Tacit didn’t know why he had to live with his Granny. At first he didn’t even realize he did. Or that it was anything unusual. He had always lived there. It wasn’t until other people started asking him where his mother and father were, and why he didn’t live with them, that he started to wonder.
Did he even have a mother?
And a father?
And how could anyone else know, when he didn’t even know who they were? He marveled at this sudden expansion of his possibilities. It was like he could see farther, and like he couldn’t see anything at all. He would have to ask Granny.
Tacit hesitated, because how could Granny know anything about it? No one ever came to her house that he didn’t know.
He thought long and hard about all the ladies who came by and entered their house and drank coffee or just stood in the door and chatted. None of them ever said that he had a mother.
Or did they?
Could they have said something like that to Granny when he wasn’t listening? When he was out in the sandpile?
He went inside and stared long and questioning at the old woman, while she sat on the kitchen chair, knitting. The aroma of something boiling on the stove filled the room with a nice feeling, but Tacit was too occupied with his own thoughts to notice what it was. He walked over and leaned against Granny’s legs which were bent beneath her dark dress.
She turned her face towards him without pausing in her knitting.
“Granny, is it true that I have a mother?”
“Who says that?”
“Everyone has a mother.”
“And a father?”
“Everyone has a father, too.”
“Aren’t you a person?” Granny looked at him over the rim of her narrow glasses.
Tacit thought carefully.
“So do you know her?” he asked.
Granny nodded and her fat bottom lip stuck out, like it always did when he had done something that he wasn’t supposed to. Yes, Granny definitely knew his mother.
“And my father too?” he wanted to know.
“No,” said Granny and she stood up.
And there was something about the way she said no that made him not want to ask anymore. It wasn’t just the bottom lip, even though it was very big now. It was the tone of it.
But he didn’t stop thinking.
If Granny knew he had a mother all along, why had she never said anything? He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. She had gotten up and put something on the fire to interrupt him. And he sat down quietly on the floor and started building houses out of the kindling from the firewood box in the corner. Granny knew it the whole time. He was sure of it. The stiff white hairs on her chin twitched while she knitted.
Later he got up carefully and snuck into the cold bedroom, where the hand mirror with the yellowed celluloid rim lay on the dresser’s white lace runner. He stared at himself in the mirror for a long time before putting it back again.
Instead of asking more questions he started listening at the door crack when Granny had visitors. Lying motionless on the floor with his ear against the door he followed the conversation, waiting patiently for them to say something about his mother, while the coolness in the dark shiny varnish worked its way into his body. And very gradually he began to realize that something about his situation was different. That was why he lived with Granny.
Silently he got up, snuck out past the guests, and sat down like a well-behaved boy with his sticks and pinecones in the gravel pile where the ladies would pass by. And he observed their bright, righteous faces openly and curiously when they left. They couldn’t have known he had been listening. But still they wouldn’t look him in the eye, so Tacit was sure. They’d known all along that he had a mother.
But it wasn’t until the day they cut his hair and his soft longish locks lay on Granny’s kitchen floor that he made the connection. Two neighbor ladies had come to help, and it had taken lots of explaining and persuasion to get him to go along with it. He sat on the kitchen chair in the middle of the floor, and one of the ladies used the scissors while Granny and the other one chatted and chatted to distract him, so he wouldn’t run away before they were finished.
They told him that after all, he was a boy, and that boys don’t go around with long curls when they get big.
Tacit stared at them dubiously.
“Short hair looks much better,” they said.
Tacit had waited as long as he could to climb up on the chair. He knew Granny had long hair. In the evening when she got ready for bed she took the hairpins out of her bun, and a long braid rolled down the back of her nightgown.
“But Granny has long hair,” he said.
“Granny is a lady,” said the woman with the scissors. And Tacit had looked surprised at Granny. He wasn’t so sure. A lady?
“You are not a girl,” said the other one.
“Granny isn’t a lady,” he proclaimed.
“She isn’t?” said the lady quietly.
“No, because Granny is a Granny.”
“You can be both at the same time,” said the lady.
Tacit considered this while they tied a dishtowel around his neck. No one had ever cut his hair before.
“Then is my mother a lady too?” he asked.
There was a strange silence in the kitchen, as if no one really knew what to say to that.
“What does her hair look like?” he asked, when no one had answered.
“Yes. Is it long?”
“Is was long when she was little, anyway,” said the lady with the scissors.
“It was just like yours.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I saw it.”
“Right here where we are.”
“Did she sit on this same chair?”
“I’m sure she did.”
“And got her hair cut with these scissors?”
“No, because she was a girl.”
Tacit sat thinking for a while and felt the cold of the scissors against the skin on the back of his neck.
“Why did she sit here in this chair?” he asked.
“Because she was Granny’s little girl back then,” the woman quickly answered.
It got quiet again.
“Is she still?”
“Sure, but now she’s grown up.”
One long lock after another fell on the floor and the lady with the scissors slowly made her way around the chair.
“Why doesn’t she ever come over?” asked Tacit.
“I guess because she lives so far away.”
The sound of the scissors filled the room. Granny had had them sharpened for the occasion. And when he was all done she brought the mirror for him to look in. And he sat a long while gazing at his new appearance, trying to recognize himself.
“See how nice you look,” said the ladies. “You look much nicer now.”