Denisha smiled at her grandmother. “I wouldn’t miss your birthday for the world, Nana!”
Denisha’s grandmother squinted and her nose crinkled. The lines on her face reminded Denisha of a much younger version of herself. Then, unlike now, her grandmother would toss her into the air and catch the little girl that Denisha once was. The giggles and shrieks of pleasure were a constant companion when playing with her grandmother. Nana had a love of life that was notorious.
Now… thought Denisha. Now her grandmother lifted the oxygen mask to her face and inhaled deeply. “I’m afraid these old bones…” Nana coughed and a tinge of red splattered against the mask. Denisha felt heaviness in the center of her chest as she watched her cherished grandmother slowly suffocate.
The doctors had given Nana a year and a few months to live. Denisha hid a smile and admired the strength of her grandmother, almost three years after their initial diagnosis. It’s sad to see her strength fade… thought Denisha.
“I could tell you a thing or two about strength,” wheezed Nana.
Denisha’s reverie was suddenly interrupted. “Pardon, Nana?”
“You were mumbling something about strength.”
“Sorry, Nana, I was lost in thought.”
Nana smiled and despite her coughing fit, she had a conspiratorial twinkle in her eye. “I’ve never told anybody this…” Grandmother started to say, but clamped her mouth shut.
Denisha walked to the couch and held her grandmother’s hand. “You can tell me, Nana. We all have secrets.”
Nana squeezed Denisha’s hand lightly. Denisha knew what those hands were capable of. Many a tantrum had those hand quelled. When Denisha was very young, she would succumb to fits of night terrors and those hands and arms would hug her close to Nana’s bosom and the fear would subside. It was as if Nana had a secret strength that would overcome anything. Anything that could be solved by a hug, reminisced Denisha.
“I’ve kept this secret from your pappy and from your mother.”
“Before she died…” Denisha stared at the ceiling for a brief moment. “What’s your secret, Nana?”
“Please help me with this oxygen tank, dear.”
As Denisha unhooked the depleted oxygen tank and replaced it with a fresh one, Nana started her story.
“I was a young woman, away at college. I hadn’t met your grandfather yet.” Nana smiled and held her free hand to her chest, momentarily lost in the moment. “I had a roommate, a fiery dark-haired girl named Anne Henderson.”
As the tale unfolded, Denisha dutifully listened to her aged grandmother.
“Anne, myself and a young man I was seeing were on our way to pick up Anne’s beau to see a motion picture.”
“It had snowed the night before, and the weather had turned to rain. It was a light rain, just as it was a light snow the night before. Most of the snow had been cleared, so we didn’t pay any mind to it. Anne was driving her brand new car with me and my date in the back seat.”
Nana stared off into the apartment for a moment before continuing. “Anne hit a patch of black ice.” Nana closed her eyes tight, and Denisha cold feel some of the old strength as Nana squeezed her hand tighter. “The car rolled over three or four times. When I came to, I found myself in the middle of the street, still gripping the door handle. The car had somehow ejected me and shed the door. I was pretty banged up, but I could still walk, so I staggered to the car to see what happened to Anne and my date.”
Nana paused briefly and held the oxygen mask to her face. “The steering wheel had come off and Anne’s chest was covered with blood. My date was still in a sitting position directly behind her. He didn’t appear to have any obvious injuries, but he wasn’t moving. The passenger side of the car looked like something had pinched it shut. I knew I would have to get to my friends from the driver side.”
“The doors had a lot of damage and they certainly would not open. I thought it useless, but I tried to pull the crumpled door open.”
“What happened, Nana?”
Nana patted Denisha’s hand and continued. “I tore the door right off the car.”
Denisha frowned at her grandmother. “Are you serious?”
Nana smiled and stood, leaving her adult granddaughter on the couch. “I did, child. I certainly did. I also pulled the back door off the car as well. My date was dead. He didn’t seem to have a scratch on him, but the was gone. I was hysterical. My date and my roommate were dead.”
Denisha regarded her grandmother with a healthy dose of skepticism. Nana had moved over to the oxygen tank and placed her hand on the empty that Denisha had just changed out. She picked up the cylinder with ease and held it in her outstretched hands. “But Anne wasn’t dead. Or she wasn’t in a way I understood.”
Nana squeezed the aluminum cylinder in her frail boney hands and Denisha watched in amazement as Nana crushed and twisted the cylinder until it was bent in a forty-five degree angle. Nana tossed the mangled lump of metal onto the couch beside Denisha who stared. Denisha reached out and touched the metal and looked up at her grandmother. “Super strength?” she asked.
Nana peered at her granddaughter – her eyes mere slits as she bought an intense focus that had been her weapon of choice for many years. “You seem to be taking this well.”
Denisha looked up at the frail woman. “I’ve always suspected you were perfectly capable of opening your pickle jars, Nana.”
Nana smiled and walked to her granddaughter. “Still, you’re remarkably calm for someone who just saw an eighty-three year old woman bend a metal cylinder.”
Denisha looked up at her grandmother. “Nana, I have a secret, too.”
Nana stepped back. “You have a power too?”
Denisha shook her head, tight curls bobbing. “No, Nana. I work for this doctor. His name is Jacob Globe. He’s a Major in some sort of Special Forces organization. We help people who have displayed…” Denisha grasped for the word. “Specialness,” she concluded.
Nana took another step away from the grandchild she raised as her own. “Denisha!” she hissed, her smile withering, “I suspect a government organization like the one you describe to have had some involvement in your parent’s deaths.”
“Don’t be silly, Nana. I’ve seen the reports. A damaged kerosene furnace vented toxic carbon monoxide into the apartment building. It wasn’t only Mom and Dad that died, it was pretty much everyone in the tenement. If I hadn’t been visiting you, I might have died too.”
“Child…” Nana began. “They’ve lied to you… to us… for so long.”
“I don’t think so, Nana. Doctor Globe can help you.”
It was Nana’s turn to regard her granddaughter with a healthy dose of skepticism. “I don’t know.”
* * *
“You did the right thing, Denisha. We’ll take good care of your grandmother.”
“I don’t know, Doctor, she was perfectly happy at home.”
“Her apartment lacks the resources to research her condition.” Doctor Globe peered into the room where Nana sat staring at a wall.
Denisha fingered a folder in a plastic holder by the door. She ran her finger along the stencil: two-six-seven. “Why is the number low?” she inquired, “shouldn’t we be in the three hundreds by now?”
Doctor Globe led Denisha away by the shoulder. “We’ve had our suspicions about your grandmother for awhile now. She was on a list of potentials Justin was… uh… researching before he left to work with Anne.”
Globe nodded. “She happened a little before you came to work with us.” He paused. “I wasn’t aware you knew about her.”
Denisha shrugged. “Scuttlebutt, I guess.” Denisha struggled to ensure her face not betray her. The story her grandmother told shed new light on their sometimes friend, sometimes enemy, but all-around pain-in-the-ass, Anne.
Satisfied with her response, the two walked to Globe’s office in silence. Before Globe opened the door to his office, he placed a hand on Denisha’s shoulder and looked into her eyes. “We will take very good care of your grandmother.”
“I know, Doctor. I’m trying to maintain my objectivity about the situation.”
Globe nodded. “There’s a new subject coming in. Three-one-six is his designation.” He turned the doorknob to his office. “Put him beside two-six-seven… er… um… your grandmother.”
Denisha nodded. “That’s okay, Doctor Globe. I’ll put subject three-one-six in the room next to two-six-seven.”
“Good girl, Denisha.” Globe watched her walk towards intake. Globe walked into his office, and sat heavily into his chair. He stared out the open door for a moment and picked up the telephone on his desk.
“Get me operations.”
A click, followed by a voice. “Operations.”
“I need someone to keep an eye on one of my assistants.”
“Will do, Sir. Anything else?”
“Yes.” Globe cleared his throat. “Be careful with this one. She could be a valuable asset. She has connections she doesn’t know about yet.”
“Acknowledged, eyeballs only. Operations out.”
Globe replaced the telephone receiver in its cradle. He sighed and leaned back in his chair. Denisha rushed into his office. “Doctor, three-one-six is crashing.”
“I’ll bet.” Globe grabbed his lab coat and shouldered into it as he raced behind Denisha to the room beside her grandmother. He read the paperwork on three-one-six, but he was eager to see it first hand.
[1600 words]#FFC52 A bunch of prompts to write to this week. I started with TiV’s tardy 47th prompt. I interpreted her prompt as a secret instead of a hidden object. Chuck Wendig is doing superhero genre mash-up again so I had to write another installment of 16Sunsets. I worked in three word Wednesday, Sunday scribblings 2 and a variation of one of the phrases “withering smile” from inspiration Monday, although “patience as a sin” was an overarching thought or theme I had while writing this.