Grandfather sat forward in his chair, his back muscles and spine straining as he reached for Grandson. Grandson sat in the gap of Mother’s open legs on the floor, mashing stuffed teddies together at Mother’s insistent glee.
In his gnarled grey fingers, Grandfather held a delicate porcelain baby rattle. Around the middle of the rattle were pale cupids wrapped in flowing sashes of blue and pink with their pert mouths opened in hymn.
‘Now, this,’ Grandfather’s deep voice surprised Grandson, ‘dear boy, is yours to keep. Each cupid is for the babies in our family who were not strong like you—see, here are my three younger brothers.’
Grandson watched Grandfather’s wrinkled mouth quiver as he spoke. Mother bowed her head, the light in her smiling face slipping away. Gurgling, Grandson reached out with soft hands. The inside of the rattle ticked as Grandfather shook it. Grandfather gave Grandson the rattle. At hearing the patter of rolling beads, Grandson shook the rattle wildly.
‘Careful, it’s very fra—’
Grandson threw the rattle onto the floorboards and gasped as it shattered into pieces. The beads ticked against the floor and rolled into crevices and under furniture. Seething, Grandfather pursed his lips and sat back in his chair. A shadow fell over his face.
Mother rushed to gather the pieces. ‘I’ll clean it up, I’m so sorry!’
She dropped the jagged porcelain into her palm and plucked up the white beads. Their texture was rough, like beach pebbles. Mother rolled the beads in her palm. She looked up at Grandfather’s sneer.
‘They were weak,’ Grandfather’s voice crawled up and out of his throat.
The smooth ridges in the centre of the beads were yellowed. The things that made the ticking sound in the porcelain rattle were bones. They were baby teeth.