Breath & Shadow
A Journal of Disability Culture and LiteratureSummer 2016
Helping Grandpa Eat
By Edward M. Turner
Rosemary fled the kitchen, ran through both the dining room and the living room past Grandpa watching TV, and out the screen door to the porch. The screen door hung open and slowly swung shut with a bang. Quiet descended as if invisible dust settled after the passing of a rogue summer windstorm.
Grandpa got up and went out to the kitchen. Grandma and his daughter Thelma sat at the supper table. Potatoes boiled on the gas stove.
"What was that all about?" Grandpa asked.
Thelma had tears in her eyes. "She won't eat."
Grandma's grim expression affirmed this.
"Why?" His mouth watered just thinking about the big hen roasting in the oven.
"Rosemary started this after her father.. She worshiped him. Now she won't eat." Thelma bowed her head and wept. Grandma put a hand on Thelma's shoulder.
Grandpa looked out the window. On a hill in the distance was a gathering of houses, a grange hall, and a white Methodist church. He couldn't see it, but knew a little cemetery lay behind the only church of North Lars Hill.
"Don't set a place for her. I'll see what I can do. When will it be ready?"
"Soon," answered his wife. She listened and nodded as he explained.
Grandpa found Rosemary on the porch hunched in a corner, her face to the wall. He gently shut the screen door, walked to the railing and leaned on it. A wood-truck loaded with logs drove by, and downshifted to make the next hill.
"Someone's hauling logs on a Sunday." He glanced at Rosemary, looked away.
She peeked at him, turned away.
Across the road was a huge haystack in a field. "I use to help build that pile of hay each summer. Neighbor kids played in it all the time. Got old Alfred pretty mad."
She didn't look.
"He's not around anymore. Those kids who played in the hay, they build the stack now. And they let their own kids play in it.” He paused. “ Times change, I guess."
She didn't look.
"Your Grandma," Grandpa sighed. He shook his head, watched as a red-breasted robin pulled a worm out of the lawn then flew to a low branch of a sugar maple.
"And your mother." He shook his head again, gazed over the haystack at the blue mountain on the horizon. Afternoon cumulus clouds floated in a copper-tinted sky.
"What's the matter?"
He turned to see Rosemary staring at him with solemn blue eyes. Her auburn ponytail lay on one shoulder.
"Well, the womenfolk keep getting after me to eat. They say I'm old and need the nourishment. I am old, but I can't eat too much at once. They won't listen. Today," he shrugged, "I just don't know. That hen in the oven looks awful big."
She got to her feet and approached him, took his large gnarled hand in hers. "I know what you mean," she said in a quiet voice.
"I wonder," his face lit up. "Rosemary, could you help me?"
"At supper, sit in my lap. If they see me eat a little, what can they say? You can help me clean the whole plate. Will you help your old Grandpa?" he pleaded.
That night Grandpa had seconds... and thirds.
"It's such a little thing, except he won't do it."
"He's suffered a major loss."
"According to the reports, he lost all interest soon after."
"Have you talked with him about--?"
"No. He avoids the subject."
"Well, Nurse, he must cooperate so we can monitor his system. No complications with the operation, but--"
“I know, Doctor. I know."
They glanced at the shrunken white-haired figure sitting on the bed before a bedside table. A plastic lid covered his dinner platter. It remained covered. The patient was dressed in an off-white johnny and foam rubber slippers. He gazed unseeing out a window at the hospital's back parking lot. The world lay smothered and silent on the other side of the thick glass. To the west a twenty-story apartment complex hid the setting sun.
"The colostomy is temporary."
Sea gulls raided a dumpster at the end of the parking lot. Ripped trash bags fluttered. A car cruised by looking for an empty spot. The driver ignored the birds.
"He simply won't."
A radiator creaked. They couldn't hear him breathe. He sat motionless. Murmurs drifted in from the hall as a patient was wheeled on a gurney. Someone entered the room, stopped just within the door.
The doctor peered over his glasses. The nurse came forward, hand extended. "You made it," the nurse said in a low voice.
"Yes, customs didn't take long."
The doctor took the elbow of the nurse and together they walked past a spare bed and left the woman alone with their patient.
She lay her purse on the bed, took off her coat. "It's awful cold outside. Paris is a lot warmer."
She sat beside him, ran her fingers through his hair. "They forgot to give you a comb. You look like a rooster."
His gray eyes were cloudy.
"I haven't been home yet to visit the church and--"
He swallowed, sniffed.
"I got right on a plane, Grandpa, soon as I heard about Grandma. Our apartment in the village doesn't have a phone."
The intercom paged Dr. Brookes to the front desk. Twice.
"The airport food was so horrible, I couldn't eat a thing."
He turned to her, saw a beautiful woman without makeup, auburn hair in braids. The fog in his eyes cleared. He looked down for the first time, lifted the cover, smiled through his tears.
"I have salt packets in my purse," Rosemary offered. She leaned into him and kissed his cheek, picked up the plastic silverware. "Is that chicken?"
"Yes. I, I think it is."
She placed a fork in his hand. "We're going to need more food."
He pressed the call button.
Edward M. Turner lives and writes in Biddeford, Maine, with his wife Amy and her black cat Fannie.
My stories and essays have appeared in The Orange Willow Review, Maine Sunday Telegram, Terrain Journal, Fortean Bureau, Spring Hill Review, and a number of times in The North Shore Sunday, Sun Journal and Flying Horse to name a few.
My novel, Rogues Together, won the 2002 Eppies Award for best in Action/Adventure. Recently I completed another.