Copyright 2007 by Kelley Maroules
I wrote this after a visit to a nursing home in Raleigh to see my Grandmother.
Walking into the room, the lady sitting in the chair smiles, “Well, hello there. Isn’t this a surprise?” she says, searching for something she is supposed to know. The girl sits down on the bed by the chair. Her father walks to the dresser.
“How are you today, mom?” he ask, the son becoming the parent in his tone, the eyes searching the room for what needs to be done.
“Fine, fine,” she says turning to the girl, “Where did you come from today?”
“From the beach.” the girl replies, familiar with this conversation.
“I have a granddaughter that lives at the beach.“ the old woman looks out the window, thinking about her granddaughter.
“I know, Nana, that’s me.” the girl says hiding heaviness in her chest at the idea that her grandmother never knows her.
“I know that silly,” the old lady tries to smile, clearly frustrated that she hadn’t drawn the conclusion on her own. “Do you like the beach? We use to go there when the kids were young.” For a moment the old lady forgets her visitors, pleased in a memory that has not been erased.
“It’s pretty today, isn’t it?” The man says, an uneasy casualness in his words. The girl wonders if there will come a time when she does not know how to talk to her father. Will ther come a time when her son is standing in a room with her, wishing he didn’t have to see her this way? She shakes her head again. “Maybe, seems cold, “ Nana replies. She begins to look anxiously around the room, settles on the familiar face by the dresser, “You drove her from the beach?”
“Yes mom, we are going to a game and thought we would stop by to check on you. Did you get your hair done this morning?” His sister-in-law had said she was going to pick Nana up and go to the salon before they got there.
She touches her freshly curled hair, “No, I haven’t had my hair done in ages. It looks a mess I’m sure. I probably should go to see Betty soon.” Betty was her hair-dresser twelve years ago. She retired last December.
“What did you have for lunch?” he ask, she had just come from the dining hall.
“I don’t think they are serving lunch today.” she says rattling the sugar packets she has stolen from the dining room and is keeping in her pocket. She pulls one out, turns it over in her hand, puts it back.
A man with a walker stops at the door, “Don’t you have some nice looking visitors.” He scans the room.
“Get out of here,” she spits at him. When he is out of view she claims he tried to steal her trash can yesterday. “People are always trying to steal stuff around here. I had a bag of cookies on my bed and now they are gone. “ She glances at where the girl is sitting. The girl looks around for the mysterious cookies. She sees nothing and looks at her father.
The man walks around the room, opens the nightstand draw. Inside are some old crackers in a napkin. He throws them into the trash can, then takes the trashcan and places it in the hall. He looks at the card on her dresser. “This is a pretty card from Leanne,” he says referring to her other granddaughter, “her boys are getting big.”
“Can you believe you have eight great-grandchildren?” the girl says hoping to add something to the choppy conversation.
“No I can’t” she says, shaking her head and smiling. The girl knows she is trying to remember what her great-grandchildren look like. “they’re all healthy thank goodness,” the old lady says. She doesn’t know that one of the boys in the picture has terrible asthma. The man puts the card down.
“It’s hard keeping up with that many names,” the woman says, frowning.
“It’s hard for me, too, Nana…” the girl replies and then begins to list each grandchild followed by the names of their children. When she finishes there is a sense of pride on the woman’s face. This has become a routine with each visit.
There are pictures all over the room that are posted to remind the woman of her family. They are all of events Nana has missed or doesn‘t remember, weddings, birthday parties. She doesn’t look at them.
There is a small poloriod above her TV. It is a picture of her husbadn before he passed away. It moves around the room. Sometimes it is on the dresser, sometimes on the nightstand. It is the only picture she pays attention to. She tells anyone who looks at it where it was taken, what he said after she took it with the camera he had given her for Christmas. She looks at the picture on the card he just sat down.
“I wish some of them would come visit.” the lady says, looking out the window again. At least one person comes to see her everyday. She does not know this. She can not remember the last visit.
The girl on the bed sighs, shakes her head. She knows her father is hurting. She looks at her grandmother, her Nana. Her nails are unpolished , lon, filed to points. They are yellow at the ends. She never kept them this way before, always clipped short, neat. She no longer wears the mother’s ring that had replaced her wedding ring the year her first grandchild was born. Her hands look naked, small.
The lady smiles at the girl. Her lips no longer washed in red lipstick. For years after each meal, each sip from the coffee cup, she would pull out the gold tube and rub it across her lips, pressing them together with a smack. Her teeth are tinted brown and two are missing. They were pulled a few months before.
Her Nana had been a dental hygienist. When the girl was eight years old she sat on a pink fur-covered toilet in her Nana’s bathroom as a loose tooth was pulled and a wet paper towel put in it’s place. Her Nana had smiled and said it was a pretty tooth, should get a lot from the tooth fairy. Years later she found the tooth in Nana’s jewelry box, wrapped in napkin with her name and the date on it. She wondered what happened to that tooth. Someone probably threw it away when they brought her here.
“I think it’s going to get really cold soon,” Nana says, pulling the worn navy sweater around her tightly. It’s ninety degrees out. The girl doesn’t recognize the sweater. She wonders where it came from. It has a hole in the sleeve. The girl resolves to buy her a new sweater before the next visit. Then she dismisses the idea. The last sweater she bought disappeared. Nana says she never got it. The nurse said she gave it to the lady down the hall. She gives everything away; the flowers from her grandson, the pillow the church ladies had made.
The man walks to the door, “We have to make this a short visit,” he said., “we have to get to the game, mom.” The lady smiled, nodded.
The girl gets up from the bed, moves to hug her grandmother. The woman stands up as she approaches, the small stooped frame almost weightless in her arms. The loose feeling of her bony hands barely squeezing the girl’s sides. She feels awkward, withered in the girl’s embrace. She smelled of unfamiliar soap and dirty clothes fills her nose. The girl steps back so her father can reach down, hold his mother for a moment.
“I’ll be back soon, mom. I will bring you a new rug, or at least clean this one. “ The idea of the task forgiving him for not staying longer.
“Drive safe,” the old lady says to the young girl, still not able to connect this woman before her with her memories of a granddaughter.
The man awkwardly pats his mother’s back,” We will.”
She glances up, for a moment makes a connection, “Don’t leave me here,” she begs of her son.
“Mom, it’s alright, I’ll see you real soon,” he turns his eyes, afraid that his daughter might see the sadness. They both walk into the steamy fall afternoon. “We should get to the game in time to get some snacks, they have great roasted peanuts” the father says, hoping to wash away what just happened.
“Hope it’s a good game,” the daughter replies as they both slip into the van, anxious move forward in the day.
In that moment, before the engine sputters to life they both wrestle knots that have hold of their throats. Both, for a second, flash back to a different person than the one they just saw and can not reconcile who she is now with who she was.
The engine kicks in and erases their thoughts. They pull out onto the highway, leaving the woman in the room, sitting in her chair and staring out her window.
I live on the coast of North Carolina and work with my parents in a family owned independent bookstore in Emerald Isle, NC.
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