When you have lived a long time—a very, very long time—things begin to change.
At first, you thought it was your eyes. You were old and withered, now; it was no surprise that they would begin to deteriorate, to be unable to do what they were made for. Old things were forgotten, were lost, until their time had passed so completely that they became a curiosity instead—but you weren’t that far gone, you thought.
The changes were at first subtle and simple—kindnesses, even. It was harder to see your wrinkles in the mirror, or the small-printed numbers stamped on the bottom of bills. It was easier to ignore the noisy neighbors or the dog barking on the sidewalk. You couldn’t quite remember your great-grandniece’s fourth birthday party as well as you would have liked, but that was alright, you thought. There would be countless more.
You were appreciative of these little kindnesses. You were old, after all, a tree forgotten by an ancient stream diverted. The water went on to the newer and the younger, and you were left parched.
You didn’t know when the habit started. Maybe it was the time your daughter came over and it took you just a second too long to remember her name. Lily, Lily, Lily, you chanted to yourself. Like the flowers your husband often bought you. They were your favorite, you recalled. What did they look like again? But you were so old you didn’t need to remember, not really. So you just kept chanting. Lily, Lily, Lily.
It was a game you played with yourself, to see a thing and name it, identify it, as though by doing so it wouldn’t be forgotten next time you saw it. You wandered your house. Window, you thought. Glass, panes, shutters. Clock, you questioned, less sure about that one. Time, hands, tick-tock. Bookshelf. You hesitated. Telling bedtime stories to—
When you had lived a long time—a very, very long time—things began to change. Numbers and letters stopped being numbers and letters; things stopped being things. They stopped having meaning. You liked the feeling of—of something, you tried to recall, and tried to move your old bones in the direction of it, past the window, past the clock, past the thing that held the books, and went outside. It was clear. It was bright. You liked bright. What was it called again? You squinted your old, hazy eyes upward, knowing but not knowing the thing.
Yellow, like lightning, like flowers, like snakes.
The smell of grass was many things. Warm, somehow, in its memory of sunny summer days and bright evenings. Familiar, homey. She had always loved it. For years, the scent of it caught on a breeze would bring her back directly to the summer when she was eight, glimpsing the new neighbors move in across the street while her dad mowed the lawn.
She had liked to think that that was the day her life changed. When she found something new to live for, new to explore. And it was a silly thought, of course, for an eight year-old to have, but she was young and adventure still meant more than its definition. It meant exploration and learning and overcoming; it meant having a crush on the new neighbor boy, Edmund.
The scent of grass was so many more things. It was playing hopscotch and losing on purpose so he would stay for one more round. It was the day years later that they shared their first kiss behind the garage. It was the night of prom, full of promises. It was the evening he proposed.
For a time, that was all there was to it: a beautiful life, progressing. She began to daydream about the past, the present—the future. Would they have a child, someday? A boy? A girl? He would love to dote on a girl, she thought, watching as he took care of the yard in their brand-new, all-their-own little cottage. He would love a daughter maybe more than he loved her. Maybe, she thought with a chuckle, they should have a son instead. A little baby boy.
They cut the grass the day Edmund died.
No— it was the day of the funeral, but she couldn’t remember the time well; the distinction didn’t seem to matter. Her mind was stuck on insignificant things, on widow widow widow, on how long it takes a casket to be invaded by worms, on the daughter who would never be. She watched the neighbor boy go down, down into the earth, and cursed the sweetness in the air.
For grass to smell so fresh and sweet, it had to be cut. In that moment, when the first shovel full of dirt hit the casket with a thud almost as hollow as her heart beating in her chest, it never seemed more appropriate. The scent of life ending had followed her for all these years, she understood now. It had never been a blessing, never been a kindness or a warmth or a gentleness. From the very beginning when she looked across the street and saw him, knees scratched from his own adventures, she should have known. It was a warning of her fate.
Beat after beat, shovelful after shovelful. The smell of cut grass no longer meant warm summer days, it no longer meant her first kiss, it no longer meant the promise of the future. It was simply grass, dying.
Jessica Corrado is a writer based in New York’s Hudson Valley. She earned her BA in English with minors in Creative Writing and Asian Studies at SUNY New Paltz in 2015. She is an avid writer both at home and abroad, and has traveled across Japan, Taiwan, New Zealand, among others places. Her travel experiences inspire her writing.