“Oh, honey, don’t leave the window open at night,” my Grandma used to say to me, “you’ll let in the draft.” She was a tiny pudding of a woman, with pink lipstick and pink patches of scalp showing through her feathery hair. Toward the end there, she didn’t have many teeth, which made her southern drawl even more impenetrable to my five-year-old ears.
Of course, I didn’t know Grandma was sick then. I didn’t know that was why we went to stay with her. I just knew I didn’t like her house, so big and empty and full of creaks and echoes and wrong smells. And I knew I didn’t want to let in the giraffe.
I still see it, as vivid as my Grandma’s face or the weekly hot apple pie that didn’t quite mask the sickly-sweet stink. Every night, I huddled beneath my blankets, hands clasped tight together and eyes squished shut, whispering prayers under my breath. I didn’t dare open my eyes once my mother turned off the light, never poked my head out from the safe nest of covers. I knew that if I did, I would see the giraffe staring back at me from the darkened window.
Sometimes, I could swear I heard it—the faintest snapping of a twig outside, or a leaf brushing against the window, I tried to convince myself, but it was the giraffe. It waited outside, eyes staring and head cocked expectantly to one side, waiting for me to let it in. I wondered how long it could wait.
It didn’t look like a real giraffe. It was something else, milky and sickly, every bone jutting out from the thin cover of its moonlit skin. It can’t hurt me, I told myself, it’s so weak. It would crumble to dust if I touched it. But that only made it scarier.
I wet the bed at Grandma’s house sometimes, and my mother shouted at me. Nightmare followed nightmare, but I didn’t dare get out of bed and run to my mother’s room like at home. I knew that if I did, the giraffe would get me first. So I lay there in my soggy sheets, counting the minutes until I saw the sun’s glow through my eyelids.
“I think it’s hard on Helen,” I heard my mother tell my father one night when they thought I was asleep. “She shouldn’t have to deal with this at her age. I’ve been too harsh.”
“We knew this was coming,” my father said, rubbing his unshaven cheek. “She has to come to terms with death some time or later.”
They knew about the giraffe, I thought fiercely, my fingernails biting into my palms, and they’re just going to let it kill me. My parents won’t even try to stop it. This is something I have to face on my own.
Grandma barely left her bed anymore those days. Was she hiding from the giraffe, too? One morning, I slipped in and stood in the shadow of the door.
“Grandma?” I whispered.
She looked up at me with her dark, cloudy eyes. “Yes, honey?” Her voice was weak, every syllable heavy.
“Have you ever seen the giraffe?”
“The what, dear?”
“The giraffe,” I said in my smallest voice, hoping it wouldn’t overhear us. “You said not to open the window at night and let in the giraffe. Did you ever see it?”
She laughed, actually laughed, though it turned into a shallow wheezing. “Oh, no, Helen darling! You can’t see a draft!”
I trembled. “Then… how do you know it’s there?”
“You feel a cold wind,” Grandma said. “Honey, do you think you could go get your mother? I think it’s time for my medicine.”
In my dreams that night, the giraffe rode on the wind, galloping above roof tops like an awful, twisted Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Its eyes were pale stars and ghosts straddled its back. Its breath was like blue fire and icicles hung from its mouth. And whenever I tried to hide from it, it disappeared into the night air, only to reappear inches away from my face. I wet the bed again that night.
By the last days, all the leaves had fallen from the trees. They stood naked around the lawn, looking like skeletons. Grandma hardly looked like Grandma anymore, the times I got to see her.
I played alone in the hallway with my dolls, just outside Grandma’s bedroom. Barbie was marrying John Smith again, but I didn’t care about the wedding. I wanted to know what my parents were talking about with Grandma, why I wasn’t allowed in with them.
“It’s too stuffy in here,” I heard my father say when I pressed my ear against the heavy wooden door.
“It’s nice out, for November,” my mother said. “Maybe some fresh air would do here good.”
“I’ll open the window,” said my father.
I fell, the side of my head slamming into the door. “NO!” I screamed. I twisted the doorknob and vaulted into my grandma’s bedroom. “No, not the window!”
But it was too late. My father had already pulled back the curtain and wrenched open the window. A light breeze rolled in.
There’s nothing there, I thought, nothing but the night.
But Grandma told me you can’t see the giraffe…
She had been asleep at first, had been asleep every time I’d been allowed to visit her the last few weeks, but her eyelids fluttered open as I wailed, “Daddy, no! Close it, close it!”
“What has gotten into you, Helen?” snapped my father, grabbing me hard by the shoulder and dragging me from the window. “You’re not a baby!”
“Stephen, look,” whispered my mother.
We both turned toward Grandma. She had done nothing but lie there for weeks. Now she was struggling up to a sitting position, her chalky face tinged with purple. Her mouth opened and closed, but only a creaking sound came out. Slowly, she raised one hand from the bed. Whatever she was trying to say, I’ll never know, but even then, I could read what was in her eyes: pure terror. Then she collapsed back onto the bed, all the light gone from her eyes. Grandma was gone, vanished unseen out the window with the giraffe.
I know now that it was just a childish misunderstanding, and childish misunderstandings are supposed to be funny, or at least adorable. But when I remember Grandma’s house, the last thing I want to do is laugh. And some nights, even now, I dream of the phantom giraffe that stole away my grandmother, carrying her off into the night on a cold gust of wind. I always keep my windows shut.
Credit To – Schmergo