When Grandma cuts my hair, I don’t move. The pink, yellow flowered plastic apron: choking my neck. The shears dangerously close to my scalp. Pain shooting through my ear. I sit motionless, do nothing. Bright red crimson on Grandma’s flowers. Hair pieces, falling in my eyes. She turns for the brush. Turns back. A look of concern. She sees it. Rubbing alcohol, she smiles at me. I smile back.

Going back to school. Grandma’s driving. Talking about fighting, why I shouldn’t. No more suspensions, I agree. She hugs me. I get out of the yellow and black Dart. She drives away. A boy standing near me calls her fat. I hit him and he falls. A crimson lake on green grass, grey concrete. The principle’s office, another suspension, three more days. He calls her back. She arrives, says nothing, we drive home. I go to my room. An hour passes, two, three. Grandma calls me down, asks why. I won’t tell her. She threatens me, I fold. There’s no excuse for fighting, she smiles. Drive to Dairy Queen, hot fudge sundaes, bananas: my favorite.

Scraping the tile from the kitchen floor. Hard work and a lazy brother. He misses the work often. An excuse for everything. I’m on my knees, peeling four layers of linoleum from Grandma’s kitchen. One month of summer gone. Only halfway done, I scrape. I mumble. Grandma hears my words. Grabs me by the collar. Furious blue eyes, uniquely hers. Tells me what boys should not say. I hold my tongue. She releases me to the floor. I work. A few minutes pass. She apologizes for losing her temper. I accept, I’m sorry too.

The smell from the kitchen, Grandma’s fried chicken. My fiancee laughing, setting the table. Grandma humming while she cooks. She asks me a question. I answer in slang. Grandma grabs me by the collar. Pulls my face to hers. My beard against her chin. Chastises me for using the term. I smile at her, try to explain. She won’t listen. My fiancee tells her it’s just slang, she’s not offended. I tell Grandma I’m sorry. She let’s me go. I never say that around Grandma again.

Ten p.m. Grandpa says she is sick. Needs a doctor. I tell him to call 911, hang up the phone. Beat the ambulance to their house, hold her hand, wait, tell her it’ll be okay. She nods, can’t breathe, fades out. I go outside. The ambulance is here. They are discussing what to do, the side door, the back door, the front, the dimensions of the gurney, the dimensions of Grandma. I curse their stupidity, their laziness, their weak backs. Grandpa tries to calm me. I run back inside, put Grandma’s arm around my shoulder, my arm under her back, her legs. Red satin, unshaven legs, Grandma moaning, holding on. I carry her out, kick open the front door. Wobbly legs down the steps. Surprised Grandpa, shocked EMT’s, still discussing. Lay her gently on the gurney, bump her head on the rail, tell them to take her, to MOVE. I beat them to the hospital. They arrive, won’t look me in the eye. The doctors take her, give her drugs, slow her heart, she can breathe. The sun rises, she wakes up, remembers everything. Asks me questions. Tells me what she knows: if I’m there, she’ll be alright.

The phone rings. It’s almost time. She’ll be gone soon. I ask for directions and leave. Drive there in my truck. Slam the door after I turn off the ignition. Open a new door. The tile is white. Everything is white. Grandpa is at the end of the hall. He is white too. The hallway is steeped in ammonia, urine. I shake his hand. Notice the welling of tears in his eyes. Question his manhood in my mind. In the room it’s dark. Contrast to the hallway. I walk up to the bed. Take her hand in mine. She opens her eyes. They say she can hear me. Everyone leaves the room. I tell her about my job, my wife, my plans. She looks sharply at me, wide blue eyes. She can hear. She knows. I tell her to rest, it’s okay, begin to let her go. She squeezes my hand hard, I can’t let go. She tries to speak. They told me she couldn’t. I try to comfort her, kneel down, brush her oily gray hair with my hand. She won’t stop. She repeats it over and over. Slurring less each time. Finally her speech meets my ears. “I’m proud of you,” she says. “I love you,” she says. I tell her I hear her. I repeat it back. Relief on her face. I tell her I love her too. I hold her until she sleeps.

At the funeral my favorite aunt gives me a hug. She asks if I had time to see Grandma before; if I got to tell her goodbye. I start to answer her. Words fall out of my my mouth. Tears fill my eyes and I start to weep. I can’t stop. She holds me and I cry on her like a child.

© Michael Barry 2013