she clutches my hand with her own bony one and pats my thigh with the other. her face has forsaken its younger form entirely and it is now growing in all directions with hairs, wrinkles and folds of flesh. her eyes twinkle.
“the dead sit on my bed- she confides to my round worried face – they taunt me from outside the window. then my husband comes and chases them all away”
this woman lives on the fifth floor, in a warm home and with her caring family. she has a picture of her long dead husband on her bedroom. the husband comes alive at night and talks to her. other shadows of dead sit on her chest and suffocate her until he beats them away. he is her savior from nightmares, her main topic of discussion, and her comparing yardstick. her own son in law, tetering on old age himself does not even come close.
“i do not like to walk very much – she says – my old gunshot wound acts up. did i ever show it to you?”
and she slips out of her Hush Puppy and shows it to me for the umpteeth time. the footwear of Alb grandmas is so standard, either Hush Puppies or some comfortable horror from Payless or KMart. always black, crooked and square like little boats in mourning. the fact that very often i buy the same pair, puts me off further descriptions however.
i nood again and tsk, tsk appreciatively. satisfied, she slips her shoe back on and drinks the apple juice greedily, her upper lip firmly shut over the red plastic straw, and her eyes still on my face to see whether i have lost my concentration.
“my son-in-law is a bum. -she says – i told my daughter, she should not have married that two bit no do good con. did she listen to me? they never do”
“there, there. they have been married for 35 years, – i say – she can’t divorce him now, can she? besides, he is a very nice gentleman”
“eh, you are like my daughter too but there are so many things you do not know. – she says – he married her for my gold, you know. he knew i had some stashed away from the old regime police.”
then she hugs me fiercely and pats my back. she is as thin and as brittle as a child, but very strong. that hug seems to apologize for all the complaints she can not hold back, all the pain she can not bear any longer, all the fog that currently clouds her mind and will not let up. i understand that she knows her state of being, she is aware of what the reality is but that she can’t or won’t recognize anything else but her version of it.
“you should have been a nun. – she says, smiling and exposing her one tooth prominent and yellow on her upper jaw. -they had kind and round faces, and they always quieted me down, just like you.”
she lets me go, our strange intimacy interrupted and our audience finished. i get up and leave the room, perplexed as to the compliment and wondering whether indeed, i would have been better off as a nun.