Anna Doogan

My Grandmother Haunts Me with Sugar

After her death, my grandmother haunts me. In polyester pants and a white blouse, she appears in the kitchen, sugar-laced, stirring a pot. Caramelizing over heat until it’s golden.

“This is my old heart,” she says, plucking it from her chest and slapping it on the counter. It’s basil-scented and shaped like a sea star. It pulses there next to her while we cook.

My new baby is strapped into the yellow metal highchair, the straps too loose to hold him properly. I’m watching to make sure he doesn’t fall while I rearrange piles of frozen meat in the freezer. His legs remind me of butter and warm biscuits.

Across the room, a pink and white bag of cane sugar spills from where it sits on the counter. It cascades down from the countertops, pooling at our feet.

“There’s a concert tonight in the backyard,” my grandmother says. “Shirley Bassey is singing ‘Moonraker’”.

“My jeans aren’t clean,” I respond. I arrange the foil-wrapped frozen meat in a stack.

Across the room, the red phone on the wall rings and rings. Neither of us move to answer it.

My grandmother spins the warm sugar into gold. Honey-colored strands that shatter easily like glass when they cool.

“I’m think I’m afraid of dying,” I say finally, as the sugar keeps piling around our feet.

She shakes her head at me, tastes from a spoon.

“You’ve always been afraid of your own pain.”

The next time she haunts me, we’re sitting on the front porch. The sky is bright white after rain, and the air smells like Clorox and wilting marigolds. White skies feel like being on the moon.

My grandmother piles sugar packets in my hands, but I can’t hold them all. They spill over, scattering across my sneakers.

“You can imitate the alarm,” my grandmother tells me. When she opens her mouth, the electronic beeps wail from between her blackening teeth. I’m waking up soon.

The paint on the porch has peeled from green to red to gray and back again. The flakes of paint chip off around our ankles and curl there with stray cats.

My grandmother’s rocking chair creaks and sounds like old moans and skipping records. She has cut off her brown pants at the knees to stay cool.

“Clam diggers,” she says.

Beyond the house, the garbage truck is rumbling up the path by the creek, framing a backwards sunset. My grandmother drinks coffee from a short orange mug.

“Needs sugar,” she tells me.

There’s a lump under a flap of skin in my palm. I slice it open and sugar flows out into my lap.

“That’ll do,” she says, adding it to her cup.

“Can you record the rain?” I ask.

The storms crowd and turn the sky gray. Under the covered porch, only the hair on our arms gets wet.

Low flying birds swoop in half-circles around us. We snap them from the air by their throats and lick their sweet songs out like ice cream cones.