From March 29th to April 2nd 2017, I went to Louisville, Kentucky with five other students to present at the 2017 Sigma Tau Delta Convention. The convention was a highly educational adventure and was a blast to attend. In our spare time, we traveled around the local Louisville area and visited the Kentucky Derby museum as well as the Slugger museum. We all got along splendidly and enjoyed our time together. One of my group members received second place in one of the categories. I received an honorable mention for the piece I submitted. Below is the creative prose that I presented at the convention. Written in my fiction workshop class, this piece is about a woman reflecting on when she was six and spent an afternoon with her great aunt.
Seeing Through Touch
When I was six, I was dumped off at my great aunt’s house for a whole afternoon. I was armed with a bag of coloring books and a sixty pack of pre-sharpened pencils. As soon as my parents drove off, I resigned myself to sitting at that rickety old table all afternoon. All I knew about Grenna was that she was weird.
Before that afternoon, I saw her a couple times at my mom’s family gatherings and endured her attention as best I could. Mom and Dad pestered me to be nice and talk to her. I didn’t have much of a choice since I was the only kid under the age of twenty at those reunions. Being the youngest of seven siblings, my mom was fairly young compared to her family and late in starting the family game. So I sat at tables and colored or stretched in the grass to watch the sky. Mom would always find me and tell me to talk to Grenna. Back when my mom was a kid, she spent a lot of time with her aunt Grenna. They were close, and Mom expected me to grow as close.
Her eyes always unsettled me. Pale blue, almost colorless irises sat in her eye sockets and bounced blankly around her settings. When I would try to talk to her, she never looked me full in the face. As a six-year-old, I didn’t know how to deal with that. Mom said to be nice. Dad said to be helpful. I just wanted to be left alone with my coloring.
I remember watching my parents leave in their worn down Suburban from the wide bay window of Grenna’s kitchen. She’d been nice as my parents left me stranded on the porch, saying “hello” and “how are you” as I walked past her. Earlier that week, Mom had brought me there to ask Grenna if she’d be willing to “babysit” me for a couple of hours as Mom and Dad chauffeured some friends from abroad around. Grenna happily accepted.
“Zoe’s very low-key,” Mom had said. “As long as she has her coloring, she’ll give you no trouble.”
“I’m not a key,” I said. “I’m a girl.”
Grenna laughed. “I’d be happy for the company. I don’t have enough these days.”
And that settled that.
The soft click of Grenna’s needles scraped at my ears. I looked up from my coloring and stared at her. Grenna sat at the end of the table and continued knitting some project. Every once in a while, her eyes would wander to me and bounce off.
“How do you do that? You can’t see!” I said.
Her head turned in my general direction as a smile tugged at her lips. She was always trying not to laugh at me back then. “I can see with my fingers.”
I dropped my colored pencil. “Really? How’d you get eyes there?” I slid off my chair and walked over. Grabbing her hands, I turned them face up. They were warm and wrinkled like my bed sheets and looked like a tan, old version of my pale hands. Squinching up my eyes, I said, “I don’t see any eyes.”
A full laugh burst from her chest. “No, I don’t have eyes on my fingers. I do use them like eyes though.” Her fingers traced the vine pattern on her knitting. “When I move my fingers over things, I can see them in my mind. It’s how I read too. In special books, the publishers create bumps for me to run my fingers over so I can read.”
“Can I see a book like that?”
“If you’d like. You can pick one on the shelf to the right of your chair.”
I turned my attention to the bookshelf and frowned. “What color is it?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea.” Her voice was calm and quiet.
“Oh. Right.” I plodded to the bookshelf, the squishy carpet wrapping around my bare toes. Grabbing a random book, I placed it in her lap. “Here.”
Flipping it open, she ran my right pointer finger over the first bump. I giggled as the paper tickled my skin. After connecting each series of dots, she said the letters of the alphabet. Slowly, Grenna spelled out words.
“So is this like a superpower?” I asked. “Superpowers are cool. I’d like to turn invisible.”
“Sort of. Not exactly. It’s just how I’ve adapted to life. Some people have other adaptations.”
“What’s an a-dap-ta-tion?”
Tapping the side of her right leg, she was quiet for a moment. “An adaptation is something that a person has come by that helps them function or makes their life a little easier.”
I caressed the bumps. “Like what?”
“Well,” she said, “some people have special pieces of equipment put in their car so that they can drive when they don’t have legs. Then there’s some people who have little machines in their ears that help them hear. I also know a young man who has a dog that helps him remember to check his blood sugar.” Grenna smiled. “Such things are what makes us extra special.”
“That’s cool,” I said as I closed the book. “Can I have an a-dap-ta-tion?” I said the word slowly, rolling it on the edge of my tongue. It felt odd, but I liked the way it sounded.
“I think you already do,” she said. She slowly reached for my hand and patted it. “Your momma told me about your night terrors. How you’ve been waking up at night screaming for your parents about monsters and not wanting to be around a lot of people.” I looked out the window as tingles suddenly ran through my body. Grenna squeezed my hand. “She also told me how coloring has been the only thing that has kept them at bay. That’s sort of like an adaptation. My knitting, you see,” she fumbled with her fingers until she found where she last placed it, “is sort of like another one for me. It keeps my mind from going idle.” She smiled at me. I noticed the crookedness of her top left pointy tooth. I smiled back at her.
“What’s idle mean?”
A softer laugh puffed out of her chest as she moved her fingers over her yarn. “It means something isn’t used for a while. When you’re as old as I am, that’s not a good thing.”
I nodded, pretending to understand.
“Here. Would you like to see how I knit?” She patted the plaid cushion of the bay window. “I promise I won’t bite.”
Grenna went back to knitting, green yarn tangling into a knot she couldn’t see. I sat next to her and pulled out the knot, my attention caught watching her needles click together. Maybe she wasn’t so weird. I listened to her explain what she was doing with her hands as she moved the yarn between the needles. Doing my best to pay attention, I watched her fingers, my colored pencils forgotten on the table.
Hours later when my parents came to reclaim me, I gave Grenna a hug before leaving, my lungs inhaling the sweet scent of her rose perfume. Mom watched with wide eyes and an intake of breath. Hugging wasn’t something I willingly did for people that weren’t my parents.
As Dad pulled the car out of the driveway, I asked, “When am I going to Grenna’s again?”