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Daniel Riddle Rodriguez

Your grandmother is on her deathbed now.

She made it a long time ago.

Which is to say it was made for her.

Which really means she doesn’t want it but she’s going to lie down anyway.

You prop her pillows for her, lace her lemonade with Demerol because she is dying and dying hurts you. She says so herself. She says: Dying hurts, You! Then she downs her lemon and painkiller cocktail. Two gulps and her eyes go gaga inside the tiny thing that you know is her head. It looks like an onion now. A piece of old fruit. A fermenting thing.

She says it tastes funny sometimes. The lemonade. She makes a face like she is turning a thumbscrew but the thumbscrew is her face. Like this . . .


The living room is a rest haven for white noise. The air dense, tart with the copper-coin smell of your grandmother and TV dinners. Sitting in her dusty wingback, she stabs blindly at chicken fried steak with an oyster fork, watches TV.

This time it isn’t mash.

Tonight is courtroom drama, a police procedural: cigarette smoke in the interrogation room, good cop bad cop. You sit next to your grandmother, finger the lace doilies, and work the remote. She coughs pieces of herself onto the floor while you explain the nuances: He’s the one who did it, Ma.

Nights like these you dissolve pieces of black tar in a Visine bottle, sniff deeply to keep from nose-diving into carpet fibers.

The detective on the show plays the hambone card, the perp wilting under a combination of palm strikes and police jargon: Where you’d hide the body, pervo?

But mostly it was mash.

Hunnicutt and Hawkeye.

Witty repartee.

She likes to hold your hand while you watch. You don’t really like that. Her hands are scary, a pair of liver-spotted carcasses barely held by the skin that keeps them. The way twice-boiled chicken slides groaning off the bone, only to plummet back into the soup, releasing itself from itself.

Your grandmother is like that—a thing awaiting release.

Your grandmother is like a chicken.

Does it hurt? you say to her. Being a chicken?

Only when I’m thirsty, she says, pointing to the cup.

You need to renew her prescription soon.


No traffic on the way to the pharmacy today. Bockman Road is all pedestrians: kids playing ball, playing house, hooky. A sheriff in a blue Charger follows you for a while, riding your tail, before taking the filtering lane toward Hayward and out of the Village. San Lorenzo’s changing the way unincorporated towns are apt to: one failed mom-and-pop at a time. You reconcile, assign events monumental to the shifting landscape. There’s the strip mall that shoulders the clock tower. There’s the corner where bums converge, tweekers posing as vets and vice versa, to ply their trade: dumpster dive for bottles, for cans, a bit of copper if the cards are right. You know their trade well, were part of the same union once, paid dues.

Outside the pharmacy, one of them—a man with a pushcart and a tiny dog, terrier maybe—offers you a paper cup and the chance to fill it. Just fifty cents, man, he says, shaking the cup. For the bus, man, the bus.

Judging from the shallow pool of coins in the cup, the bum’ll still be swimming in garbage long after the buses stop running. Maybe even a jaunt through the city dump for loose metal to fill the cart, cap off the night.

That shit has some squeaky wheels, you say.

He smiles. But I push this muthafucka, right? Point A, Point B. He shakes the Dixie again.

You toss him a grubby single. “Where you going to park it?”

The bum puts a finger over his lips like wouldn’t you like to know. God bless you, boss, he says, pantomiming a priest, crossing the air between you. He pushes the cart into the street. Point B is waiting, he says, to himself but maybe not?


Now it’s the pharmacy guy with the white coat and the questions. Always asking after grandma because his has aphasia too—expressive, receptive? Something. He’s got bedside manner, which means he smiles when he says stuff.

How’s our girl? he says, smiling. He also calls grandma “our girl,” like it’s both of you holding her hand, explaining the nuances. Still going strong?

Still going, you say, handing over the scrip.

He reads it: Demerol, Aricept—the works. But there’s an issue with the numbers, dosage. An incongruity, he says, showing teeth.

A what?

The pharmacist picks up the telephone, cradles it in his ear. Just one minute, he says. He talks into the mouthpiece: doses, liquids versus capsules, the possible ramifications of lockjaw. You try to keep up with the conversation but you’re whipped. Outside his voice, the pharmacy is so quiet you can hear it—the silence.

The pharmacist hangs up the phone. Everything is a-ok, he says. Congruent. He fills the prescription, puts bottles in a white bag, staples it. Before handing it to you, he says: My Lola, she recognized me this morning. Second time this week.

Sounds like an uptick, you say.

He smiles. You never know.


But the thing is, you always know. It’s like the Point B thing, waiting. Always waiting. There are all kinds of possibilities out there, roads bend, fork, become paths, well traveled sometimes and sometimes less, and all leading to the same place. Like the five stages of grief all lead to acceptance, so what’s the sense in grieving at all? Why not just accept? If two roads diverge in the woods, well, you can simply turn around, find a different set of woods. See that tree there? It doesn’t grieve, just drops dead leaves in winter. Simple. Natural.

Sitting in the driveway, you crack open the medicine bottle and swig it.

You wipe your mouth across your sleeve.

You swig some more.


Grandma is still in the living room. Wingback, TV dinner. Sitting forward in her chair, she jabs at the television with her cane, trying to change the channel. Each attempt prompting dust from the cushions. Can’t find the remote, she says. My mash.

You get on all fours, sweep your hand under the chair and retrieve the remote.

On the TV, two surgeons trade barbs back and forth—lunge, riposte, repeat—while a dress with some sort of man inside sashays around the room.

You were named after him, your grandmother says, spitting flecks of food past her teeth.


John Kennedy, she says.

That’s Alan Alda, Ma.

It was right after he died, remember? And the flags flew half-mast?

I was born in '73, Ma.

But your father didn’t have a flag, so he named you after him.

He never said anything.

After Kennedy, Grandma says. She probes the insides of her cheeks, tongues the crest of her lips, searching for crumbs. He had high hopes for you.

It was true your father didn’t say much. He came from a generation that spoke mostly with their hands and wore blue collars like millstones. He was buried on a Thursday. You spent the afternoon burning spoons, trying to collapse your veins.

I said your father had high hopes for you, she says.

Could’ve been president, you say.

Not that high, she says, staring miles into the television.

And you sit quietly for a while. She squeezing your hand, you letting her. Even squeezing back a little.

She clears her throat, absently scratches the patchwork of hair on her head. I’m thirsty, you, she says, pointing.