photo of wheelchair in darkened room

Friday Fiction: Sugar Isn’t Always Sweet Until There is No More

by Alvin L.A. Horn


Butchie Sugar Baby ran into the kitchen.

“Slow down, Sugar Baby,” His grandmother said.

He poured a glass of Strawberry Kool-Aid and reached into the cookie jar and filled his hands, and then he stuffed his mouth with her homemade treats.

“Now you know you don’t need to eat all those at the same time, so leave some for next time, so there will be the next time.”

“Yes, Grandmother.”

Sugar Baby watched his grandmother sit and place a small vial of clear liquid on the kitchen table. She poked a syringe needle through the top. He watched the clear liquid drawn. The young man counted the numbers on the syringe as the liquid covered them. Grandmother seemed to inhale a frustrated breath. She shifted her apron to the side, and through the unbuttoned housecoat, she exposed her brown skin above her waist. With another deeper inhale, and this time holding her breath, she pushed the needle through her skin. She made a face that distorted her sweet grandmotherly face.

“Grandmother, whatcha doing? What’s wrong?” He asked.

“Oh, Sugar Baby, it’s just my sugar.”

As he became older, Butchie Sugar Baby watched his grandmother make many more needle pricks. Time turned her eyes grey and cloudy as she walked along walls some days. He did not understand. Was it for balance? Or maybe his grandmother was having trouble seeing?

“Grandmother, why are your eyes like they are? Why do I see you some days feeling around for things but other days you can see what you are looking for when cooking or baking?” He asked these questions when his age was double digits, and he had begun driving her to appointments. 

She said, “Oh, Sugar Baby, it’s just my sugar.” That day, Butchie Sugar Baby was at the kitchen table, drinking Grandmother’s famous sweet tea, but feeling helpless.

Butchie Sugar Baby was heading off to college. Grandmother packed a care package of fried apple pies, leftover sweet potatoes, rice pudding, and honey glazed fried chicken. As he kissed her goodbye, Grandmother rubbed her legs as she used a cane to study herself. He asked her what was going on.

“Oh, Sugar Baby, it’s just my sugar,” she said.

When he finished his higher education, Butchie Sugar Baby was well-aware of his grandmother’s plight. Yet now, there was the sight of her rubbing a leg that was no longer there. She served him at the kitchen table, a bowl of rice covered in sugar and butter and a tall glass of green Kool-Aid. She managed to move about with a walker. He could not help but ask her why the doctors can’t do something more, even though he knew why.

“Oh, Sugar Baby, I’ll be alright,” she said.

A few years later, Grandmother moved about in a wheelchair. A remodeled kitchen accommodated her current life.  Butchie Sugar Baby devoured her lemon meringue pie at the kitchen table as she now rubbed at two legs that were no longer not there. His facial expression asked God why, as his grandmother’s face sagged. Through her blurry vision, his grandmother read his face and said, “Sugar Baby, I feel okay, don’t worry about me.”

One day he brought over his grandmother’s great-grandchildren for their weekly visit to share smiles and laughter, often as they licked their fingers after stuffing down Grandmother’s latest baked treats. His children loved her double-layer chocolate cake. But when they arrived, they walked into the kitchen to find her slumped over in her wheelchair. 

“She is asleep,” is what Butchie Sugar Baby told his children when they asked why won’t Grandmother awake?

“She is gone to a sweeter place,” he said. Their faces said they did not understand as he carried her to her bed with tears in his eyes. “Her sugar wasn’t sweet until there was no more, so she will sleep in a sweeter peace forevermore.”


Alvin L.A. Horn is a national award-winning author of eight novels. He was born in the Northwest and credits his writing to his mother, who made him go to the library, and the “little gray-haired Jewish lady, the librarian,” a concentration camp survivor, for introducing him to writers such as Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston. Upon reading Nikki Giovanni’s work, Alvin knew he wanted to be a writer of love stories, social commentary, and poetry. Alvin is a retired teacher but continues to work with at-risk kids.

📸 Feature image attributed to Nikita No Komment under a Creative Commons license.

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