Gabriel’s grandmother was eighty-one and every birthday she would give a rueful smile and say, “I’m blessed to be alive. And another year late for Jack.”
Jack was her husband, who died a long time ago. He had gone to serve in the war without knowing his wife, Eunice, was pregnant. He never met his daughter. That daughter was Gabriel’s mother.
But such misfortune had not embittered Eunice, and Gabriel adored her. He was going to miss her. She hadn’t made it to his sixteenth birthday because she was in hospital again after a second fall. The first time, she had broken a hip and his mom had suggested she move in with them, but she had refused. “If I die because I’m too independent, I’d rather that than the alternative,” she had said.
He was due another visit with her and was looking forward to it. The hospital room may have originally been a uniform white, but various scuff marks on the door and walls betrayed its age. The floor was yellowed, perhaps from the strong disinfectants he could smell. Polyester curtains did their best to keep out the bright sun, glowing through in a lattice. A solemn clock on the wall, two thick black hands and red needle for a second hand, marked the time. The nurse smiled at Gabriel and his grandmother, adjusted the bedrail and left the room.
His grandmother looked at the flowers and her face lit up. “Lilies are your mother’s favorite.” He shrugged. Flowers were what people were supposed to give at times like this, but he didn’t think much of them.
He studied her. As long as he could remember, her hair had been a deep grey. Now it was silver filament. A plastic chain dropped from her thick glasses and looped around her neck. A second pair (“for things worth a closer look”) hung from her neck on another chain. The paperclip she’d used to repair it glinted in the chill fluorescent light.
His mother had once told him that his grandmother was a living treasure trove of experience, and it would be a great loss when she died. How strange, he thought, that a person, everything contained within their head, could just disappear. He had become more interested in her life, believing if he could absorb at least some of her memories, she wouldn’t be completely lost. “Mum told me to ask how you are.”