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now i lay me down to sleep

by ashley toomey

          The day my grandfather died, I saw his body.

          My grandmother was frozen in the entrance of their living room, her unblinking, glassy eyes trained on the stiff, cold figure slumped over the couch. When my mother got the call from her mother that her father was gone, we had immediately rushed down the road, making the five minute drive even quicker with the ferocity that my father sped up.

          Because I didn’t know any better, I entered the 60-year-old house, making a beeline for the living room that I frequented on the crispy mornings before school to watch cartoons, chomp on delicious buttered toast, and slurp chocolate milk.

          I stopped short when I almost bumped into my grandmother’s frozen stance. She was still staring in that direction, unable to move, unable to cry. My eyes followed her line of sight and there he was.

          His eyes were closed, magnified by his large-rimmed, coke-bottle glasses. His right hand was gently resting over his heart, the left dangling over the edge of the couch along with his left leg. He looked like he was sleeping, yet I didn’t dare take a step closer to him. It wasn’t like the month before where I’d gotten off the bus and ran straight into his arms, his warm smile inviting, his warmer arms strong around my small frame. There was no smile, the corners of his lips turned down, yet he held a peaceful visage.

          When my mother darted into the room, she immediately burst into sobs, hands over her mouth, then her nose, then her eyes. Her hair stuck out in every direction, frizzy and frazzled beyond recognition. Sharply, she turned her body from him and body slammed her forehead into my grandmother’s still unmoving shoulder. My mother’s arms wrapped like vines around her mother’s body, but my grandmother’s old, weak arms remained planted at her sides.

          I only watched her for half a minute before returning my gaze to my grandfather. It dawned on me that he wasn’t just taking a nap, and I turned on my heel, fleeing out the front door and into the yard. The blue-and-purple-colored swing set that I’d played on many times throughout my childhood was particularly inviting to me; it was, the only place I could go that wasn’t in that small house.

          No one followed me out as I ambled over to the right swing—my favorite swing—the one closest to the attached slide that was always infested with spiders. I sat down and flinched; the seat was colder than I remembered. I relaxed and began to push my feet deep into the mud to get a good start. But my legs were weak and wobbly, and I couldn’t focus on enough force to push me high into the sky.

          I looked up. Was he up there now? I had heard many times before that when we go away, we go to a place in the sky—a gilded place full of winged people—a place where only the good people would go. I wanted to believe that place was real and that was where he was now.

          But I couldn’t help the feeling of a presence beside me. I angled my neck towards the left swing, unmoving and littered with fallen leaves. I stared at it for a moment before reaching my arm out, pushing the swing gently. As it began to swing back and forth slowly, I imagined my grandfather’s large, looming figure hunched over on it. I slowed my speed to match his and laid my head against the chains.

          My mother and her sister made their way out to the front porch that overlooked the yard where I was swinging.

          I wanted them to see what I wanted to see.

          I just wished that the gilded place was real, and that was where he was now, happy.

          I wished he was actually here swinging with me, too.

ashley toomey is a senior Creative Writing and Publishing/Editing double major from Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, who enjoys singing at the top of her lungs, drawing, and playing video games.

photo by: bri murphy

bri murphy is a senior creative writing and publishing & editing double major. She loves to get her hands on anything that allows her to express her creativity. Be that writing, photography, painting, or sewing.