It smells like shit, literally. I want to light up a cigarette just to put some other smell in my nose. I want to smoke because I’m stressed and I can’t exactly go and get a drink.
The room is almost completely dark. The nurse, who stands watchfully at the open door, ready to spring like a cat on a mouse at any moment, told me Grandma gets agitated if there’s too much light in the room. I can somewhat make out her form on the bed by the tightly shut window blinds.
What I can make out only bares a passing resemblance to my grandmother. She’s skinnier, apparently from hardly eating anymore. They say her gray eyes are clouded over with cataracts now. Although she’s looking in my direction, it seems like she’s looking through me. Perhaps she’s not seeing me or the predatory-eyed nurse, or the darkened room she’s in at all.
“Grandma?” I start. “It’s me. It’s Joshua.”
“Joshie?” There’s genuine surprise in her gravely, thin voice. “Oh, Joshie!”
“Tammy told me to come see you,” I say.
“Such a sweet girl,” Grandma says. “I’d wondered about you.”
I can’t help but notice how lucid she sounds, despite the quality of her voice and the smell of the room. Almost as if her mind’s back in one piece. Perhaps the nurse realizes this.
“She’s rallying. We see that in sometimes in patients right before the end.”
“Well, ain’t you about positive?” I mutter toward the nurse before shifting my attention once more. “How you been, Grandma?”
Then it gets quiet. Maybe she’s gotten lost again. I step a little closer, and notice how she starts, as though frightened. The nurse takes a tentative step after me, as if to stop me from reaching my own grandmother. The glare I shoot has a stopping affect.
“I’m gonna be going a long trip soon, Joshie,” Grandma says. “But it’s okay. I’m not scared.” I can see a frail hand reaching out to me. “I’m so glad you made it before I went away.”
“You’ve still got some life left in you,” I say, taking her hand. It looks discolored.
“I’m never gonna see the sun again,” the lucidity seems to be fading.
“Don’t be silly, Grandma,” I say and I reach over to open the blinds. The nurse is drawing a sharp breath, as though to tell me to stop.
Grandma is covered in bruises. Her right eye is swollen shut and there’s blood on her lips from where it looks like a few teeth were knocked out. The sheets on her bed are so terribly soiled that I almost vomit.
Immediately, I turn toward the nurse. I’m across the room before there can be any reaction. My hand is around the nurse’s throat slamming her into the doorframe. I’m sure someone else is going to see and try to interfere, but in the heat of the moment such a reality hardly registers.
“Who in the fuck did this to her?!?” I’m snarling and my grip is tightening.
“Joshua Allen!” Grandma sounds coherent once more. “Let her go right now, boy!”
“She didn’t do it!” Grandma snaps. “And I said let her go right now!”
I do as I’m told. The nurse all but collapses to the floor coughing and sputtering. I might feel bad about it later, but right now I’m too angry to care.
“Who did this?” I ask as calmly as I can.
“I was bad, I messed myself,” Grandma says. “It’s funny, I used to change his diapers. I figured this made us even.” Then she stars to sob. “He said I used to beat him, so he was gonna do the same to me. I never hit any of my boys like this. Not once. Patrick…your daddy, he was always so even tempered. But Joseph, I don’t know why, but he always had that mean streak…”
I’m shaking. Part of it is from the chills running down my spine, but most of it is from building anger. My uncle, her son, a nurse at this facility, is the one who beat her so savagely. Everyone in the family has always known about Joseph’s temper and his willingness to solve problems with his fists, but it’s obviously been my delusion that Grandma was safe from it.
“Grandma, I’ll take care of it,” I say. “And then I’ll come back and see you.”
“What you wanna do ain’t gonna make these bruises go away,” she says. Sound advice, the type she’s given me before that got me out of more fights than I got into growing up. “They’ll never go away. Not as long as I’m alive…”
“Be that as it may, he needs to learn you can’t go ‘round brutalizing folks,” I say. “Especially you, Grandma.” I turn to leave. “I’ll come back.”
“I’m not gonna be here, Joshie,” she says. “Say your goodbyes now, because I’m gonna be gone soon.”
“Goodbye, Grandma,” I say, hoping she’s wrong. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Joshie,” she’s smiling. “Don’t worry, it’ll be okay. Tammy and I have seen to that.”
I turn to walk out. This might be the last time I ever see my grandmother. At least she was lucid for it, miracle that was. There are tears in my eyes. I cast a look at the nurse who is cowering at my feet.
“You better have the decency to clean her up. End of chat,” I say as I walk out of the room.