H E R M E N E U T I C C H A O S J O U R N A L
On the way home from school, I tell Mamma I started learning cursive today. All she says is, “That’s nice, child.” She’s quiet the whole way home. But when we get to the driveway, she finds my eyes in the mirror and says we’ll visit Granny tonight. Last week, Granny had another stroke. She’s had two before, one before I was born and one last year.
Spaghetti casserole with cheese. I can smell it from my room. It’s my favorite, but it smells burnt, and anyway I’m not hungry. I just focus on writing the alphabet in cursive. Loops and curves like a rollercoaster. Usually, I rush through my homework, so I can play video games alone in my room. Or basketball with one of neighbors. Then I ride bikes with anyone anywhere until the sun goes down and the streetlights blink on. But now I practice my cursive because I want to show Granny.
Tubes curl out from her nose. Another tube in her arm snakes to a bag of clear dripping liquid. There’s a tube in her hand beneath a strip of tape stretched across her skin. She squints, rolls her head toward me. My knees are cotton. She cries. My knees are air. A nurse comes in, apologizes, and closes the blinds around the bed. There’s grunts and clanking. The curtain opens. Granny’s there, in a wheelchair, arms crossed over her lap. When the nurse leaves, Granny points at the TV. The news. She says she saw that my school was on fire.
“Smoke taking the souls of poor churren to heaven.”
Mamma pokes my back. I step up to the bed. I hug Granny.
“It’s not my school,” I say.
Her left lip is droopy. Her hair is wild and messy like a fire, except it’s black and white, like ash over a burnt building. I try to smile. Mamma watches me real close. I don’t want Mamma to know that I notice Granny’s sick. Grownups don’t expect kids to notice. Mamma doesn’t think I notice that she cries all night or that she bangs her head. She doesn’t think I notice that a bruise on her forehead, purple against her brown skin, isn’t really a birthmark. She didn’t have bruises before Granny got sick.
Granny moved to a nursing home—that’s like a hospital and hotel mixed together. Except it smells. When I ask the nurse about the smell, she says its dead flesh. Mamma yells at her. You shouldn’t get yelled at for telling the truth. You get yelled at for fibbing. Mamma fibs. She stops me in the hall before we go into Granny’s room, takes my notebook, and says I can’t show Granny my cursive because she’s sleeping. But the other day I heard her talking to Uncle Walter on the phone. Granny’s in a coma. She won’t see my cursive. She won’t see Mamma’s forehead.
A finalist for Crab Orchard Review’s Charles Johnson Fiction Award and their Jack Dyer Fiction Prize, Bernard Grant is a recent winner of the 2015 Paper Nautilus Press Chapbook contest. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Stirring, The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review, Fiction Southeast, Hippocampus, Compose, and other journals. He is also a 2015 Jack Straw Writing Fellow, a nonfiction reader for Pithead Chapel, and an editorial assistant at The Review Review.
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