The waiting room, dull with dense noon heat,
a sapping light that flattens edges, a smoky haze.
Low murmurs pricked by babies’ cries,
the insinuating drone of flight announcements.
They’re here to see me off, an unaccompanied
minor flying back to San Jose.
Grandma wears polyester pants, pink
with a crease sewn in, a sleeveless blouse,
her creamy pleather purse slung over a forearm.
Incense rises from her cigarette.
At her side, Grandpa rocks on his heels, straightens his tie.
He whistles, checks my ticket, knits his brows.
My nerves yearn toward the gate.
Almost free for another year, dues paid
by a week of stillness, broken by Grandma’s voice,
rusty with smoke, her inventory of familial flaws,
her outrage shining through thick glasses.
“Jan tries, poor thing, but Chrissie’s out of control,”
she huffs, her pitch rising to fever
as she makes my cousin’s damage plain.
Grandpa snores on the couch,
his pumpkin belly rising up and down in time,
the dog panting beside him.
This morning the radio blared reports
of wildfire on their mountain,
close enough to smell. In the back room
I froze in place, strained to hear
their conversation through the static.
“We should go early,” Grandpa rumbled.
“We don’t want to get stuck up here.”
Grandma’s response: the click of the lighter, a sharp exhale.
“I’m fine with earlier,” I called, trying to breathe,
not caring if the fire stranded them on return.
Now at the airport, they already seem smaller, receding
into that flat yellow light as my flight is finally called.
Here on the cusp of escape my heart falls
at Grandma’s wistful smile, her shaking hands,
Grandpa’s loud voice as he begins the goodbyes.
I hug him first, take in his tobacco smell,
flash a bright grin, and then move to her,
press my lips to her powdery cheek.
I don’t notice at first the sting until it blooms into pain,
a small red circle on my forearm
rising to the ember of her cigarette.
“No, no, I’m fine, Grandma,” I tell her, and with mustered
cheer wave one last time and turn,
eyes prickling, to board the plane.