My Last September in Idaho

I came home in a rented car, 28 hours on the road, sleeping off my minor COVID symptoms in the passenger’s seat. I woke to Laramie, Wyoming’s sagebrush and we stopped for gas-station doughnuts north of Ft. Collins, Utah. My camera roll blurred with photos of the green road signs announcing familiar Idaho towns. But home feels very different.

Dried-up alstroemerias fill a cloudy vase by the recliner Nana staked out- our only recliner. All-but-dead gladioli watch over the disarrayed family room, with my old bed in mismatched sheets right there next to the TV. 
“I want it noted, on paper, printed.” my Nana is saying. “When you sing, for the, well, for the funeral.” Her hands turn back and forth at the unfamiliar word. 
“Printed, that you’re his granddaughters.” 
“I’ll make sure that happens,” I reassure her. 
I’m just home from college midterms. I’ve not seen the program. 
“Printed, yes, his granddaughters,” she mumbles.

The dining table is overcrowded with bills pushed around to make room for my father’s laptop. He sits with his glasses on his head, his coffee nearby, reviewing the first job he’s done in a month. 
“More sodapop.” 
My nana’s withered hand appears above the recliner, her manicure chipping off. My father keeps typing, his eyes the only visible feature above his mask. “I’m coming. One moment, Mom.”

I’m not supposed to leave my bed, but I slip downstairs for a cup of tea with him and to proofread his report. The TV drowns out my thoughts. 
Jimmy Swaggart talk-sings old hymns for my Nana as her fading perm sways in that recliner. She refuses to move from it. Her head os swirling- it must be- with painful grief for her husband of 62 years, and with the self-centered loneliness that dementia traps its victims in. She never lets my mother pass through the room without an angry word in her direction. I start wondering whether coming home was better for my health or worse.

She gets winded now, my mother, just coming up the stairs. Grief weighs on her, too. She keeps going, back and forth, from doctor’s appointments to picking up meals to calling caregivers and arranging the funeral.

The crypt is too high, my Nana complains. "No one will see it. I won’t be able to reach it."
I could tell her that she won’t be going alone anyway; her driver’s license was revoked a year ago. My mom will help her with the flowers.
“It’s too high. Change it.”
But we can’t just change it, Nana, just because you don’t like it.

The remote in her hand is the only thing she can control. She pulls her mask down for a sip of her full glass.
“More sodapop.”

Loss clings like cobwebs to the walls of this house. I think I’ll get up early and change the flower vases. I’ll log into online classes, clean my shoes for the funeral.

tags:

The New Yorker Slice Longleaf Review Guernica Magazine

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