“Beanily….” I heard her begin to call though the woods.
But I couldn’t come back now.
Besides, she was just being courteous.
“Oh, Beanily, I wish you would come back,” she said, with what sounded like true mourning in her voice.
It was strange. She sounded like she really meant it.
But it felt better to hug my knees. At least in the woods I didn’t have to wonder whether I was truly wanted or prove my worth, or work in order to stay. Besides, I had so many thoughts that were racing around in my head that I needed to stay quiet. If I went out in the open, the thoughts would show themselves like wild horses all over my face or race out of my mouth like before, and Grandma would get them before I could catch them. Then she’d be frightened away from the real me because the thoughts, like wild stallions, would rear up and kick her and race back into wind, hot and sweaty.
I kept rocking. Before I saw Grandma again, I needed to lure the thoughts back in order to understand them and pet them and calm them down. Only then could I head them back into their stables for the night where they’d be safe to Grandma.
But the hard quiet that extended from the core of the property where the bungalow stood was too distracting. I could tell that Grandma was doing nothing but thinking of me. I didn’t hear her run water in the outdoor sink. I didn’t hear the garden gate squeak open or the soft swish of wet clothes as she hung wash. The air was still, so even a rustling breeze couldn’t cover the inactivity.
I sat, barely breathing, my warm sweat dripping through the flakes of wood-dust on my body. I was listening, and waiting for the anger to begin. Anger always erupted when I didn’t return home when called.
I was listening for the stab of a sigh and the sharp lift of Grandma’s voice as she yelled my name in frustration into the woods. I was preparing for my decision.
Would her anger force me to return? Or would I choose to stay away, free of her and every one else for the rest of the summer, but left to fend for myself against the wild dogs and animals in the woods?
But the anger never came. Suddenly, the rough sound of a rake beginning to collect leaves sounded through the woods, and, as it gathered a sad and slow rhythm, I reflected on the mournful tone of Grandma’s voice when I had last her call my name.
Was she crying now? Was she sadly thinking of how she had chased me away, or of how lonely she was? The raking continued, never gathering speed, never changing tempo. Had I hurt her?
Guilt crept into me at the thought that I had left her to do all of the work herself, with her husband in the hospital… alone, abandoned, and yelled at by me.
Maybe she was just like me, afterall, when at recess, after failing to find a place among friends, I tried to seem amused by playing with ants on the outskirts of the schoolyard. And I, who knew better, was listening to the sound of her loneliness as she tried to rake, rake, rake it away.
I gathered myself up as soundlessly as I could, and tried to walk as quietly as an Indian back to the bungalow. I spotted Grandma in her red house dress in the center of the yard, her head bowed toward her work, as she concentrated and the raking continued like a painter’s brush strokes. Her face held no happiness.
My rake was where she had placed it in the beginning of the day, its wooden handle propped up against the thin wire of her garden fence. It no longer looked like an object that was twisting my free will. Now it seemed like the helping hand that I should have been lending my Grandma all along.
I felt ashamed, and unwilling to call attention to myself as I slowly took it from its post and began to rake the corner of the yard near the gooseberry bush.