Highly Commended Story - Junior Category
“Licorice” by Hannah Newel Eldon, International School Manila, Philippines, is the Highly Commended story in the junior category of the first biannual Short Story Contest 2020.
I gaze out the lightly shaded window as we come to a stop by her building. I mostly come alone; my sisters are all the wrong ages. So as grandma wants, maybe even needs, some company to balance out the year spent in primarily solitude, it’s become routine that I visit her each summer. I wouldn’t say it’s the most exciting prospect, but although I see it as mandatory, I know it means much more to her.
I leap out of the car, skip up the black tiled stairs to her door, where I wait for my dad. The knob turns and her kind, familiar face emerges. Hugs and greetings are exchanged.
“I can’t believe how much you’ve grown, you’ll be my height in no time!” grandma says, breezily breaking the ice that always forms when you meet someone you haven’t seen in a while.
I smile and nod.
Afterwards, they talk while I’m perched at grandma’s beloved design table, with plump watermelon pink cushions, watching cartoons.
Looking down I can see where I spilled pudding last year, or the worn box of books and movies she’s pulled out, hoping one of them might catch my attention.
Lifting my gaze, I think of how charming her place is. Colorful, a bit messy. Bright, happy. She’s got two balconies, one with a classic view of the sea, where I cut open my knee running on the jetty last year. Another overlooking the forest where, in between the individual trees I can sometimes see the trains before they speed away.
My dad comes in to say goodbye.
“Bye, dad. See you soon.”
"Enjoy,” he tells me and I’m left with my grandma. She turns to me. “How about an ice cream?” She suggests, her eyes twinkling. “There’s a booth by the beach.”
“Sure!” I reply, grinning.
Walking to the beach turns out to be a long process. At first I skip ahead, but she just isn’t up to it. I scowl and wait, letting her steady herself on my shoulder. “Thank you,” she says, looking me in the eye.
When we reach the booth, I ask for three scoops, just because I can.
Strawberry, chocolate, and elderflower. Back home I’m only allowed one, and even then only every once in a while. Those rules don’t apply to grandma, and I take full advantage.
I try, but once I’ve reached chocolate, I’m full to the brim. Ashamed for overestimating myself and effectively wasting money, I try feeding it to the birds. They don’t want it, so it ends up in the bin. She just sits there smiling, “Wanna try mine?” she asks.
Back home I’m left to my own devices while grandma cooks dinner. It’s her famous pasta. With nothing better to do I discreetly slip into her bedroom and crawl under the covers of her bed, reaching for the remote. Clicking away, I manage to lift myself up into a sitting position, and then glide down into an almost obtuse angle. Grandma doesn’t approve of me appreciating her super cool electric bed, so when she calls for me to come to dinner, I rush out before she comes looking. For once, I’m patiently waiting when she brings in the pasta.
Golden fettuccine topped with warm tomato sauce. Not any of that gross store-bought stuff. Genuine. I reach for the parmesan cheese and pluck the basil leaves off the plant I know she’s bought just for me.
My grandma does that.
Asks her neighbours to help bring a mattress up from the basement so I’ll have somewhere decent to sleep when I arrive. Buys all the ingredients to my favorite foods a week before my car pulls up at her building. Grandma does so much for me, and I hardly bother to help her when she really needs it. An unwelcome wave of guilt washes over me.
I slide open her bedroom door. She’s still sleeping. She looks so frail, so anonymous without her short chestnut wig and makeup. Gently closing it, I head to the shelf where I know she keeps a stash of sweets and step onto the dark blue tripp trapp chair, complete with an elephant, zebra, and giraffe all staring up at me. I take two big black things that must be licorice, her favorite. I pop one into my mouth, but put the other on a plate for her on her bedside table.
I help prepare the table on the balcony. Three plates. My dad’s coming.
After we’ve lunched, we decide to go for a walk in the woods.
The trees are thin and tall, only the very tops shaded a vivid green. My dad and grandma are talking, me occasionally contributing. I’m slightly aware of her hand, resting lightly on my shoulder.