GREAT-GRANDMA’S HANDS • by Mark Oliver

For Jacob, the greatest mystery about visiting Great-Grandma was her hands. In her face Great-Grandma portrayed the illusion of a tired, feeble old woman, but her hands betrayed her terrible power. They were tense blue claws riddled with hard bumps; just a thin layer of flesh barely repressing the skeleton coiled in thick blue veins underneath. Her throat bulged out like a frog’s, her hair jutted out in fierce patches of white tufts checkered upon her head. Her skin seemed stretched and dropped, like it had once been worn by a much larger thing, since discarded. But above all, it was the hands, the hard blue claws at her side, that gave her away.

Great-Grandma slumbered in an enormous building that shot out of the ground and above the highest trees, hidden in an inconspicuous suburb in the west end. She lived like royalty, attended at all times by servants in blue robes who looked after her every need. She’d filled her home with old people like her — strange spectres of a mysterious origin, each with lairs of their own, wandering the halls, unresponsive, indifferent to mortal concern.

She, however, never left a single sixth-floor room that she’d chosen as her own. It was a seemingly plain room not unlike the others, decorated only in drab plastic sheets, a TV that was never on, and a large sign reminding her of the date. The reason she had chosen this as her lair for her great hibernation remained a mystery to Jacob, but there she stayed, quiet and still on the plastic bed in the centre of the room.

Jacob was always intimidated in his Great-Grandma’s room. She was there, motionless at the head of her bed, poised to strike like a python waiting for her prey. Her eyes seemed to be closed, but there was a flicker that came through, a life peering through the slivers between her eyelids.

He never went to visit his Great-Grandma without his mom and his grandma beside him. Not that he was afraid, no — but he never had the heart to leave them behind. Their lives seemed to revolve around him; Jacob couldn’t imagine what it was they did when he wasn’t around. And so, in his magnanimity, he’d let them each take a hand as he led them into the mysterious tower in which she slumbered.

Mom and grandma would gather nervously around Jacob’s Great-Grandma to offer her small words and brief talk that Great-Grandma never deigned to answer. At times she might stir mightily, or let out a discontented growl. At others, she would mutter small words of apparent nonsense — agreement when none was requested, comments on women who weren’t present. Jacob’s mom and grandma never understood, could never see past the apparent senselessness, but Jacob knew. Jacob saw it for what it was. Great-Grandma was in constant communion with a greater power than they could understand. The matters of the earth were beneath her.

It was all clear to Jacob — Great-Grandma’s silence, her stillness. This was the time of her slumber. She was a creature of the night. He knew she was a fearsome force, waiting for the moment when she’d be awakened and the twilight hours would be hers once more. Often, in hushed voices, Jacob’s grandma and his mom would talk of Great-Grandma’s time, in distress that it was coming soon. They, too, knew what Jacob’s Great-Grandma was. They knew to fear the day of her rise.

Jacob returned every week to bravely face his Great-Grandma, to keep his stoic vigil over her through her period of hibernation, until her great hour came and the need had passed. It was in the fall when it happened. His mom was the one to tell him. He knew before she’d said a word — she moved differently that day, seemed so silent and afraid. It was no surprise when she told him Great-Grandma’s time had come.

Jacob wasn’t afraid. He spent the whole night awake, staring out the window, watching, waiting to see Great-Grandma flying through the night.


Mark Oliver is a writer living in Toronto, Ontario.


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Every Day Fiction

  • A bit of an unusual piece today – a character sketch (and a pretty darn good one) that evolves into a story. And rather a creepy story, at that.

    My only nitpick is that you mention the rooms as being ‘lairs’ on two occasions quite close together. Perhaps you could have alternated with ‘den’. Aren’t I the petty one!

    Anyhow, a good read, and especially useful for anyone sketching out creepy characters in their own writing.

  • Rob

    I thought the writing and the concept were good, but I just couldn’t get over the words and style being sooooo much above the obvious age of the character making the observations.

  • A good character sketch. Not a kind one hat’s for sure.
    I hope my great grandson never sees me as you have portrayed this woman.

  • JenM

    Wow. At times I wasn’t sure if this was a supernatural tale or not. A neat taken on how very young kids might see things.

  • Jerry Kraft

    I love this story. I think you’ve caught so much of the mystery and power of the aged in our lives, and in our world. Really nice work.

  • WOW. I love this story! I love the little boy who believes in the power and the magic of dying woman, and I love the patient compassion he has for his mom and grandma, who don’t see what he sees and who don’t understand.

    Is it too early to nominate stories for The Best of EDF 4?

  • Boy visits great-grandma at the nursing home and sees her in a way no one else can. Creepy and entertaining. Nicely done. A four bedpan read….

  • Rose Gardener

    I love the description of Great Grandma and the confident knows-what-is-what voice of Jacob.

  • Fantastic idea and execution.

  • Loved this. Fantastic use of a child’s skewed, magical-thinking perspective.

    “Their lives seemed to revolve around him; Jacob couldn’t imagine what it was they did when he wasn’t around.”

    Gorgeous capture of the total, but still rather sweet, self-absorption of childhood.

    A very entertaining read.

  • As much as this story is a sketch of Great-Grandma, I think it also drives you to drawn conclusions about Jacob. Personally, I saw him as a kid who read a lot of comic books and fantasy stories–faced with the unknown he grabs onto what he relates to best.

    Perhaps this is an awful lot to draw out of the story, but the piece definitely prompted me to think about it. So props for that.

  • Jim

    Loved everything about this story. I think you were writing about my childhood.

  • very good atmosphere created in this story.

    however, repetition of claws in first paragraph was overstated. rest of the writing was good.

    good how the elderly person’s home was portrayed – like as though it was something else: a cross between the supernatural and the macabre.

    however, not much of a story arc – didn’t really take off.

    would be a good start to novel or novella because it’s a character sketch

    very good
    entertaining

  • Jackie McMurray

    After many visits to nursing homes, I love the idea that a young child might misconstrue what the adults are doing and saying. Well done.

  • Ryan

    Creates and maintains Jacobs frame of mind 100% believably. Particularily liked how the first paragraph draws attention to Grandma’s “claws”, and leads us to believe that from that small detail the rest of Jacobs vision emerges.

  • Lyrical and wonderful.

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