Perils of assimilation

If only life came with subtitles.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Guess He Pulled a Fast One on Us

I didn't recognize Grandpa when I saw him. He was missing his glasses. He was chalk-pale, and his mouth was gaping open. I couldn't help but thinking of what a death-rattle sounded like. There was a girl in my high school English class who worked at a nursing home. Every so often she would come into class and announce "another one died on me last night" and tell us how it happened, how it sounded.

Nana was sitting next to the bed, the hospital bed that we had spent all yesterday waiting around for. She was sitting on the little commode, holding her husband's hand. First thing she said when we came in was "Guess he pulled a fast one on us," and gave a little dentured smile.

My aunts and a few cousins were there, as was the local priest. Low murmur, mostly just asking if the other was okay.

My mom and I had left straight from work, didn't clock out or anything. Mom noticed the seven missed calls on her phone, and began to cry. She's been going back and forth to Racine daily, helping out with little things. The doctor said two to four months. That was seven days ago.

The house is filled with knick-knacks. Tiles along the edges of the ceiling, one from every place they've been. Statuettes on every surface. There are little wooden tulips along the windowsill above the kitchen sink. Grandpa made all sorts of little decorations. Pumpkins and ghosts for fall, Santas and snowmen for winter. He always made wooden toys every Christmas for the Toys for Tots drive. The kitchen light is too bright, severe. But the bulbs were on special at the Piggly Wiggly, so there they'll stay. Grandpa's medications are all on the table. All new and unopened. The nurse opens them up and tosses the pastel pills in with the trash. I think,"Can't we give them back to the pharmacy, or the hospital? Donate them to a clinic that needs them? There are too many clinics in the world with out any meds at all." I watch as she empties the morphine. I consider how much I could have made selling it.

They talk too loud, the nurses. They speak to Nana as if she's dumb as well as deaf. She knows what's up, no need to shout. They rub her back, tell her to calm down. She is calm, and cringes a little when they touch her. She doesn't like strangers touching her. Kelly, my cousin, notices this.

Natalie tells me her sister Tracy is coming from Arizona with her newborn daughter. She had wanted Grandpa to meet his great-granddaughter.

The men from the Funeral home arrive. They move Grandpa onto a stretcher, and zip up the body bag. I wonder if they'll give the floral sheets back.

There was a rubber mask that Grandpa would wear and chase us around with. Gallows humor sneaks up on me, and I imagine him wearing that thing in his coffin. One last joke for us.


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