by Galvin Chapman
with photos by Max Deeb
“Don’t touch that!” She yells.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. It’s just really pretty,” I reply. As I pull my hand away from the plant, it begins to slowly contract, as if to weakly clench whatever foreign object may be invading its grasp. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“It’s a mimosa,” she explains, “it feels your presence. It’s its own being and has its own energy. You wouldn’t like to be poked in the face, would you?”
“Uh, no. I suppose your right, I just didn’t know, I guess,” I squeamishly reply.
“C’mon, the records are back here. I’m really excited to show you my stepdad’s collection,” she says, as she leads me to the garage, which is separate from the rest of the house.
Inside the garage, boxes line the walls filled with family history and inherited belongings of the deceased. Items that once held significance in people’s lives now occupy untouched boxes on dusty shelves, kept as relics for their own, unused sanctity. In the corner of the garage a cheap record player sits on two Bankers boxes, wires exposed and connected to two speakers sitting on the concrete ground on either side of the makeshift stand. Above the record player is a one-foot-long shelf holding the weight of a couple dozen, stood up records. The rest of the garage remains empty and unused.
“As I was I saying earlier, the Dirty Projectors are this super eclectic folk band that I found in Steven’s collection of records,” she explains, as she thumbs through the foot-long shelf of records, “and I’ve been listening to this one record ‘Bitte Orca’ non-stop. I think they’re from the ‘70s or somethin’.”
She finds what she’s looking for and pulls out a record with a cover that looks like a portrait of two women: one woman has a blue tint over her face and the other has a red tint over her face. In the corner of the album cover is a quote by Rolling Stone praising the artistic value of the Dirty Projectors. Still looking at me with ecstatic eyes, she feels her way around the edge of the cover to find the opening and pulls out a red vinyl with streaks of white. She lifts the record player’s lid and gently places Bitte Orca onto the rubber plate of a revamped vintage machine.
“But I really want to show you this one song. It’s called ‘Two Doves.’ Fuckin’ brilliant.”
With a shaky hand, she lifts the tone arm and attempts to place it on the groove of “Two Doves.” Due to her slight inaccuracy, we hear the end of the previous track.
“This isn’t it, but just wait for this track to end. It’s really amazing.”
I take a seat on the cold concrete floor as the previous track comes to an end. She continues to stand with her eyes closed in peaceful anticipation of the upcoming song. I decide to lay back on the concrete and close my eyes in solidarity. The track begins with light finger picking on an acoustic guitar but is quickly interrupted by the harmonies of a string quartet. An interloping voice begins the first verse as I drift into a daydream reel of my day . . .
I woke up this morning to my mother shaking me awake at 6 AM.
“Jared, wake up.”
I hazily woke up, prominent boner, confused as to what was going on.
“Your grandfather…he’s in a hospice.” She said.
“A what?” I asked.
“It may be the last time you can speak to him. I think you should get up and come down with me to his house. Your sister’s coming too. I think it’d be a good idea that you get up now.”
“Okay,” I grunted as I sat up in confusion. I sat there for a second, not grasping the reality of the situation and then poorly dressed myself.
I drove myself down to his house and walked through the back door where I was greeted by my uncle’s two labrador-mix puppies in suspicion. I ankled my way through the living room towards the kitchen where my aunt and mother were sitting at the dinner table. It didn’t seem like much was being said. It didn’t seem like there was much to be said. My aunt got up to greet me with a hug.
“Hi, bud. Dad’s in his room. His doctor set up a hospice for him, free of charge. There’s also a hospice aid in there monitoring him,” my aunt explained.
“Okay. Is he awake or responsive?” I asked, as I also greeted my mother with a hug and a kiss on the head.
“He hasn’t been awake, really, but I think he can sense our presence. He’s still there,” my mother explained. “Go on in.”
“Okay.” I took a deep breath and started walking towards my grandfather’s master bedroom.
In his room, my grandfather laid peacefully in a temporary hospital bed with his mouth wide open, because he no longer possessed the strength to hold it closed. A stranger in the corner, who appeared to be the hospice aid, was enveloped in the enthralling world of Instagram on her phone. Everything else in his room remained the same: his pictures, my late grandmother’s antiques, and my grandfather’s watches. I walked over to my sister who stood bedside, hanging her head. I stood next to her and gazed at my grandfather’s state. The stranger in the corner chuckled at some diversion of reality on her phone.
“Hey Mary. Has he woken up at all since you’ve been here?” I asked her quietly.
“No, but he’s still responsive. Like he still feels our energy.” She responded. “Like when I hold his hand, it slowly clenches back, see?”
She grabbed his hand and it slowly clasped her hand back.
“Like those plants. What are they called again?” She asked.
“I’m not sure what you’re referring to.”
I patted his leg and began to ask him questions in a soft voice, as if he were a little child again.
“Hey Gramps, how are ya? You want some liquids or anything? How’s the medication treating ya?” He didn’t respond, but something told me he could hear me.
Mary and I stood there for a few minutes, not saying much. Something about the silence in moments like those bodes more value than any brilliantly crafted combination of words we could ever speak. Every so often, the hospice aid would chuckle at something on her phone. After a few minutes of standing there, my grandfather slightly opened his eyes.
“Hey Gramps, how are ya feelin’? Want some Gatorade?” I asked as I gently laid my hand on his leg. With all his might, he slowly nodded his head in agreement when the stranger in the corner interrupted.
“He can’t have any liquids. He’ll just choke it up.” She said.
“But, he looks so thirsty. He can’t have one small sip of water or Gatorade?” I asked annoyed.
“No, we are administering sufficient fluids to him through an IV.” She said as she went back to her captivating world of Instagram.
Mary and I fell back into silence as my grandfather slowly faded away once again.
As I stood there in silence, I couldn’t help but question how I should be feeling. I had no idea how to react or behave. I couldn’t tell him that it was all going to be alright and that he’d be on the roof in no time, fixing the house. I couldn’t tell Mary that he’d soon be playing jokes on her again, making us all laugh. I couldn’t tell myself that he’d soon be playing harmonica with me on guitar, jamming to some basic, yet lively tune. I couldn’t turn to the stranger in the corner and yell at her apathy and total myopathy. And I certainly couldn’t stand there in silence, thinking about how I should be feeling, because this wasn’t about me. It was about him and his life and his family that he built and this home that he built and the years of mutual tireless love between him and my grandmother and all the people that fucked him over and all the people that he fucked over and all the people that think about him still and all the people that he still thinks about and the simple joys that consumed his life and his daily routines that only ceased a few days ago and will never come to fruition again—and then I took a pause in thought. I remembered that every Sunday morning, without fail, he would drive his banged-up truck over to the Ralph’s near his house to select a bouquet of flowers. He’d drive all the way down to Queen of Heaven Cemetery where my grandmother is buried. He’d pull out his beach chair and sit in the beating sun to pray, think, remember, love, cherish, grasp. And I began to weep. Mary didn’t say anything, but hung her head and rubbed my back.
“Hey Gramps,” I heard my sister say quietly. I lifted my head and wiped my tears. My vision was blurred, but I saw his eyes, if not but a little slit of life. He reached out his hand to Mary and she greeted it with her touch.
“Ah…Mary, Jared. How are ya?” He barely said.
“Great, Gramps. How are ya feelin’?” She replied.
“Hey Gramps.” I replied.
“What are you…young people doing here? Huh? You should be out having fun. Now go home.” He said, as he normally does. Mary and I slightly chuckled as he drifted away again.
“We’re here for you Gramps, we love you.” She said. He responded with lip movement, but no sound.
“I think I have to get to class. Are you going to stay?” I asked Mary.
“No, I have to get to work.” She responded.
I turned to him and told him that we were leaving, but would be back soon and put my hand on his. His hand slowly clenched as his eyes opened one more time. The last time.
“Jared, Mary.” He said. Eyes of glass and throat of soil. He clung to life for his last words.
“Yes Gramps?” We asked.
“I love you.” He said as his eyes watered and his hand tightened around mine. Something about his eyes told me that he knew this would be the last time he’d see us. He knew these’d be the last words he spoke to us.
“We love you too Gramps.” I said.
“Love you Gramps.” Mary said.
We each gave him a hug, careful not to hurt him and left to attend to our responsibilities with broken hearts. Perhaps, that’s what she saw in me and that’s why she spoke to me when I arbitrarily chose a seat next to her in class later that day.
“Hey,” she said. I didn’t think she was talking to me, so I pretended not to hear her.
“Hey,” she said a little louder as she tapped me on the shoulder.
To my right sat a woman, roughly my age, leaning in towards me with a half-smile and raised eyebrows.
“Hey,” I said, without much enthusiasm.
Her appearance represented that of your stereotypical punk girl. She was wearing steel toe Doc Martens to ensure her advantage in the event she had to kick in the teeth of Nazi scum. Her skin-tight, red, yellow, and blue plaid pants were covered in zippers, which are apparently designed for aesthetic purposes rather than practical, as they led nowhere. Her wide leather belt was lined with large metal hoops that disrupted the peace upon the slightest of movements. A tight-fitted leather choker was fastened around her neck, with sharp, pointed metal studs protruding. Her ripped up, off-white tank top exposed most of her torso and expressed her deep hatred for the police in her own handwriting. A tattoo accentuating her neck veins that I couldn’t quite make out started somewhere below her neck, continued up under the choker, and ended just at her jawline.
We spoke of nothing important, typical of most college classroom interactions. Despite this, she somehow seemed rather infatuated with me and invited me over to her house after class to listen to some of her step dad’s records. I was hesitant at first, because part of me didn’t want to interact with anyone. I wanted to be alone with my self-pity and memorial thoughts. But part of me thought that interpersonal interaction would be good for me, that it might take my mind off my day.
“Come on! It’ll be fun. I’ve been listening to this one record by this band called the Dirty Projectors, fucking amazing musicians. My mom and my step dad, Steven aren’t home, so no need to worry about that,” she said, attempting to convince me.
She stood there, hands wrapped around her backpack straps exposing her right knuckle tattoo that read “FUCK” and left knuckle tattoo “YALL” waiting for me to relent, as she knew I would.
We walked for about a half mile from campus, during which she did most of the talking and I most of the affirmational responses. Plants and flowers of many varieties had claimed her front yard as their home, aiding the inoffensive blue and white house in blending in with its neighbors. We walked up the walkway splitting their garden in half and up the stoop to her front door, where she fumbled with a massive wad of keys. Excited to have company, she gave me a rather extensive tour of the house, stopping in the kitchen for a snack.
“But anyway, Steven’s records are in the garage in the back. Wanna check them out? He has a really cool collection that I’ve been really into lately,” she said ecstatically as she began to lead the way to the back door . . .
I open my eyes and sit back up at the conclusion of the song. Maybe I’ve been daydreaming for more than one song? I’m not sure. She’s in the middle of a rant again about the Dirty Projectors. I wonder how long and whether I’ve responded to anything she’s said. I look down at my phone to see two missed calls and a pending message from my mother. I don’t want to open it. I know what it’s going to say.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
THOMAS PATRICK ALOYSIUS GREEN AND
NORAH FRANCES GREEN