16 October 2007

First of all, you must realize that this isn't true (including this sentence).

First of all, you must realize that this isn't true (including this sentence).  So if you snicker, feel no guilt (unless you are into that sort of thing).  I thought this tale would be in keeping with the coming of dead days, a season of dormancy and barren starkness, with roots delving deep into the dense coal-streaked ground.  Feast yourself on this offering.

It was a cold miserably wet dank day, the day my grandmother died.  It was just as wet, though less cold, the day she was displayed at the funeral home.  In comparison to those days, the day she was buried was downright balmy.

It was in January 1993, and my grandparents had been married for almost 55 years.  The key to their marriage was that they had clearly delineated spaces and routines.  They had lived for the previous ten years in a modular unit, a mobile home, really.  The front door entered into a space just between the living room and the kitchen, as marked by carpet to the left (living room) and faux-tile to the right (kitchen).  The left half of the trailer (I can say that now, grandmother is not here to glare at me for such a cheap label) was hers and the right was his domain.  She spent most of her waking hours in her rocker in front of the television which was lord of the living room, and highly revered (in all my 22 yrs, i was never allowed to touch the controls for changing the channels, adjusting the volume, fixing the ghoulish green tint that Bob Barker sported on the Price is Right!).  The furniture was in pristine condition, although it was not covered in plastic (as was commonly used by her generation).  No, but neither could I sit on it (the floor was my place, and if there was a way she could have prohibited me from sitting on the carpet, she would have).  Just through the living room, with its myriad of antiques displayed just so in shadow-boxes, was her bedroom with an attached master bath.

Now my grandmother was a very modest woman, and would shut her door upon retiring.  During the day, a heavy black poodle cast in iron stood guard and held the door open to the living room.  Her bathroom was rather nice, but not used much.  The toilet was, of course, but the garden tub and the separate shower stall were stacked with boxes filled with things that she moved with her from a sturdy little house some ten years prior.  Sliding pocket doors separated the bathroom from the bedroom and so modest was she that when using the toilet, she would not only remove the cast iron poodle and close the living room to bedroom door, but she would also close the bedroom to bathroom pocket doors.

Please, remember this is not true, not any of it.  My grandfather's domain began with the kitchen.  Oh, he visited the living room for a brief spell every day, usually early afternoon, and would watch a few minutes of television with my grandmother.  Then, saying that the cushions were not kind to his back, he would leave and return to his side of the trailer, having done his daily duty.

The kitchen was his, he did the cooking (frying eggs every other day, having toast and oatmeal on the off days) and he did the dishes.  A small laundry sat off the side, and he did that too.  At the end of a short hallway lie his bedroom.  Just before his room was a small bathroom, functional and spare.  His shower and tub were vacated of boxed memorabilia and were indeed used, at least twice per week.  His bedroom was small, but neat and held his own small black and white television which was atop his CB units and his amps, receivers, and other things that allowed him interaction with the outside world.  In those days, computers were not common, nevermind the internet.  My grandfather would chat as the Peaceful Quaker while watching muted professional wrestling (which had a cinematic quality, silent films had nothing on the antics of Hulk Hogan and his ilk, especially when viewed in the formal black and white that screamed, "classic" at me).

They had a very scripted life, my grandparents.  Their routine varied little and was most likely worn like an old comfortable coat.  And like the coat, it became tattered and worn and frazzled, but was still donned religiously.

One day, my grandfather cracked the eggs into the fry-pan and called out to my grandmother, "oh honey!  your breakfast is almost ready!"  He set the pink melmac plates with their eggs and toast (sara lee's lite bread for diabetics, please thank you) at their places and settled himself down to read the paper.  Now, my grandmother always read the obits first, but he read the front page and then laid that section next to her plate and he went onto read the next section, which was usually the sports (it was a small paper, it was a small town).

It wasn't til he had rinsed his plate, fork,knife, and orange plastic cup that he realized that she had not stirred from her room.  He called out to her as he hobbled to her door, his cane sure and steady but his legs not so.  Once there, he tapped gently, and now began to feel a bit of hesitation.  Perhaps something happened, she had been feeling poorly.  She was 5'2" (eyes were not blue, but brown) and I think it would not be a gross overestimation to say that she was every bit as round as she was tall.  She was the absolute worst kind of diabetic there is, the kind that thinks they are getting one over on the doc but are merely harming themselves with non-adherence to the prescribed diet, exercise, and then frantically observing the orders just prior to a check-up.  Why, didn't she just two weeks before bump her head on the door knob whilst moving that damned poodle and end up in the hospital because she scared him with her fainting spell?  And didn't she give him hell over it cuz they kept her in the hospital til she was stabilized and learned how to give herself the needle?

Now, he turns the knob and ever so gently pushes the door open.  He knows something is wrong.  He sees the empty bed so knows that she isn't having a lie-in.  And with dread crosses to the closed pocket doors.  Here, he hesitates, for he knows that nothing good lies behind this door.  He knows that the silence is not good and yet he can't put this off any longer.  So he slides the door open and sees her, sitting on the toilet, frozen in mid-strain.  Her face tortured and her glazed eyes open.

He knows in that instant, before he even realizes that he knows; what has happened.  She woke in the night, heaved herself off her bed, waddled to the bathroom, slid the pocket doors shut, and wedged herself in the space between the end of the sink (those fancy spindles separating the sink's long counter and the tiny toilet aclove) and the outside wall of the trailer (on the other side of which was a metal shed).  He knows that she most likely strained a bit too hard (either to move her bowels, a herculean effort, or to stand from the toilet; probably a bit of both) and her heart gave out under the laborious task at hand (having gone beyond the call of duty for a good twenty years, the doctor said).

He sees all this, and knows it, just like that.  He limps back to the kitchen, where the wall unit is mounted, and places a callto his son; cuz really, what do you do?  He knows she's dead, and you can't exactly call the morgue to come pick her up, now can you?

A few hours later, he watches as the shrouded form of her is maneuvered awkwardly through the hole they have made when they removed the door-jamb from its frame.  He resists his daughter's pleading that he come home with her.  This is his home.  A bit banged up, sure, but still his.  He turns and sees the dismembered bedroom door, a hole gaping there too.  And he knows that the bathroom is a mess.  Well, he thinks, at least the pocket doors are alright.  And he squishes down a stray giggle, aghast at himself.  For they had to cut the sink's counter off and remove the faux-wall so that the tiny toilet's space could give up its occupant.  When his daughter protested, he said reasonably, that it wasn't nearly as bad as removing the side of the trailer, now was it?

Finally, his daughter drove him to past the point of endurance and he sent her away, telling her he just wanted some time to be.  Already, she was poking through her mother's things, and squirreling away the good jewelry and trinkets.  Already, she'd opened the closets and pawed through the hanging clothes.  Already, she was making plans for her inheritance (that would not materialize until his death, if then).

He was tired.  And he was old.  And somehow, he had to get thru the next few days.

(to be cont'd)

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