Grandma is lying in the middle of the kitchen, growling like Mama Bear. Her eyes flutter, her arm jerks and when I stumble into the bedroom, crows are cawing. I grab the vial of pills from her bedside table, shove one into her mouth and sprint next door to the Durinkas. They call an ambulance, and tell me she’ll be fine. But I know what I did wasn’t enough.
When Grandpa and I visit her in the hospital a week later, the doctor talks to him for a long time as I play with my fire engine outside Grandma’s room. Her breathing sounds like a truck without a muffler and I long to snuggle into her bed.
“Children are not allowed in intensive care,” the nurse scolds.
When they are done, Grandpa grips the doctor’s hand and both shake their heads. I know what that means: when the doctor’s and Grandpa’s shaking heads come true, I’ll have no place to live.
Last week, when I was swinging in the park with my friend Maco, he asked if I’d be going back to Mom and Dad soon, and I explained that I never lived with both of them, that when Mom dropped me off, she only said she’d see me sometimes, never said anything about coming back for me. This is home now, or was, until Grandma got sick.
When Grandpa joined me after talking to the doctor, he helped to put out my pretend fires and clutched my hand; his smile was all teeth, no eyes. We bought znojemske sausages at the deli, gobbled them with sauerkraut and hot mustard. He made his usual lame jokes and posed groaner riddles when we played checkers before going to bed. Just the same, I knew.
I wake with Grandpa’s cool hand on my forehead, rubbing my neck with a wet cloth. “Shhh, shhh, just a nightmare. You’re safe.”
My throat is sandy, my face tear-streaked and my body burns. Grandpa calls nightmares moths: they have black wings, staring eyes and when they sit on your chest you can’t breathe. Spider webs or coiled snakes I don’t mind, but I sure hate moths. One could fly in through my eyes and burrow into my brain.
The moths I used to have were leering monsters who’d chase me up unending staircases but always when I woke up, I could climb into bed with Grandma. The new moths have angry voices and scrunched faces: Mom, Grandma, Grandpa, screaming, “Why didn’t you run faster? Why didn’t you hear sooner? Your fault, your fault.”
Cold water seeps into my pajamas when Grandpa pats me with the cloth, his arm around my shoulders and he’s sweating, too, all down his face.
I don’t remember what Mom wanted my help with in the moth, what it was I failed to do. No doubt on my quest I dropped the fiery sword or forgot the secret password, so was barred from the cave.
Grandpa has stopped his virtuoso whistling. Before, when he wasn’t grinning, he was whistling. In the last week, not even a bird call.
I take my dinky police car and ambulance into Grandma’s garden and a butterfly settles on my sleeve. I stare at the orange and black pattern of the wings but to me it’s too much like a moth. I blow and it flutters away.
'Moths' is part of a triptych written by Andrew Stanek. To read the first story, please go to 'Rooster Crowed'. To read the third story, please go to 'Don't Tell Me'.
Andrew Stancek describes his vocation as dreaming – clutching onto hope, even in turbulent times. He has been published widely, in SmokeLong Quarterly, FRiGG, Green Mountains Review, New World Writing, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish Review and Peacock Journal, among others. He continues to be astonished.