Playground

by Livia Franchini

I wake up in the twin bed and my grandmother is in the next one
Sleeping uneasily, coming up for air
Sleeping like she doesn’t
Next to her husband of sixty years
Who is ninety-one and doesn’t sleep either
Not at night anyway
But will doze off at Christmas dinner
When there’s enough people in the room
And my grandmother begins to tell the story of how she won his heart with a song
It was war times
He was in hospital 
She was beautiful
And all the women around the table are crying when she sings it
And I wonder
Was it fiction
And perhaps she wonders too
Wakes him with a slap on the wrist
And wipes the lasagna sauce off his chin.

Next to me she is sleeping
Like an older sister
Uneasily, coming up for air
As if checking that breathing still works independently when unconscious
Her limbs too tired to hold her body 
They are sprawled out
And I can’t look at her so I decide to leave.
It feels important somehow that I protect her sleep
So when I leave I want to tell my grandad 
Who is awake, with the tv on 
‘Your wife sleeps, please let her.’

It’s like a comedy show
Because he hasn’t got his hearing aid in
And I say ‘I’m going’
And he says ‘Speak louder’
And I whisper ‘Don’t shout, grandma is asleep’
And he shouts ‘I can’t hear you’
So I gesture ‘I can’t’, covering my mouth
I gesture ‘turn the volume down’, waving at the telly
I gesture ‘sleep’ with my hands together pressed to the side of my face.
He shakes his head
And when I go to close the door to seal her sleep in
She sits up and says
‘Leave it open.’

And do they know their granddaughter runs the C tap for cold water
And is surprised when it’s calda?
Do they know she’d forgotten about fireflies?

Do they know she fucks a boy to the sound of passing trains
To the sound of crickets
To the blue light of a mosquito lamp that buzzes every time one burns on the metallic plate?
Do they know she cannot talk love in her second language but cannot talk dirty in her first?

Do they know that they went to the churchyard 
They held hands in the shade
That the Eucalyptus tree is covered in parasites
And the cypresses with the green acorns, that go by the name of ‘cuddles’, 
They are yellow
And the priest with the parrot on his shoulder doesn’t live there anymore?
Do they know the playground is rusty and the swings all broken and the slide not as tall as it used to be?
Do they know we mourn our childhood?

But yes they know, they know.

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