As her husband’s belly expands, my grandmother grows smaller. He swells to encompass the space around him: one night, she finds him halfway through his third gallon of Neapolitan ice cream—spoon to mouth in a race to scrape bottom. The extended curve of his belly protrudes over his navy blue sweatpants as he denies ever seeing the previous two gallons in the freezer; he has no recollection of consumption. She refrains from occupying any space beyond what is necessary: the concaving shape of stomach and arms as she forgets to maker dinner day after day. Now, the indented skin on her face reinflates only when my father speaks to her about hiring help.
In elementary school, I’d sometimes sleep over their house for a night or two during school breaks. On warm summer nights, my grandfather set up board games on the back deck picnic table—whatever he could scrounge up from the basement closet, where the relics of my father’s 60s-era childhood were kept. Usually, it was King of the Hill.
The whole point was to get to the top of the mountain. Each turn, you had to flip a seesaw-type lever and a gamepiece would land in a numbered slot telling you how many spaces to move. Most of time your marble would land, safe, in an ingrained notch on the mountain. Other times, you’d land in a hole, fall randomly lower on the mountain through a tunnel, and have to start all over again. If you somehow managed to make it to the top, you placed your marble on the summit. You were named king of the hill if a crown popped up, but if it didn’t you’d fall through a hole, into a chasm, and back to the bottom.
Somewhere between my father’s childhood and mine, however, the crown went missing. Because we didn’t have this piece, no one was ever able to win—we played for hours into the night until mosquitos swarmed the deck, one of us reaching the top only to fall back to the bottom. Climbing all the way up only to start all over again. Reaching and falling, reaching and falling.
I wonder if that’s all their brains are now: hollow mountains with holes and cavities for me to fall through.
Years later, my grandparents moved to a condo closer to my parents. I don’t know who cleaned out the game closet in my grandparents’ house, or where that particular set of King of the Hill ended up, but I imagine it was thrown out. I can picture my mother or father kneeling outside the closet: he or she sees the box sitting on the shelf, opens it, realizes the crown is missing, and places it into a heavy-duty garbage bag overflowing with other half-broken artifacts.
The January before the move, our family convenes to celebrate my grandfather’s birthday. My mother parks our light green Caravan on the street, and we navigate the crumbling brick steps onto a wraparound porch. My grandmother comes out of the kitchen when she hears the front door bang shut. She gives us each a hug, kissing me on the cheek when it’s my turn. She whispers our names as her shrinking body is enveloped in each of ours, and for a moment I can’t tell if she’s saying our names just for the sake of it, or if she’s trying to affirm our presence in her brain, saying to each of us individually: You. You, and you, and you. Yes, I know who you are.
About the author:
Kathryn Waring lives in Rochester, NY, where she currently works as an AmeriCorps fellow. She recently graduated with a bachelor's degree in English/Creative Writing from SUNY Geneseo, and her work can be found in Gandy Dancer. Kathryn reads creative nonfiction for The Rumpus
and Hippocampus and is at work writing her first book. She can be found on Twitter here.