The Dark Light of Day
Author:Frazier, T. M.

This was how the nightmares went night after night: Nan, drowning in a purgatory of dark water, trying to fight her way back to me and never getting any closer no matter how hard she tried. I would wake up in the middle of the night, pale-faced and dripping with sweat, a scream tearing heavily from my throat as I cried out for the only person in my life who ever wanted to save me from myself.


The memories of the days after Nan’s funeral played in my head on repeat, in blurry slow motion. I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep. Random neighbors would come over to bring the customary ‘someone died’ casserole. They wouldn’t even knock—probably because they knew I wouldn’t answer. Finally, Irma from next door started taking my casserole deliveries and dropping them off at the church. The uneaten food was becoming too much for Nan’s old avocado-colored freezer to hold. I started locking the deadbolt on the front door, which was unheard of in our small town. I wasn’t necessarily trying to lock people out. I was trying to keep myself locked in. The more removed I was from civilization, the closer I felt to Nan.


I felt the need to punish myself, by surrounding myself in everything that was Nan. I sprayed her perfume in the air. I wore her old full-length fox fur coat, which she’d never worn and had no reason to own in such a tropical place. I napped in her old red corduroy Lazy-Boy, and I drank her favorite Scotch every night—and sometimes every morning—until the heat in my throat spread through my blood and I slipped into the oblivion I was searching for.


Nan’s home—my home—was more cottage than house. The faded pink siding was in need of a fresh coat of paint and the light gray shingles were streaked with the evidence of the daily afternoon heavy summer storms. With two bedrooms and only one bathroom, it was small by anyone’s standards. The faux wood linoleum floors and off-white cabinets hadn’t been updated since Pops built the cottage for Nan over thirty years ago.


The short gravel driveway gave way to a broken shell road, and the cottage itself sat on nothing more than a measly eighth of an acre within arms reach of Lee’s Oriental cuisine on one side and Irma’s Beauty Salon on the other. Nan never minded that the green space was so small, because she had the waters of the Coral Pines River in her backyard.


With a tumbler of Scotch in hand, I looked around the cottage Nan loved so much. Had it only been three years prior when I’d been so reluctant to call it my home? Just a few short years since I’d burst into Nan’s life with a chip on my shoulder and a tongue sharper than a drawer full of knives?


Her words, not mine.


Nan had welcomed me into her life. She was patient with me every excruciating step of the way, and she loved me without question, without exception.


When a social worker in a pantsuit three sizes too large led a thirteen year old me up the walkway to meet the grandmother I’d never known, I was beyond terrified. She was my father’s mother. What if she was just like him? What if she made me promises she never intended to keep, just as he had? I didn’t mean the promise of toys and birthday parties. I mean the promise of food, of keeping the electricity turned on. The promise that I would be safe. My father’s dirt-bag friends had leered at me every time I entered the room—the same friends who asked if I knew what a cock was, and if I knew what to do with one. At six years old, I’d told the laughing bunch to go fuck themselves. They laughed harder, and Dad got angrier.


It was two days before he untied me from the kitchen chair and threw a cold slice of pizza onto the floor at my feet.


Dad may have thought his form of discipline had taught me some sort of fucked-up lesson. The only thing it really did was make me cold and numb. He and my mother treated dishing up their drugged-out brand of parental justice the same way they took turns entering and exiting the ever-revolving doors of the state prison.


It turned out Nan was nothing like my father. She was actually excited to have me, but I could tell she was just as nervous as I was. She was cautious but loving.


When Nan had come out to greet us on the front porch that first day, she didn’t run up and hug me. She made sure not to overwhelm me with the love already written all over her face. She showed me to my room, which was entirely white—or better yet, she told me, it was blank. It sure was. White walls, white comforter and pillow, and a white writing desk and chair. “I didn’t know what you’d like, so I thought I’d let you tell me how you want to decorate your room and what you’d like in it.”


“I can have anything?” I’d asked.


“Sure sweetie, anything at all.” Nan was always careful to withdraw her outstretched hand before it found my head or my shoulder... or my arm.


My aversion to physical touch must have been in my file.