I was glad I got the chance to show him my braces before he died. They were a novelty in the village. Light blue and sprinkled with silvery bits, super-glued onto my crooked teeth, teeth declared “un-correctable” by East German and a “piece of cake” by West German orthodontists. Thank you, Gorbi.
“How very pretty,” Grandfather said. Then his beady eyes shifted from me to Grandmother: “You won’t have to wait long, I’ll come for you.”
I knew she couldn’t wait to follow him. Sixty years of marriage, minus five years of separation during the war. Who could handle such an abrupt end to what I imagined a life-long romance and ultimate proof that it is possible, absolutely possible that two people can stay together forever. His illness was no “piece of cake”, neither in the East nor the West.
The first night after his death, I slept in my grandparent’s bed, on his side. When I was little, I had often been “piggy-in-the-middle”, suffocating in mountainous duvet clouds, kept awake by my grandparents’ earth-shattering snores. Hers was pitched high and melodic, his irregular and rattling, interrupted by gasping moments of silence. The gap where the two mattresses met cut into my back. There was no place I felt safer.
On the first night after he died my grandfather’s side of the bed wouldn’t get warm. I was glad the duvet-mountains separated me from Grandmother, but I could still feel her shoulders heave against the mattress with her faint sobbing. I stared into the dark, feeling the presence of the wooden cross hanging over my head and Jesus’ head drooping in my direction. I tried to imagine life without my grandfather.
I woke up suddenly, startled. Grandmother was sitting upright in bed.
“He’s just called my name,” she whispered.
“Yes, I said,” my heart thumping against my ribcage, “Yes, I heard it, too.”
published 16 February 2013