Staring at Wallpaper
Bobby stared at the black-and-white wallpaper in Grandma’s kitchen. It depicted a horse and knight surrounded by twisted leaves and tree branches winding around the figures in an intricate meander. The pattern repeated itself and became a procession of horses and knights galloping across the wall.
Bobby love to fix his gaze on one spot until his vision blurred and his eyes hurt. The figures blended into one, and for an instant, Bobby glimpsed them move. But then he blinked, shattering the illusion. He rubbed his eyes and tried it again, while Mom set the table.
Pots and pans clattered as Grandma finished dinner. They chatted about Mom’s day at work. Bobby’s gaze broke away from the wallpaper and fixed on Grandma, scrutinizing her face for disapproval or disgust behind Mom’s back.
Bobby had only acted upset when his parents announced their separation and that he and Mom would move in with Grandma. Instead, the separation had brought him relief. His parents’ cold and respectful behavior never hurt him as much as Dad’s grimace of disgust and hatred when Mom turned her back on him. Bobby never caught her doing the same to Dad. But now, Grandma’s face radiated placid contentment, as if her daughter’s permanent residence made her happy that her baby was home.
Grandma caught Bobby’s eye and winked. He smiled at her, then turned back to the wallpaper.
“You know,” Grandma said, “that wallpaper was already up when we bought the house.”
“Yes, and the house was new. They built this neighborhood for the veterans after the war. We were the first to move in. Only this house had that wallpaper.”
“Which war?” Bobby asked, and Grandma’s face darkened for an instant; it pained her so many wars had come afterwards.
“World War Two,” she answered, “They injured Grandpa during the Battle of the Bulge, and he almost died.”
Bobby nodded, “I remember he had a limp. And he was missing the tip of his finger from working in the diamond mines.”
Mom and Grandma burst out laughing; Bobby gazed at them, confused.
“He never worked in the diamond mines!” Grandma giggled, “He lost that tip in a silly accident pruning that big oak outside.”
“Yes, and he never flew with Charles Lindbergh either,” Mom chimed in, “but he always spun a good yarn.”
Bobby giggled as Mom and Grandma reminisced about Grandpa’s tall tales, and though he wanted to pay attention, his gaze kept sliding back to the wallpaper that enticed him to keep playing his staring game.
Bobby’s vision blurred, and the figures merged into one. He determined to stare for as long as possible, even though his eyes hurt. Flashes of color appeared and tinted the tangled leaves in green and yellow. The background became red, and the knight stood out in relief.
The merry chatter morphed into the sound of hooves and the distinct neigh of the horse on the wall. The knight pulled his sword out of its sheath; the cutting shwing it made rang in Bobby’s ears. The horse sped up as a terrifying roar rumbled through the walls. In a flash of yellow and orange, the tangle of leaves and branches caught fire, and the knight charged toward the flames.
Bobby’s eyes stung from the smoke, and he blinked, shredding the illusion. He rubbed his eyes. When his vision settled, he realized Mom and Grandma were gazing at him.
Bobby tried to stammer an excuse.
“You saw the knight, didn’t you?” Mom whispered; Bobby nodded.
Grandma said, “I could never stare long enough to know if he killed the dragon.”