'Heretic' by April Bradley

My grandfather is a strong tower razed. He’s been awake for days.

My sister and I stumble around the ruin, a makeshift Eastlake hospital room. The sharp edges of a metal bed graze against a sideboard and urine sloshes in draining bags resting in bedpans on an Isfahan rug. We are daughters without a purpose—no more linen to wash, no medication to administer, no meals to prepare; no loving smiles to trade, no arguments to exchange, no communion of hearts. His stories no longer spin. There is no sanctuary. He rocks back and forth, his gaze focused beyond us.

Morphine confers a secret language to our grandfather. My sister and I sit next to one another on Victorian brocade and hold hands. Among the jabber we hear, “Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray.”

The hospice aide watches her phone and chats and chats relentlessly, talks louder and louder to drown out our grandfather. She tells us about how her father behaved just before he died years ago. An IV stand blinks next to a painting and a stethoscope waits, curled up around candlesticks. Polite “Umhmm”s do not work. Ignoring her doesn’t either. She twirls her hair and talks and talks as my grandfather rocks faster, implores us urgently, “Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray.”

I tell the woman to shut the fuck up. She leaves, crying.

I find the only olive oil in the house, a small bottle of medicinal sweet oil, and bless it. Holding the Book of Common Prayer, I begin the sacrament of extreme unction, “Peace be to James’s house and to all who dwell in it” and trace a cross on my grandfather’s forehead.

He rocks, licks his chapped lips, much like he used to lick the end of his pencil before he made corrections on blueprints. I’m so close I imagine the smell of wonder, our tall grandfather who was bigger than the sky: sweet sweat, Old Spice, toothpaste, leather, new wood, motor oil, nails, grass.

He repeats, “Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray.”

*

Published originally by NANO Fiction Volume 10.1: THE END. (Fall 2016).

Comments

  1. So good to read this again, April. Your words are a wonder to me.

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  2. This is so gorgeously sad. You put the reader in this little Eastlake house. I can see that carved tattoos in the furniture. Grandfathers, God bless them, for all they represent.

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  3. Devastating, powerful, and those words -- those gorgeous, meticulously chosen words.

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