by Sean L. Corbin
In the morning you slide off of the couch like pudding down the kitchen drawers, slow, thick from refrigeration. The chill from outside the single afghan deemed suitable the night before reminds you that heat rises and the room you sleep in at your parents’ house is underground. Sandpaper creeps up your calves. The tile in the bathroom is like cold limestone against your feet. You remember the cold tiles in the hospital, the purified air circulated through the halls, the mini-fridge with a week’s worth of soda in the corner of the hospice room. You brush your teeth, slinging pale blue paste against the mirror.
You pass your sister on the way to the shower upstairs. Her eyes are swollen, and you remember your nephew. Sleep was hard to come by for everyone. She looks at you and smiles a smirk never meant to be a smirk, only her best efforts. Her footsteps smack against the panel floor towards your parents’ room. You step into the guest bathroom, lock the door, and catch a glimpse of your bare body while the water fills the nook with steam. Swollen around the midsection, weak legs, purple domino mask beneath your eyebrows. You remember the varicose veins swelling against her skin, her skin that stretched out tight to make her legs Italian sausages. You remember sitting in the hospital room years ago, reading Stephen King and fearing more the shallow gasps and whimpers echoing from her bed than anything in the text. The memory of sunken sheets below her left knee slides past. The shower is ready, you rush in.
The burn of the water slips down the curves of your body, covering your skin in Dial. You grind the apricot facial wash into your cheeks and forehead and wash it away, watching the grains tremble in circles down the drain. There’s no shampoo and you don’t need it anyway. Turning the levers inward, you pull a heavy red towel from the ring beside the stall and pat your chest and legs dry. Water drips onto your feet. You remember the warm yellow drip on your sandaled toes, standing in the hospital years ago, when she still stood to greet you in the doorway. The stains of urine followed your white socks into the garbage. A week ago, your other grandmother reminded you about this. You pull on your plaid boxers and go to the kitchen for a cookie.
There is a box of fried chicken hiding between the mounds of flowers on the counter. On the stove is the spaghetti your father’s company sent. Your cousin’s country ham is in bags destined for the fridge. You bite into the soft batch cookie and sip some milk from a coffee mug. How many more times will you hear about her famous fried chicken Sunday dinners this week? And every time, your mind wanders to the five-layer strawberry cake for your birthdays. The cool burst of strawberries between your teeth, the taste of thick grains of sugar trembling in circles down your throat. You swallow the cookie and go downstairs to get dressed.
You slip into the new black trousers and fill the pockets with your keys and wallet and change. The blue dress shirt your mother bought yesterday hangs in the window. You pull it across your shoulders, feel the smooth fibers rub against your arm hair, and tuck the remainder into your pants. The new black dress shoes pinch your toes and you wince walking towards the mirror. While you tie the new black-blue tie around your neck you can’t help but yawn from the sleepless night, your mouth gaping open as you pull the tie closed. You remember the way she lay there four nights ago, her eyes closed, her skin pale and cold. Her mouth hung open like Carter Caves, silent. You wanted to say something, to fill the room with words, but all there was was silence. There was nothing more to say.
You reach the top of the stairs and meet your family, clean-shaven, eyes swollen, ironed and exhausted. Your mother smiles and checks your tie and hugs you tightly. Your father puts his arm around you and checks the time. In the guest room your nephew is looking for horses and your sister is helping. The family gathers together and makes driving arrangements. You decide to drive yourself to Owingsville. You remember passing the nursing home twice a month, driving towards the bank or the doctor or your mother’s office. The car never made the turn up the hill. It was the lack of conversation as much as anything else that kept you from making that turn. It is the lack of conversation as much as anything else that makes you drive alone to Owingsville. There is nothing more to say.