A Thousand Boy Kisses

By: Tillie Cole

I frowned. “Why is there a nurse?”

Daddy pushed open the door to Mamaw’s room, and my mama got up from the chair beside Mamaw’s bed. Her eyes were red and her hair was all messy. Mama’s hair was never messy.

I saw the nurse at the back of the room. She was writing something on a clipboard. She smiled and waved at me when I came in. Then I looked to the bed. Mamaw was lying down. My stomach flipped when I saw a needle sticking in her arm, with a clear tube leading to a bag hanging off a metal hook at her side.

I stood still, suddenly frightened. Then my mama moved toward me, and my mamaw looked my way. She looked different to last night. Her skin was paler, and her eyes weren’t as bright.

“Where’s my little buddy?” Mamaw’s voice was quiet and sounded funny, but the smile she gave me made me feel warm.

Giggling at my mamaw, I rushed to the side of the bed. “I’m here! I came home early from school to see you!”

Mamaw lifted her finger and tapped the end of my nose. “That’s my girl!”

I smiled real big in response.

“I just wanted you to visit a little while. I always feel better when the light of my life sits beside me and talks to me some.”

I smiled again. Because I was the ‘light of her life’, ‘the apple of her eye’. She always called me those things. Mamaw secretly told me it meant I was her favorite. But she’d told me I had to keep it to myself so it didn’t upset my cousins and little sisters. It was our secret.

Hands suddenly gripped my waist, and my daddy lifted me to sit beside Mamaw on her bed. Mamaw took hold of my hand. She squeezed my fingers, but all I could notice was how cold her hands were. Mamaw breathed in deep, but it sounded funny, like something was crackling in her chest.

“Mamaw, are you okay?” I asked and leaned forward to press a soft kiss on her cheek. She normally smelled of tobacco from all the cigarettes she smoked. But I couldn’t smell the smoke on her today.

Mamaw smiled. “I’m tired, girlie. And I’m…” Mamaw sucked in another breath and her eyes briefly squeezed shut. When they opened again, she shifted on the bed and said, “…and I’m gonna be going away awhile.”

I frowned. “Where are you going, Mamaw? Can I come too?” We always went on adventures together.

Mamaw smiled, but shook her head. “No, girlie. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. Not yet. But some day, many years from now, you’ll see me again.”

My mama let out a sob from behind me, but I just stared at my mamaw, confused. “But where are you going, Mamaw? I don’t understand.”

“Home, sweetie,” my mamaw said. “I’m going home.”

“But you are home,” I countered.

“No”—Mamaw shook her head—“this isn’t our true home, girlie. This life … well, it’s just a great big adventure while we have it. An adventure to enjoy and love with all of our heart before we go on to the greatest adventure of all.”

My eyes widened with excitement, then I felt sad. Really sad. My bottom lip began to tremble. “But we’re best buddies, Mamaw. We always go on our adventures together. You can’t go on one without me.”

Tears had begun falling from my eyes down to my cheeks. My mamaw lifted her free hand to brush them away. That hand was just as cold as the one I was holding. “We do always go on adventures together, girlie, but not this time.”

“Aren’t you afraid to go by yourself?” I asked, but my mamaw just sighed.

“No, girlie, there’s no fear to feel. I’m not scared at all.”

“But I don’t want you to go,” I pleaded, my throat starting to ache.

Mamaw’s hand stayed on my cheek. “You’ll still see me in your dreams. This isn’t a goodbye.”

I blinked, then blinked again. “Like you see Pawpaw? You always say he visits you in your dreams. He talks to you and kisses your hand.”

“Exactly like that,” she said. I wiped my tears away. Mamaw squeezed my hand, and looked at my mama behind me. When she looked back to me, she said, “While I’m gone, I’ve got a new adventure for you.”

I stilled. “You do?”

The sound of glass being placed on a table came from behind me. It made me want to look around, but before I could, Mamaw asked, “Poppy, what is it that I always say was my favorite memory from my life? The thing that always made me smile?”

“Pawpaw’s kisses. His sweet boy-kisses. All the memories of all the boy-kisses you ever got from him. You told me they’re the most favorite memories you have. Not money, not things, but the kisses you got from Pawpaw—because they were all special and made you smile, made you feel loved, because he was your soulmate. Your forever always.”

“That’s right, girlie,” she replied. “So, for your adventure…” Mamaw looked to my mama again. This time, when I did look around, I saw she was holding a big mason jar filled to the top with lots and lots of pink paper hearts.

“Wow! What’s that?” I asked, feeling excited.