I’m fifteen years old and my name is Celyn, which is a unisex name, meaning both a girl and a boy can have it, but in my opinion it sounds a lot like a girl’s name. When my parents chose it, they hadn’t known whether I would be a boy or a girl, so they thought a unisex name would be perfect, but then I turned out to be a boy and they stuck to it anyway.
My name means Holly and I know that because Mr Sullivan told my class to look it up when I was eight. I couldn’t tell what Holly had to do with Celyn and how one name could be another name’s meaning.
Today I met a girl. Not like in a computer game. A real girl. Her name is Payton, which is a unisex name too. I thought that was a pretty good sign. It means noble and although I don’t really know what that means, I like the name a lot.
The phone rang and my heart started jumping.
“It’s grandpa,” the voice on the other side croaked. I could barely understand it, because it was low and sounded of smoke.
My heart did some kind of move that convinced me it had stopped beating. It wasn’t Payton.
Noble. That was the kind of meaning a name should have.
“Hey, Raz,” I replied.
I’ve never called my grandpa ‘Grandpa’ like other kids do. I’ve always used his first name instead. He’s eighty-something and his name is Raz, which means secret. I know because Mr Sullivan made us look up the meaning of all our family members’ names as well.
It took me a few minutes to realise what he had said. “Is your father home?” he asked, his voice only becoming worse.
“No, but he’ll be back soon,” I replied, not knowing when soon would be.
“And you aren’t in school?”
I sighed. “It’s eight pm, Raz.”
“Then, have a good night, Celyn,” he said and hung up before I could answer anything, leaving me staring at the phone.
At dinner, I was still thinking of Payton. Had her parents known what her name meant when they had given it to her? Probably, because it fitted so well. My parents pretty obviously hadn’t and they hadn’t noticed that Celyn sounds more like a girl’s name. They had just heard it somewhere, thought it was pretty and given it to me.
“Did anyone call?” Dad asked as he did every evening at dinner.
“No one,” I replied as I did every evening at dinner.
My little sister cocked her head. “Someone did,” she reminded me.
“Right.” I had been thinking of Payton and her beautiful face and those curls and… I noticed that my father was staring at me, still waiting for an answer. “Grandpa did.”
“What did he say?” Unlike my grandpa, I actually called my father Dad, but his actual name is Phil, which I looked up as well. It’s also a unisex name, although I’ve never met a girl called Phil, but I haven’t found a meaning, which is rare in my family.
“He asked why I wasn’t in school,” I replied.
My father only nodded. “He’s too weak to meet anyone outside his house,” he explained. “It’s a highlight for him when someone comes to visit and when no one does, he starts phoning people.”
I looked up, embarrassed, because I hadn’t understood what that call could mean to him.
I was holding my phone in my hand nervously, because Payton hadn’t sent me a message since this morning.
“Are you here… voluntarily?” my mother asked.
I nodded. “Yes,” I answered, gritting my teeth, and it wasn’t a lie. I had a guilty conscience, at least something like that, but it felt more like fear. The truth was that I was scared like hell of ending up in an old house like that all on my own, of having to phone the grandchild that never really talked to me, because I was so bored. I was scared of growing old before Payton wrote back.
I told myself I could make up for the fact that I usually didn’t talk to Raz by visiting.
“Please put away your phone,” my mother told me. “You know your grandfather is scared of these things.” Putting it back in my pocket, I was forced to look up to find empty walls in front of me. There were no pictures of people he could’ve loved or things he wanted to remember. There was only the long hallway with the grey walls and the dark carpet that needed to be cleaned, but grandfather wasn’t able to and my mother was already cleaning the rest of the house.
She stopped in front of the door. “Don’t be scared,” she told me. “Grandfather looks bad when he’s sleeping, but he’s only sleeping.” She sighed. “He’s not dead.”
I felt the phone in my pocket vibrating, my heart jumped but my hand didn’t try to find its way to my pocket. I was scared here and I didn’t know what to expect inside. When had I last seen Raz? I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t even remember what his voice sounded like when he wasn’t talking over the phone.
My mother’s hand was lying on the handle. Her name is Jay and it seems quite obvious that it’s a unisex name as well, since, well she is a part of my family. It sounds like a boy’s name anyway. It means Victory and I can’t whether it suits her, because she’s my mother.
Her hand rested where it was. I turned around, because something felt strange. Thinking back now, I would say I already knew what had happened but really I couldn’t have. I just had an inkling that something was wrong.
My hand found the handle to a door I’d never opened before. As my mother entered the room I didn’t want to follow, and this door was the only other way. I opened it, because I was scared and because I was curious. My phone vibrated again in my pocket, but this time I didn’t even notice it. The middle of the room was empty, with no curtains or doors, but the walls were entirely covered by cupboards. In each drawer I found tons of envelopes and under them there was a name written in my grandfather’s handwriting. I knew his handwriting but not his voice.
In one drawer I found my name. Celyn. It looked weird in Raz’s handwriting. On the left side of the drawer one single envelope leaned against the side. I recognised it, it was the card I had sent him for his birthday when I had been nine or ten. At least ten envelopes were there.
“Celyn!” my mother screamed. Startled, my hand automatically reached out for the envelopes, stuffing them into the back pockets of my jeans.
“Celyn!” she repeated, louder this time. Leaving the room, something inside of me hurt but it had nothing to do with the phone desperately trying to catch my attention.
I didn’t want to enter, but my mother’s voice made me head for the room without hesitating. My grandfather was lying in his armchair. I couldn’t tell if I would recognise him amongst all the old men in town. His eyes were closed, his mouth open and he looked as if he was sleeping, but something about this face was strangely white.
“Is he…?” I began.
My mother gasped for breath.
“Raz?” I asked.
My mother started sobbing, but no tears filled my eyes and secretly I knew why.
“Grandfather?” my mother asked through her tears.
Suddenly, he opened his eyes and stared at us tiredly. “You’re already here. Do you want coffee?”
Later that day, I stole a small box from my sister’s room that was pink and covered in patterns. I hid it far under my bed so no one would ever see it – not my friends who would laugh at me and not my sister who would yell at me. That’s where I hid the envelopes.
“When will I see you again?” Payton wrote.
“Tomorrow?” I asked, but I was thinking of all the wrinkles across Raz’s face. I hadn’t noticed them appearing.
I looked in the mirror, wondering what my face would look like in sixty years.
“Celyn?” My sister’s face appeared at the door.
I could barely tear my eyes away from both the mirror and her text messages. “What?”
“Can I ask you something?” My sister’s name was Jesse and – I know that you’ve already guessed it – it’s a unisex name. It means gift, and my parents thought this was great, because she was so sweet, but we didn’t do that much together except for arguing, which is not quite a gift.
“Yes, you can,” I replied slowly. Usually, she never talked to me with such a nice face.
I thought about how Payton would look once she was as old as Raz and the face in my imagination looked ugly.
“What is ‘dead’?” Jesse asked.
“When someone’s gone,” I replied fast.
Jesse raised one brow. “As in disappeared?”
I tried to imagine what Raz was doing right now, but then I figured that he was probably watching TV or sleeping as always, and then I tried to imagine what Payton was doing right now, but then I had to think of Raz again.
“It’s when a soul leaves and a heart stops beating, but the body stays,” I explained.
Jesse’s eyes became big. “Like a zombie without a soul?”
I stared at her. “Maybe you should ask Mom.”
“I already did,” Jesse explained. “She only cried.”
When she was gone again, I reached under my bed for the envelopes. “To Raz” was written across every letter. They were covered by small paintings and I could easily recognise my face. There was me, playing with my grandfather when I had been little.
I’ve been hiding them under my bed ever since, but I never open them, because his name was Raz and that meant secret.