A minute ago, your grandmother hit on you.

You wanted to forget it – and maybe were about to – but then your mother said, while scrubbing dishes from behind the kitchenette, “Remember: she’s not your grandmother in her mind.”

This you knew. Had for years. Still, you didn’t reply to your mother with what was on your mind – how fucked up the interaction was, regardless  – because at some point in your life being a good son became pretending everything was fine.

The smell of citrus and chemicals, from the dish soap, tickles the inside of your nose. You stifle a sneeze, which makes your face feel as though it’s covered with a layer of fuzz. You clamp shut your nostrils with a thumb and finger and freeze to keep it from happening again.

 You mother says, “Bless you,” then “Did I tell you how yesterday, out of nowhere, she told me she was ten years old?”

You laugh, then forget yourself for a moment and almost ask your grandmother how old she is, because her disease is interesting to you in-and-of itself, and you are curious as to what she was like at ten, or whatever age she thinks she is now. But you don’t, because it would be demeaning. Somewhere in there you still hope her lucidity might be staging a grand return, and you don’t want to risk that come-from-behind moment being amidst her grandson’s condescension.

This hope for a comeback, whether it erupts as a prickle on the back of your neck or an itch in the skin over of your elbow, is something both you and your mother share and can’t get rid of. To hope for a sign that Grandma, at least for a moment, might be here, right here, in the moment, is too near an artery to remove. But for years your grandmother has been locked inside one calcified memory after another, you and your mother left to stand in for past people at past events, like extras in her own private movie.

But just a couple minutes ago, when your grandmother looked at you, a coy flicker emerged above the wrinkles and folds of her skin and you thought finally it had happened. As she put down her rosary beads and patted her fuzzy puff of white hair like a glamour girl of twenty, you flushed, and thought maybe, just maybe, she’d awakened.

 But you sunk when she said, “I’ve never seen you around here before,” like a bad actor; lower still when she glanced down at your ring finger to see if it was empty and, seeing it was, uncrossed her legs and held out her own widowed fingers to you in an offer to waltz along to the old-timey music of a Buick commercial on the television.

You held her hand for only a moment, until your mother dashed over from behind the kitchenette and grabbed it away and then, patting it, said “now, now, Mom, that’s Benjamin. That’s your grandson, Ben.”

Your grandmother then stared at you, confused. She said “Oh,” and retreated back to the couch, to the television, to the events of the wrong day.

But now, as you hear the clack of metal – your mother has begun washing the utensils – the toes in your wool socks turn cold. In recollection of your grandmother’s advances, an event just a few clicks old, you notice the extraordinary definition with which your mind recalls every detail. The edges of everything glow almost fluorescent.

You wonder: is your brain now bleeding after being plugged with a calcified memory, one of those your grandmother inhabits, one of those that can’t be forgotten? You share the same DNA. Will someday the pebble emerge and become, once again, your present reality? Will someday your children’s children stand in for your mother and grandmother?

If I live that long, you think, but you don’t mean it, it’s just what you do when you’re uncomfortable with something – you coat it in a joke.

Meanwhile, the your grandmother sits on the couch, watching the stock ticker scurry by beneath the face of another nameless talking head. Her fingers crook and bend like hungry spiders in her lap, rubbing a sheen into each rosary bead.

            You sit down next to her and listen.



Ross McMeekin's fiction has appeared recently or is forthcoming in FRiGG, Storyglossia, Connotation Press, Monkeybicycle, Matter Press, Necessary Fiction, and other fine journals. He is the assistant fiction editor at Hunger Mountain, a teacher at the Richard Hugo House, and has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives in Seattle and blogs at

The sound of someone hand-washing dishes is really important to me, and I have no idea why. It has been my experience that some mundane sounds, smells, and sights end up causing emotion to flicker inside me, where other stimuli don’t even cause a blip. I find that a lot of my stories spring out of these strangely meaningful images, whether they be visual, aural, etc.



Copyright 2009