“I’m glad that you read a lot, but I’d like to see you having a good time with people your age,” Donna said.
“Grandma, all the kids in my high school are stuck-up,” Kenneth said. “Besides, I need to keep my grades up so I can go to college and you can stop working at that factory.”
“Don’t you worry about me,” Donna said. “I like staying active, and the ladies I work with are hilarious.”
“You can’t do that job forever,” Kenneth said. “What happens if you hurt your back one day?”
“Your grandfather left me enough to comfortably spend all day in chat rooms,” Donna said. “But we’re talking about you right now. You can’t tell me there’s not one decent kid in your school.”
Kenneth remembered that no one had talked to him in any of his classes since the middle of last year. He remembered all of the lunches he had spent alone. He felt like a stunted plant in a garden: neglected, but watched. The gardener not pruning or expecting blooms – not wanting to kill a plant, but hoping for it to die. “There’s not,” Kenneth said. They stood together in the living room for half a minute staring at each other. When it was clear the discussion was not going to move forward, he left.
Kenneth’s response broke Donna’s heart. After his parents died, she had watched him live quietly like a beggar on the side of the road being ignored by the same people over and over again. She could not replace his parents. The few friends he had before they died, avoided the stench of his sadness.
Donna conjectured reasons Kenneth did not acquire new friends. He did not seek nor draw attention. His looks, intelligence, athleticism, and personality were so average he was imperceptible among others. He never caused any problems. His most remarkable trait, that he truly loved others, did not help him. It actually kept him from others. He knew people were afraid to be loved and their existence valued automatically. Those feeling, when revealed, were misunderstood and repulsive. Most of all, he did not want to feel the pain of losing someone again.
“This is as good a time as any,” Donna said to the living room furniture.
When Kenneth walked through their front door after school, Donna was waiting for him on the sofa. He looked at his grandmother. She radiated energy as always. Were it not for her gray head of hair, laugh lines, and vintage glasses; she could have been just another young woman in a sweat suit.
“Put your exercise clothes on. We’re going for a jog,” Donna said.
“I’m tired, Grandma,” Kenneth said.
“That’s because you don’t exercise,” Donna said.
“I have P.E. at school in the morning,” Kenneth said.
“I guess you’re all set then,” Donna said. “Well – if I don’t come back in an hour, please call an ambulance. My heart has been funny today.” She put her right hand over her heart and took a deep breath.
“Hold on,” Kenneth said, “Just let me get my shorts on.”
Minutes later, Donna and Kenneth were running up the left side of a road. Donna ran ahead of Kenneth. She led him out of their neighborhood and into a rural part of town. She allowed him to catch up several times, but then pulled ahead so he would follow her to where she wanted to go. After three miles, she stopped in front of a tractor that was parked on the side of the road and waited for him to arrive.
“Grandma,” Kenneth said out of breath, “Your heart. You know we have to run back the same distance, right?”
“I’m perfectly fine,” Donna said. “I want to show you something and this is a good place. The sun is shining brightly above us and no one is around.”
Kenneth leaned over and put a hand on each knee as he breathed heavily. Donna had maintained a race pace, but that did not seem to have an effect on her. She walked to the back of the tractor making sure he was watching her. She looked around to check that no one watched them. After she felt sure there were no eyes on them, she walked between the tractor’s links and put her hands under the towing hitch. She lifted the back end of the tractor off the ground, looked at him, and lowered it back down.
Kenneth stood up and walked to Donna. She backed away from the back of the tractor and suggested with a motion of her hand that he should try to do what she had done. He put his hands under the towing hitch and tried to lift the tractor, but it did not move. He looked underneath it for a jack, and there was not one. He waved his arm over the top for a wire.
“What would it be tied to, silly?” Donna asked.
“How did you do that?” Kenneth asked.
“A family secret I’m about to share with you,” Donna said. She reached up to her neck and pulled on a silver chain until she held the jewel at the end of it in her hand. “Do you know what this is?”
“A sapphire,” Kenneth answered.
“That was a trick question because I don’t know what it is either,” Donna laughed. “I only know it was passed down to your grandfather by his father. I actually didn’t know about it until the day he asked me to wear it. It was the same day he died.”
“Are you a super hero, grandma?” Kenneth asked.
“Heavens, no!” Donna laughed.
“Then how did you do that?” Kenneth asked.
“I don’t know,” Donna answered. “What I do know is that whatever I try to do, I can do more of it when I wear this. I can lift heavy things. I can run really fast. I can do so many neat things.”
“Do you get tired?” asked Kenneth.
“Well, no. I need to take it off so I can sleep,” Donna answered. “If I’m not in the sun, I’ll get hungry before I get tired. Trust me, you don’t want to get tired while you wear this thing. It feels bad.”
“Can I try it?” Kenneth asked.
“One day you can, but not today,” Donna answered. “You need to do three things for me before I’ll let you.”
“What?” Kenneth asked.
“You need to make friends,” Donna answered. Kenneth groaned. “You also need to do something big on your own.”
“Like what?” Kenneth asked.
“You tell me,” Donna answered. “Big. And you must never, ever, ever, ev-er tell anyone about this thing.”
“Why not?” Kenneth asked.
“Walk with me,” Donna said. She and Kenneth walked back down the farm road a quarter mile. They approached a dead raccoon they had seen earlier on the side of the road. It was fresh. She looked around to ensure no one was looking. Then, she reached down and touched the raccoon gently with her bare hand. Kenneth cringed. The raccoon’s stomach began to fill and its body became bloated. It released gases, fluids, and a stench into the air that Kenneth could not bear. The body began to disintegrate. The raccoon’s dry skin covered the ground for a few seconds, and then it was gone. When she pulled her hand back, there were only bones left on the ground.
“OK, grandma,” Kenneth said. “I won’t tell anyone.”
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