No one shooed us out this time. The room was crowded with people touching each other – hugging, or holding hands, or perhaps with just hanging on to a sleeve or resting a hand on a neighbor’s shoulder. My parents almost never touched each other, but my father had my mother’s hand in his.
Grandma was lying in bed, her eyes closed. The machine next to the bed was making loopy, graceful waves, whose peaks were stretching farther and farther away from each other. She opened one eye, then the other, and looked straight at Ray Green, who looked young and nervous, his eyes very wide and his back very straight. One of her hands lifted slightly and Ray was there, holding it and talking to her, very quiet and very fast. He had the most beautiful smile.
Noreen looked at me, then at the window. Everyone was looking at my grandmother, and Noreen went and put her hand on the pillow, and one finger on Grandma’s cheek. It made a lovely picture, even for those who couldn’t see the American soldier, his long black fingers resting gently on an old woman’s palm. I edged to a window, which looked like it hadn’t been opened in years, and nudged it up an inch or so. It squeaked, but one of the cousins and my mother was crying, and no one seemed to notice. Grandma’s fingers curled around Ray’s, and she died.
I didn’t look then. I didn’t want to see whose ghost it was who had joined Ray, rising from the bed. So I don’t know if Annie Wilk, eighteen, walked by me, her short curls bouncing, or the old woman, a bit stout and short of breath, who made wonderful scones on Sundays and knew without being told that the gift I wanted most of all when I was seven was a jackknife with two blades and numerous attachments, including a little scissors and a fish-scaler. There was a touch on the back of my head as they passed.