My Grandfather Who Runs Away With Me
by Matthew Zanoni Müller

I am just under three years old when we move from Germany to America. I can still remember things from that first trip because everything is different afterward. There is the low hum of the airplane, the dim lighting, which is like brown honey, and the reading light that shines on my mother next to me, while she reads me stories. There is my father and brother across the aisle, and together we make a little line that is our family. Behind us is Germany, and that Germany will never change, and every time I go back to visit, I will look for that Germany but it will no longer be there. It will just be old grey buildings with graffiti on them that never quite shift back into the right position.

America is in front of my family, and we are all facing it, looking down the long tunnel of the plane. We land in Chicago, where everything is the color of metal, and where they take our fingerprints and our handprints too. We are given green cards. It isn’t until Portland, Oregon that I think we have really come somewhere. Here we have a door to walk through, a big glass threshold. Two squeaking sliding doors part, and with our bags we walk to the other side. Music is singing in the air and soft voices from people humm along the halls. The walls are shiny and the floors are shiny and it feels like the moment just before a party, where the adults are whispering and bringing everything into final order. For a minute we just stand.

A man comes toward us and his whole face breaks into a smile. The closer he comes the more his arms open. First my mother is brought into the big arms and then my father. My brother and I, we look up at what is happening. The man is laughing, just laughing, and then he bends down and scoops me into his arms and holding me high against his chest we run off into the airport.

I think to look back for my parents but don’t have timme. His laughter is shaking his chest and he says, “Op op op, off we go” and my mouth has to laugh like his does. Everything becomes funny because we are escaping and I do not even know who he is. I look straight ahead as we move through the airport. The man has a deep smell, something very strong, and it comes off of his clothes and from his mouth. It is like tea and spices and has a thickness. It becomes clear to me that I am captain of the ship, and when I point he changes directions. We round a column, weave through people. Together, we jump over a row of suitcases and he says, “oh ho ho ho, here we come!” It is only when he lifts me up to touch the arrivals sign that I realize that this man is probably my grandfather.

I point to the moving stairs carrying people up and down. We get on just like the others. I turn to look back and see little groups of people with their baggage around them like fallen apples as they slowly get smaller. I turn and touch my grandfather’s hair, which is grey with brown mixed in, and I feel his rough cheeks and the nose like my father’s, which is long and hooked. His skin is browner than my father’s, and leathery, but a very thin leather. He is still making noises and saying things. “Oh ho ho, up we go, yes yes my boy, up we go.”

A giant balcony rises around us and the strange sculptures made out of metal hanging from the ceiling come closer. My grandfather is talking all the time and I don’t have to answer or to say anything. When we get to the top he turns one way and then the other waiting for me to direct him. I point to the other stairs back down.
“Ah, down again, yes.”

At the bottom I point up. “Up, up up up.”

From my grandfather I learn that we are going to become best friends. He tells me this as we ride up and down on the escalators, again and again seeing the balcony rise and the planes take off through the grey windows and the music clinking in the air and the passengers all walking in their different directions with voices like presents that are about to be opened. As we are coming down again he says, “Oh oh, they’ve found us, we are caught,” and I see my parents and my brother in their dark coats looking up at us with their bags dropped around them, a tiny group of travelers in the giant hall. My grandfather and I, we float slowly down to them from the second floor, and from there, tow them to the parking lot, led by my little finger.

Matthew Zanoni Müller was born in Bochum, Germany and grew up in Eugene, Oregon and Upstate New York. He received his MFA from Warren Wilson's MFA Program for Writers and teaches at his local community college. His work has appeared in various magazines and you can learn more about it by visiting his website: www.matthewzanonimuller.com.

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