“Okay, what about these? They’re mostly black. MOURNFUL. You know.”
He’s humming. The candle sparks, broadcasting him more into focus as he rests on the edge of my bed. The frankincense smoke shrouds him, then uncoils. There’s an indent in my blanket, as if someone’s sitting there (he is) or as if I was just sitting there, but then got up. No, I’ve been sitting in this same spot for thirty minutes, surrounded by socks, balled up and losing elasticity by the second. Jido is still humming. Something without a melody yet still pleasant. A cloud cracking its knuckles, then skipping each pop like a stone into the light at the top of the trees outside my window. Birds fly up into the blue, a splash. He’s wearing his signature red sweater vest, but also his blue checkered pajama bottoms. One of his slippered feet is pressed against his thigh as the other swings from my bed, inches from the floor.
“I mean, I’m almost certain I won’t cry today. So I definitely need to look like I might.”
I squint at him, amused, “Are you going to wear that?”
He shakes his head, “Jessouka, funerals are for the living.”
I sing, “It’s your party I’ll cry if I want to—”
“Cry if you need to.”
Yeahyeahwhatever. I wave a pair of navy blue and red striped socks at him, “So no?”
“Ya’ allah,” he shakes his head at the ceiling.
“What about these purple argyles? I bought them the day you died. I was sent out to find black socks for you to wear in the casket,” I told him, frowning at a hole in one of the toes. I don’t know how to throw anything out. This would be fine if I knew how to sew. This would be a casual fact if I didn’t feel guilty about my soft clumsy hands, which somehow look so much like mama’s strong calloused hands, which sewed dresses, and dolls, and yes, socks. Even before the displacement and lack, her trauma sharpening the craft. She told me Jido was unpleasant when they moved here. A refugee, open like a wound, his heart a phantom limb safe in the riverbed at the bottom of the valley my family sprung from. Post war, the river dried up. So he made his chest a birdcage, open for bulbuls to come and go. It occurs to me that maybe this is why he called me his heart. Why he was always singing. And when breathing got harder, always humming.
I look up. He’s staring out the window. I stare through him staring through the window. A bee pauses as if it sees us. But no, the hydrangeas reflected in the glass are behind it. Purple pink blue pink pink yellow blue. I read somewhere that the color of each blossom in a whole thing of hydrangeas is so tie-dyed because each individual root in the bush is touching a different patch of soil and each patch of soil has a different pH. I think memories are like that. One memory can be a bouquet of contrasting colors depending on how hydrated I am that day, or what I’ve learned that I can’t unlearn. People are memories before we even lose them. The back of my neck tingles. I swat it. Another bee has joined the first bee, but the first bee hasn’t noticed.
“Jido. Jido, look. I have these,” I saw, throwing the argyles to the side. “Mismatched. One green, the other blue. Like a seer’s eyes,” I put my hands on my hips, drop my voice into my solar plexus, my spike a sudden spark, “My feet know the future, I trust them / to take me where / I’m meant to go.” I laugh. He’s still watching the second bee, but the second bee hasn’t noticed.
I ask him, “How would you finish that poem?”
Silence. The candle flame abruptly slants to the left.
“Whatever,” I sigh, “I don’t know why this matters. No one will care because my grandpa is DEAD. Like, ‘fuck socks, her grandpa is DEAD,’ that’s what they’ll think.” I stare at him.
Still humming. He leans closer, still watching the bee through the window. He rests his mouth against the back of his, scratching it under his mustache. Recognizing this meditative state, I turn back to the duffel bag I live out of when I visit my family. Jido and I used to sit in silence all the time, and it was enough. So full of texture, like wind scraping the treetops to fill the gap between the leaves which filled the gaps between our words. The qahwa’s fingerprints mapping out the future in the grounds of our cups. Birds around the rim: good news. A silhouette of the Virgin: answered prayer. A white spot with a single fleck in the middle: the evil eye. Pray the rosary or else tell a snake to fuck off. I’d twirl our cups in my hands, wanting so bad to be fluent in what my blood wants me to know. But that’s why I’m still not, because I want it too bad. This was always the case. The muddy eye my own: maybe not evil, but definitely pressed too close to the window of a moment, instead of living it. Then I’d become aware of the silence pulling at the back of my neck. I’d swat it. Then Jido would say somethi—
He clears his throat. “You know, the bee is our first and last friend.”
I sniff a pair of gym socks. “How do you figure?”
“He feeds the flower responsible for our first breath, then feeds the flowers we become when we die. He keeps us useful.”
“What’s it say then that all the bees are dying?”
He finally looks at me. “We are not good friends to have.”
The candle’s flame flickers as the sun bursts through a parting cloud. Fractals shoot through him. Somewhere, static fills a television screen.
“Wait, Jido, hold on, don’t go,” I say, moving a pile of socks aside, half onto the floor, and then, “Space catdets.”
“Like, cats. In space. Space cat-dets.” I show him, “This pair has little stars and moons. You can barely tell when I tuck them into my boots.” I pull them on, “The cat in the spaceship might still show, like, peeking over the top—” the sunlight intensifies. “Mama will probably tell me to change. You don’t care if I wear these, do you?” He is a dark silhouette outlined by the light. “Jido? Do you? Do you—”
“Huh? Oh.” A passing cloud dulls the sun. I can see his features again, his bushy eyebrows raised in approval. He nods thoughtfully at my ankles, says, “Well are you happy, Habibi?”
“That is the most important.”
“I love you, Jido.”
He turns back to the window. As the first bee disappears into a blossom, he answers, “I’m meant to go / where light is water / under the feet / of everyone I love.”
“My Granda Helps Me Pick Socks to Wear to His One Year Mass” appeared in Issue 39 of Berkeley Fiction Review.
JESS RIZKALLAH is an NYU MFA graduate, a Kundiman fellow, and founding editor at pizza pi press. Her full-length collection THE MAGIC MY BODY BECOMES was a finalist for The Believer Poetry Award and won the 2017 Etel Adnan Poetry Prize as awarded by the Radius of Arab-American Writers and University of Arkansas Press.