Little Red Riding Hood

by Eliza Ande

 

Lucy leapt up the minute her alarm went off. She’d been burning the candle at both ends, trying to meet a deadline at work, and most mornings found her hitting the snooze button on her phone and struggling to drag herself out of bed. This morning she felt different, and she wasn’t sure why – perhaps it was the dream that she’d had about the wolf with the yellow eyes and the handsome young man with the shotgun? Something about the dream left her feeling alive, lighter, more powerful.
She stumbled downstairs, switched on the coffee machine, and opened the door for Marble to slink out, rubbing himself against her and twitching his tail, purring like a little engine as he sauntered into the sunlight.
As Lucy took her first hit of coffee, she suddenly felt a stab of discomfort in her belly… a familiar feeling that carried with it the cloud of heaviness that she thought she’d left behind in her dream forest. She realised it hadn’t left her, it just took longer to wake up than she had. She recognised the feeling – it was guilt. The guilt of not visiting Grandma this past week, because of the pressures of work. She remembered her conversation with Grandma last night. Her words said that she “understood”, but the tone in her voice (thin, strained and clipped) gave away the judgement and disappointment that she really felt. Lucy suddenly felt exhausted again, the weight of guilt and responsibility falling like a heavy red cloak onto her shoulders; she could feel her small frame collapse in on itself with weariness. She had promised Grandma that she would go and visit her tonight after work.
The day flew by quickly, and Lucy managed to shrug off the heaviness of the morning as she became absorbed in the tasks of the day. She barely noticed the shadows as dusk shoved the sun over the horizon. Pete, her colleague banged his office door closed, and waved at her as he shot out the door. She started to close down her laptop, tidy up her desk, and pack up her bags.
As she stepped out into the twilit night, she felt something wet on her arm and realised that it had clouded over and started to rain. She pulled on her red raincoat, flipping the hood up over her head, and made a dash for the little deli on the corner. She would take Grandma some treats to appease her guilt. Grandma loved the disgusting, fatty salami sausages and the swiss cheeses. As Lucy stepped into the warmth of the corner café, the smell of freshly baked baguettes, which had just emerged from the oven, wafted over her. She was transported back in time, to a flash of a memory – baking bread with Lilly – and the ache of loss and grief, another familiar feeling, and one that she managed to avoid by immersing herself in her work, nudged its way into her awareness.
Shaking off the raindrops that were still clinging to her coat, and with them, the ache of loss, Lucy filled her basket with tasty goodies for Grandma. Grabbing a bunch of yellow daffodils, Lucy felt her guilt ease as she surveyed the peace offerings that she had selected – even sharp-tongued and demanding Grandma would be softened and delighted by these gifts.
She felt a little spring in her step as she headed off in the direction of the nursing home. As she walked, flickers of her dream sputtered into her consciousness like the streaks of lightening across the black sky. She felt strange, it was as though the dream was ‘affecting’ her, and she was being given a shot of power that made her feel stronger, and wiser. She saw the wolf again in her mind’s eye – a she-wolf, her lip curled up to show vicious, sharp teeth and yellow eyes burning with belligerence.
She arrived at the nursing home and shook her head to try and rid herself of the frightening image that her dreaming mind had conjured up.
Grandma was in the dining area but sitting on her own, as was her custom. “Hello Bill, how is your poker game coming on?”, Lucy called out as she walked to the back table where Grandma sat, scowling. She smiled at Jane who waved a shaky hand and gave Lucy a watery smile. The other residents in the home were enamoured with “Little Lucy Red Hood”, and she had gotten to know many of them over the years.
Grandma didn’t even notice Lucy coming in, she was engrossed in her crossword puzzle, but she looked up sternly as Lucy came over to her. “Oh, it’s you” she said, without smiling and turned back to complete a clue. “Hello Grandma” said Lucy, bending down to give Grandma an awkward hug, “I’ve bought you something”. “I thought you’d forgotten all about me”, said Grandma tersely, ignoring the basket of goodies that Lucy had place on the table. “I told you, I’ve been really busy at work Grandma. We spoke last night, remember?” Grandma didn’t even acknowledge that she’d heard Lucy. She scowled up at her, and went into one of her ‘tirades’ complaining about the nursing staff, the awful food, and the various residents who were irritating her.
As Lucy watched Grandma’s tight mouth move up and down (now round, now straight, then curved down in dissatisfaction, a slew of grievances growling out the black hole of it; her eyes slits of disgruntlement), the image of the wolf flashed before her again- only this time the wolf’s face was superimposed on Grandma’s face.
Something inside of Lucy snapped. She heard herself saying (as though from somewhere outside of herself), “but Grandma…. What big, crooked teeth you have!”
“What!?” said Grandma, startled by Lucy’s loud interruption and her mechanistic and hollow voice.
“All the better to tear you down my dear”, Lucy replied to herself, in a shaky, high-pitched mockery of Grandma’s voice.
“Oh Grandma”, she continued, “what evil, yellow eyes you have!”
“All the better to see your faults my dear, and the faults of everyone else and everything in my life”, she replied again, in Grandma’s voice.
“Lucy! Stop that right now!” cried Grandma, looking around in panic to see if anyone else was listening.
Lucy ignored her and carried on…
“But what a sharp tongue you have!… All the better to criticise you my dear”
“and what long nails you have… to rip you apart dear!”
“And Grandma, you have such big arms and hands!… they are for controlling and manipulating and beating you down my dear”
“Oh Grandma, what a black, hardened heart you have…” and Lucy trailed off, as she realised that Grandma had turned white, her mouth opening and closing like the goldfish at work.
Lucy had spent the last ten years visiting Grandma, and trying to comfort her after Lilly had died. Grandma had been so distraught at losing her only child, she seemed to have forgotten that Lucy, who was only 15 years old at the time, had lost her mother. Grandma’s grief had hardened her heart into a shrivelled, dry, stone which instead of pumping life-giving love, pumped out bitterness and anger towards the whole world, and her only grandchild, Lucy. It didn’t matter what Lucy did, it was never right. Grandma would find fault with everything – she criticised, pulled Lucy down, tore her apart, and Lucy felt like she was never enough – never good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, hardworking enough, perfect enough!
She realised that the handsome hunter from her dream was herself – she was reclaiming her life by finally standing up to Grandma. All the pain, shame, guilt and anger that Lucy had supressed came to the surface. She would not allow Grandma to abuse and manipulate her any longer.
She looked directly into Grandma’s eyes, which brimmed with tears, and in that moment, Lucy saw the suffering and grief that Grandma was living with, and felt compassion for her. She also felt compassion for her own grief and pain, and something in her cracked open. She felt tears forming in the corners of her own eyes, and she bent down again to give Grandma a hug.
Grandma blinked a few times, and her tears disappeared, replaced again with a cold, yellow glare. She growled in a hardened voice, “Have you been drinking?! You were late! I’m going to bed now! I will see you tomorrow.”
With that, Lucy stood up and took a deep breath in, exhaling slowly. She brushed the tears off her cheeks, tossed her head and held it high, and looked deeply into Grandma’s cold yellow eyes.
“I love you Grandma”, she said.
Then she walked out of the dining hall, out of the front door of the nursing home, not looking back. She knew that she would not see Grandma again.
“You forgot your red raincoat!” called Grandma accusingly, and Lucy shrugged her shoulders and smiled. She was free.