Grandma tucked him in tight, kissed his forehead, turned on the nightlight, and softly closed the door behind her.
The next day began like any other. Mom was up early to prepare lunches and leave for work. Dad made toaster waffles for breakfast. Grandma zipped Ben’s coat and helped him with his backpack before hurrying him out the door for his short walk to school.
During lunch that day, Ben began feeling ill. He wasn’t sure what was making him sick. He didn’t have a stuffy nose or a tummy ache. His body didn’t hurt and his head felt ok. He just didn’t feel right. That sensation would linger for the rest of his school day. At the final bell, Ben gathered his things and prepared for his walk home.
He exited through the front door and spotted Mommy in the parking lot near the sidewalk. She hadn’t picked him up from school since second grade. Why was she here now? As he got closer he realized that Mommy had been crying. Those around her rubbed her arm, placed a hand upon her back, and some hugged her. Ben didn’t know why, but his eyes began to well with tears. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally reached his mother. He looked up at her inquisitively and she responded with a tight hug. Mommy kneeled until she looked Ben directly in the eyes. Then she said something so impossible, so infuriating, so cruel… She said, “Ben, Grandma is gone. She left this world and moved on to the next. Baby, Grandma died today.”
“NO!” Ben howled as he shoved his way out of his mother’s embrace. “You’re lying!” She had to be! They just ate dinner together the night prior. Grandma’s bedtime story last night was one of the best yet. She was fine, she was better than fine! She just helped him get ready for school this morning. She wouldn’t leave Ben without saying goodbye. She couldn’t!
Once he escaped his mother’s grasp, he started to run. Each step landed quicker than the one before it. He heard his mother call for him, but this only gave him cause to run even faster. He wanted to be too far away to hear her lies. Warm tears streamed down his cheeks to his quivering chin as he ran toward home on a mission to end this heartless joke. Today when he burst through the door, he didn’t bother to kick off his shoes and he didn’t shed his backpack. He continued his uninterrupted sprint through the house until he reached the kitchen.
There the harsh truth became his reality. Ben gasped for breath as he stared in anguish at the empty spot upon the counter.