We're in her bed and we're both crying, she because her fingers hurt when she plays the piano, me because I've already lost one grandmother and am afraid to lose another, and she's so small there in the bed, no makeup on, window wide open like her arms. And then: a fart, a tremendous jolt of energy that shakes us up, giggling, gets us remembering that we're both still here, lying in her bed watching the full moon grow smaller in the sky. I am still at it, alternately crying and laughing, until long after I have descended the stairs.
You can't help considering her shoes. The careful way the flowers are arranged on the counter. The recipe card pinned to the stove, those telltale loping cursive letters. And then there's that smell. What is it, cinnamon and cookie dough and starch? You walk in the house and it follows you down the hall, past the needlepoint, beyond the framed photographs of your parents and hers. You used to think it was unshakable, but you worry now, what if it, too, fades? Can you replicate it, memorize it? Did she leave a recipe? Fill your lungs. It is there somewhere.
My grandmother died and I went to the carwash. It didn’t feel right driving out to her house in a dirty car. I gave the man behind the counter eight dollars and put the engine in gear. The automatic wash invited us in with its mechanical arms. I liked the way they washed without asking permission, the way the whole contraption cradled me inside the car, didn’t let me go. Once inside I turned the car off as the spray cycle started. The water was so loud on the windows, against the roof, that I couldn’t hear the street outside. The soap dripped down in even lines and the world was momentarily white. The car was my cocoon. The bird shit and seeds and yellow pollen that had stuck so goddamn tight to the windshield began to flake and peel off. The car was shedding. I was dry inside but really I was molting, little cells of memory stripping off my arms and legs with every shot of water. The last time I saw her, and that gap between her clavicle and her shoulder, and the time I laughed so hard at a wedding that she had to kick me to keep herself from laughing too, and the day so many years ago when she defended me in front of her friend, saying I was old enough and mature enough to be trusted to hold the family pictures, and the look on her face when she said, “I hope they can help you, too, Julia,” and that gasp of mock surprise whenever a grandkid stole a chocolate chip cookie or failed to pass the right card in pinochle. I wanted to stay in the wash cycle longer than the time allotted, but then the green arrows blinked and the voice said, pull forward now, and I wasn’t ready but the hot air vents had already started. The bubbles of water were being forced across the windshield and I could tell they didn’t want to go. The glass was crisp and nice.
I didn’t want to leave but the voice started again. The car rolled forward and the wheels were slick. The sun was too hot, the light too glaring. Sometimes things move before they’re really ready to. It was hard to get out of the car 30 miles later in front of a house that no longer had my grandmother in it. I just kept staring at the birdfeeder on the lawn and the lemon tree with green lemons. But at least my car was clean.