by Jessica Hwang
Lydia doesn’t remember me. Why should she? I was nothing to her back then. We were nothing to her, when she was young and pretty and happy to take what was ours.
The first-shift attendant, Ann, says, “She ate fine. I gave her her meds at twelve-thirty, everything’s in the chart.”
I position the walker in front of Lydia’s armchair. “Today’s Friday. Maybe you’ll have visitors tomorrow, Lydia.” She sags against the armchair, staring at the TV. Her face is dull, the light from the screen flickering over her blank eyes.
“Bye, ladies,” Ann calls. The door whispers shut behind her.
I pull the drapes. The camphor odor of Lydia’s threadbare ivory cardigan fills my nostrils, overlaid with the pungency of canned tuna. I say, “I have other stops to make this evening. But I’ll be back to pick you up after your session, okay?” My voice is cheery. Her right hand flutters in her lap and I bend down to murmur into her left ear—the side she neglects—“Richard never loved you.” I hoist her up and position her hands on the walker’s padded handlebars. We thump our way to the therapy room.
I spend the next few hours changing bed pans, dispensing medications and herding the ambulatory residents down to the dining room. I’m balancing two plastic trays bearing plates of turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy and steamed green beans when I pass Dora at the elevators.
“Well, hello there, Lisa.”
“Hey, Dora. How’s the hip today?”
She spends a few minutes complaining about her hip and then detailing a recent visit from her favorite grandson. Dora glances around before leaning close, taps her dentures with a bony finger. “Greta and Harold hooked up, I heard. I’m surprised she’s his taste, to be honest with you.”
I hide my amusement. I’ve already heard about Greta and Harold but act surprised so Dora can experience the gratification of spreading fresh gossip.
I hustle down the corridor to Oscar’s room; he gets cranky when his food is late. We always ask new residents how they prefer to be addressed—not every former school teacher or retired business executive appreciates being called their given name by staff sixty years their junior.
Lydia can’t speak but when she came to us seven weeks ago her son, Melvin, indicated she was the type to prefer the traditional form of address. “Mrs. Jakovich. She’s always been a bit of a stickler for appearances.” He smiled at his mother, slumped in her chair as she gazed out the window at the snow piling up on the cars in the staff parking lot three stories below.
Lydia wouldn’t qualify for nursing home care by age—she just turned fifty-six last month—had she not had a massive ischemic stroke three months ago. I deposit her tray onto the side table and go down the corridor. Jen, the physical therapist, says, “We did quite the workout today, didn’t we, Mrs. Jakovich?” Lydia’s head jerks down and to the right.
Back in her room, I get her settled in her chair. She grunts and I know she wants the TV volume. I leave it muted.
I hold the dinner tray close to her face. “Look Lydia, it’s your favorite.” I cross the room and use the fork to scrape the contents into the trashcan. The gluey potatoes stick for a few seconds before sliding into the plastic container with a wet plop. The gravy, starting to congeal, drips off the plate.
“How was dinner?” I wipe a thread of drool from her bottom lip. She turns to the left, knocking a box of tissues and the telephone to the floor. The phone buzzes dumbly until I hang it back up. I chide, “Clumsy Lydia.”
Her right hand slaps at the bell on the little table beside her chair. Ting, ting.
“Have to go to the lady’s, do we? Upsy-daisy.” She leans on me as we shuffle across the main room. In the bathroom, I flip on the overhead light. I whisper in her ear, “Your kids stuck you in this dump with me because they hate you. You were a horrible mother. You’re lucky they come to see you at all.”
I heave her off the commode and into the tub for her bath, setting her hands on the safety bar and carefully lifting each leg over the raised lip of the tub. I dump cold water over her head and her hand bats at the faucet. She sits shivering in the tepid water as I point out all her flaws: the thinning hair, crepey neck, drooping breasts (once her pride), varicose veins and skin tags. The cellulite, the warts on her feet, the stretch marks pulled across her abdomen like pale, sagging zippers. Gray pubic hair lies furred over the mound like the pelt of some small dormant animal. Is this what my mother did? Categorized, memorized, imagined every inch of Lydia’s body, obsessively comparing it to her own?
After, I pat her dry and tug her arms into a clean cotton nightgown. Together, my hand steadying hers, we brush her teeth. She sits on the edge of the bed and I swing her legs up and roll her onto her left side. Her face lies slack against the white pillow.
“Good-night, Lydia. Sweet dreams.” I switch off the bedside lamp. I put my lips near her ear. “Nobody has ever loved you. You’re unlovable.”
I twist the top of the trash bag closed and take it with me.
I was fifteen when Dad left and Kelly was twelve. The weird thing is, for the past sixteen years—ever since Mom died—I’ve hardly thought of Lydia at all. I’m not a bad person—I’m not.
For six years between our father leaving and our mother’s death, Lydia was everything. On the rare summer Saturday afternoon at the lake our mother would jut her chin at some strange woman— always young and voluptuous—wading in the shallows or lounging beneath a sun umbrella and murmur, “She’s built like Lydia.” Or nod toward a pair of adolescent boys in the supermarket and say, “Lydia’s boys are that same age now.”
My choices are deliberate; Lydia’s were merely careless. Does that make mine worse?
“He was thinking of my mother while he fucked you,” I say, pulling a comb through her hair. The roots are growing in silver above the rich black. “He always loved her. He wanted her back but she wouldn’t have him.”
Twenty years is a long time to carry a grudge—but how long is too long to grieve for a lost mother, a lost sister? My father too has been absent from my life, for more than two decades, but I don’t—have never—mourned him.
“You were nothing but a two-bit whore, a piece of ass, an easy lay,” I say, as I guide her into her walker for a stroll down to the patio garden. The May flowers are bursting into life, the creamy cups of color so bright it hurts to look directly at them. Lydia’s eyes track a ruby-throated hummingbird hovering near the blossoms. A bumblebee arrives and chases the tiny bird away.
Back in her room: “Your husband couldn’t get it up, that’s why you had to steal someone else’s. You’re never going to recover from your stroke. I’m screwing your son Melvin and I’m going to break up his marriage and steal all his money before I dump him.” Only this last gets a response from Lydia—she groans as her right arm flies up to bang itself against my chest.
Now that I know, I mostly stick with Melvin. ”I just came from his house; we did it in his marriage bed. He’s going to leave them for me. I’ll be your granddaughter’s step-mother.” It’s curious to me that the idea of me interfering with her grown son’s family distresses her, when all my weeks of calling her a terrible mother and a home wrecker have failed to elicit any response.
I slide from my back pocket a half-empty package of cigarettes. I tap one out and slide it beneath her nose. “Bet you’d like one, wouldn’t you?” She thrusts her face away and I say, “That’s right, you’re not allowed. But don’t pretend you don’t want it. Melvin told me you were smoking half a pack a day up until your stroke.” I fondle the cigarette, holding it between my lips before slipping it back in the box and into my pocket. “What’s it like, quitting cold turkey?”
She stares out the window. I say, “It’s my break-time. I’m going to go smoke this. See you later, Lydia.”
He didn’t even stay with her—they were only together for a little over a year. I never met Lydia back then. My sister met Lydia while she was dating our father. My mother met her, when she confronted Lydia at the rental house Lydia and my father had moved into. I saw her once, from afar, my mother pointing her out in the paint aisle of the local hardware store a few months after my father left. Shiny hair set in fat dark curls, bright lipstick, a pretty laugh when the sales boy asked if she needed help finding anything. My mother plucked a package of plant seeds from a shelf, examined the label. “She thinks she’s hot shit because she was able to lure your half-wit father away from us with her tits and ass and that ridiculously made-up face.”
Evan is standing at the elevators. He sees me coming and holds the door. “Hey, Lisa. Going for a smoke? I’ll tag along.” Evan doesn’t smoke but he’s got a thing for me. It’ll never happen—I don’t do married men.
Lydia was the reason my father left. The reason he never came back was something else entirely.
After Mom had made my father into more trouble than he was worth, Lydia dropped him for an electrician she met at the Blue Lake grocery store where Lydia cashiered Sunday through Thursday evenings. That’s where our father met her, too.
Mom’s late night phone calls reminding Lydia that she was the mother of Richard’s children and that he’d stood up in a church and confessed his undying love to her, plus her near-daily visits to the grocery store, soon eroded the shininess of the infatuation. Mom’s expectation that Dad would return to us once Lydia had tired of him was short-sighted; Lydia had shown my father something he hadn’t previously understood: marriage was optional.
Nearly all of this I knew back then—my father and Lydia were virtually all my mother talked about for the entirety of my high school years, although by the time I was a senior, Lydia had been absent from our lives for more than a year. Lydia’s husband’s name was Jeff Jakovich, and her sons were called Melvin and Michael. They were thirteen and nine when Lydia broke up her family, and ours.
Ours was not a small town but rather a mid-sized suburb, and yet our mother had a knack for finding things out about people. After Lydia left my father for the electrician, my mother told us our dad was now seeing another woman, a P.E. teacher at a nearby elementary school, and after that, a woman who worked downtown in an art gallery. Mom and Kelly went to the gallery one Saturday afternoon; Kelly was excited to see the paintings and the sculptures.
“Don’t you want to come with?” Mom asked, standing in the doorway, wearing a flouncy red skirt and high heels.
I looked up from my Stephen King novel. “No.”
I knew all of these people as curious inverts of family friends. My mother would slap down plates of Macaroni & Cheese in front of us and say, “Well your father has broken up with that nut-job Jocelyn and is shacked up with some floozy named Sharon he met down at The Legion.” We couldn’t ask for a pet hamster or for a haircut at the Sleek Salon instead of the Value Cuts or for permission to go to the movies without our mother sighing and saying, “Well, I wish I could say ‘yes’, but your father left us completely high and dry. I doubt we’ll even be able to make the mortgage this month and you girls can just forget about college.”
After our father left, Mom took on a second job. She cleaned empty office buildings at night, vacuuming up staples and Post It notes and emptying recycling bins of shredded paper and wiping down rows of sink basins and toilet stalls. During the day, she cleaned rich people’s houses. Sometimes the rich people would send her home with their old clothes or a leftover cake from a party. Once, one of the rich women invited us all over to swim in her pool.
Occasionally our mom would pick up odd jobs doing the neighbors’ taxes in March or stocking shelves with Christmas decorations and fake pine trees in November. I babysat most weekends for the kids next door and for the kids down the block. Kelly collected and recycled empty pop cans and took over my babysitting gigs when I turned sixteen and got a job cashiering at a frozen yogurt shop in the mall.
Two months after Kelly dropped out of high school our mother—sitting inside her Oldsmobile with the garage door rolled down and the car windows rolled up and a local radio station playing soft rock—poisoned herself to death with carbon monoxide. I found her slumped over the center console when I got home from a double shift waiting tables at The Loaded Plate, the air in the garage stuffy and stale and leaving the faint taste of rare steak in my mouth.
My sister takes after our father. She’s twice divorced and has been and in and out of treatment countless times over the past two decades. She has four kids by three different guys and custody of none of them.
Lydia was stronger than all of my family put together. She took what she wanted and then cast it aside when it no longer suited her.
In the staff break room, I pour a cup of hot water and dunk a tea bag into it. Evan is hinting that he has an extra ticket to a concert next weekend. There’s a new text from Brad, my friend-with-benefits. He wants to come over tonight. I reply, I don’t think we should see each other anymore.
His messages start out concerned (Is everything okay? I’m here if you want to talk) but quickly morph into pressure-y demands (We need to discuss this in person. Call me.) I flip my phone to silent and slide it into my locker.
After my shift, there are nine new texts. The most recent, from six minutes ago, reads, Fuck you, Lisa. Is there anything more tedious than male entitlement? I dig in my purse for my cigarettes, the door swinging shut behind me.
Tandy was a little white Maltese Lydia had while she was living with our father. Kelly told me about her, after she spent three weeks with them over summer vacation the year he left us. It was all Tandy this and Tandy that, and Mom why can’t we have a dog?
Mom sniffed. “She takes her dog but leaves her kids with her ex.”
I punished Kelly for weeks after she got back home. Every time she said, “Dad says . . .” or “Dad has . . . ” or “Dad lets me . . . ” I would get up and leave the room. Twice, I stood and left the dinner table in the middle of our meal. Mom didn’t bother calling me back. Once, I abandoned Kelly at the arcade in the strip mall and she had to walk the four miles back home because we’d both ridden there on my bike, Kelly balanced precariously on the pegs, skinny arms wrapped tight around my ribcage. I’d change the channel just as her favorite show was about to start and then hold the remote control out of reach or I’d pinch the flesh of her thigh hard between my finger and thumb or hide her favorite root beer flavored lip balm.
Why blame Lydia, some might ask. Why not my father? He was the one who’d made a vow. He was the one who left us. Lydia didn’t owe us anything.
Some would insist Lydia isn’t my fight—that it’s all water under the bridge. That people sleep with other people’s husbands all the time. But those people didn’t hear the quaver in my mother’s voice when she asked our father how long he’d be gone as he tossed clothes and shoes and his toothbrush and his razor into a duffel bag. They didn’t witness the droop of her shoulders and the color flare high up on her cheekbones whenever a curious neighbor asked how my father was doing. They didn’t watch as she dropped whatever she was doing to run and answer the phone every time it rang with a breathless, “Hello?”
They didn’t comfort their mother the first time their sister got pulled over for drunk driving or the first time she got suspended from school for smoking weed. They didn’t call Planned Parenthood seven weeks after their little sister got raped by two guys on the high school football team behind the bleachers after a home game and they didn’t sit staring at the VCR clock, biting their fingernails, while their mom took her to get an abortion ten days later. Those people didn’t have to prop their sister up during their mother’s funeral because she was too shit-faced to walk down the church aisle without weaving. They didn’t receive a cheap generic greeting card in the mail a month later from the father they hadn’t seen or spoken to in half a decade, offering his condolences.
Lydia flaps her right hand and moans when I enter the room. Melvin glances up. “Hey, look Ma, it’s Lisa.”
I smile and set the lunch tray on her side table. “Peach cobbler today, Mrs. J. Well, I’ll leave you two to visit.”
Behind me, Melvin says, “Jeez Ma, stop jerking around. What is it? You want me to change the channel?”
Melvin has told me his brother, Michael, lives halfway across the country with his husband and two kids. Melvin has a wife and one daughter but I’ve only seen them once, from a distance, when the whole family came to visit on Easter Sunday. The wife has a loud voice and wore a magenta pantsuit. The daughter is short for fourteen, with hair cut close around her ears and dyed shoe-polish black.
Kelly calls and asks to borrow fifty bucks until payday.
I say, “Where are you working?” I haven’t talked to her since the Christmas before last, although there have been a few sporadic texts since then. In the parking lot, a vehicle swoops in and steals the spot another car had claimed with its turn signal. The driver of the first car blares his horn before turning the corner into the next row.
“Carwash,” she mumbles, sounding high.
“Jesus, Kel. Stop by my place tomorrow after dinner. I can lend you twenty.” I drop my cigarette butt to the ground and crush it beneath one heel.
I swipe my badge at the west entrance. Monitors beep and phones ring and staff members call out instructions to one another. The corridors smell like antiseptic and boiled vegetables. It’s strange to think there are only two people on Earth who have the same shared experience of being raised by our particular parents.
When I see Kelly on Tuesday she’s with some guy—both of them covered in tattoos—and his ten-year-old son. Nice that she’s raising some random’s kid while her exes support and look after her own children. The boyfriend glances around my apartment in a way I dislike and I make up an excuse about an appointment in order to avoid having them linger in my space.
I once dated a guy for almost two years, one of my longer relationships. His name was Paul and he paid for Kelly to go to treatment. When we broke up a few months later he asked me to reimburse him. That was the word he used, reimburse. I told him to get bent.
Seeing Kelly has somehow renewed my efforts to . . . what?—punish? torment? break?—Lydia Jakovich. The next day, I say, “I slept with Melvin last night,” as I clip her toenails and rub lemon-verbena lotion into the cracked soles. Her right foot pushes me backwards. I catch myself with a palm planted on the threadbare carpet, stained with old piss and vomit and Christ knows what else. Her foot comes down on my thigh and then on the lotion bottle, squirting a stream of greasy cream onto my pants.
I bare my teeth like an unstable dog. I watch her face for a flicker of fear but she just sits there, staring at me steadily, as if to say, This is why he left you.
“Shut up.” I toss the bottle of lotion onto the table. Those eyes, the color of faded denim, follow me as I move around the small room, straightening up. My father had stared into those eyes, had loved them for a time.
My father died nine years ago, of lung cancer. Kelly maintained a tenuous relationship with him throughout the years; he’d send a card with ten dollars on her kids’ birthdays and call her every Christmas. She’d crash with him for a few days or weeks after yet another breakup or divorce.
I’ve never married. I have no kids, just an old cat named Delilah I inherited from an ex. Kelly tells me, “Thirty-six is too old to not be married. You’ll never find a husband after forty.”
I snort and remind her she’s been to the altar twice, yet doesn’t have a husband to show for it.
“Yes, but my kids.”
“What about them?”
Lydia’s granddaughter—Melvin’s daughter—has come to visit. Her hair is Leprechaun green now. She’s wide through the hips and bust and Kelly was always rail-thin but there’s a shyness there that reminds me of my little sister before she got into the drinking and the drugs and the men.
“Hello.” I pull the cord to raise the blinds. She smiles. I say, “I’m Lisa. You must be Lydia’s granddaughter.” Lydia is in her chair and the granddaughter is perched on the end of the bed.
“Joby,” she says, politely setting her Iphone onto the mattress, next to a cellophane-wrapped box of candy.
“That’s an interesting name.” I count out Lydia’s pills. “I like your hair.”
She smiles again. Lydia’s eyes track the TV screen. Joby says, “I want to be a doctor. How many years of school did you have to do?”
“Oh, I’m not a doctor, I’m an assistant. What type of doctor do you want to be?”
“Mm, I dunno, like maybe one who helps little kids or something.”
“A pediatrician.” I half fill a glass with water and feed Lydia her pills.
“Yeah, that. Maybe. Or an artist. I haven’t decided yet.”
“You like to make art?” Kelly had been obsessed with paints and colored pencils and clay before she became enthralled with crystal meth.
“Um, yeah.” Joby flips through her phone. “Here.”
“Oh wow, you did this?” I study the charcoal sketch of two people screaming at each other, faces contorted with rage. Is this a depiction of Joby’s parents? She scrolls through a few more and I add, “You should sell these. Go online and market yourself. These are really good, Joby.” When I look up, her face is beet red, clashing with the green hair.
She plops onto the arm of Lydia’s armchair and flicks her phone screen with a plastic fingernail the color of a robin’s egg. Lydia raises her hand to point at the photos and Joby leans close, their arms rubbing together. “You like that one, Gran? I’ll bring it for you next time I come, okay?”
Lydia nods, her head dipping and jerking to the right, her neglected left arm flaccid in her lap. I go into the white cube of a bathroom to straighten the hand towel and the floor mat and check the soap dispenser. When I come out Joby says, “Gran used to babysit me when I was little. She had the best cookie recipes and she’d let me play dress up with her high heels and her lipsticks. Remember, Gran?”
Lydia makes an “Unhh-uhh,” noise. Her hand flaps against the phone and Joby slides it into her back pocket. She picks at a tear in her jeans, looks at me and then away. “I could bring you one too, if you want. One of my drawings.”
I think of my own writing, of how my mother and sister never took an interest in it. How boyfriends would say, “Nice hobby, but there’s no money in it,” or “All the nuance, all the depth lies in realism, Lisa, not in these cliché happy endings.”
Joby says, “I wish the people here could have pets. My Grandma always had dogs. We have her dog, Leo, now. He’s like eleven; she got him when he was six weeks old.”
Lydia raises her right hand, waving all five fingers into the air. Joby says, “Five weeks old.”
I adjust the blinds to stop the light from glaring against the TV. “I can ask my supervisor but she’ll probably say no. Maybe your parents could bring your grandma to your house sometime to see Leo again.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Joby examines the map on the back of the candy box and chooses a chocolate. She holds it out to her grandmother. “Here’s a caramel one, Gran.”
Lydia turns her head away and Joby pops the candy into her own mouth. She holds the box toward me. I pluck one out, wrapped in crinkly gold foil. “Enjoy your visit, Joby. It was nice meeting you. Thanks for showing me your art.” I back out of the room.
At home, I can’t stop thinking about Joby. I think of her as I sort through the mail, setting bills aside and recycling everything else. I picture her eyes checking my face as she clicked through the pictures of her watercolors and sketches. I make a sandwich and dump a can of stinky cat food into Delilah’s bowl, rinsing the can opener under the faucet.
As I fold clean laundry into neat piles, I imagine Joby’s confident fingers picking up a pencil or a brush, the timid demeanor falling away as the colors, the shapes and the textures, the emerging images capture and immerse her attention, the outside world falling away.
I find the chocolate in my pocket, flattened inside its pretty wrapper. Syrup leaks from its center. I pick shreds of shiny foil from the softened lump and set the candy on my tongue. Some bright sweet flavor I can’t identify floods my mouth.
Every day I look for Joby. I look for her in Lydia’s room, in the hallways, at the reception desk, in the parking lot.
Kelly’s first ex-husband emails; one of the kids is graduating from junior high next month and there’s going to be a ceremony and a luncheon. He writes, “Have you heard from Kelly lately?”
I tell him I haven’t and that I’ll be there on the tenth. I riffle through my closet, searching for a suitable dress that still fits.
Two weeks later, when I go into Lydia’s room, there’s a watercolor hanging on the east wall, thumbtacked above the nightstand. I stand with hands clasped behind my back, studying the shadows and light. It’s a Jack Russell Terrier, head cocked, dark eyes bright, tail alert. From here, Lydia can see the painting from her armchair.
I press her pills onto her tongue, tilt the glass up. I take her blood pressure and record the numbers in my paperwork. In the bathroom, we brush her teeth. I guide the limp left arm and the tense right one into her pajama sleeves.
When I go to set my notes on the side table for the night-shift attendant, there’s a postcard-sized sheet of paper propped up there, next to the phone. It’s a pencil sketch of a lone girl standing with her back to the viewer, watching a group of her peers in the distance. The girl appears to be taking a half-step toward them. On the back is neatly printed: To Lisa. From Joby.
I glance back at the bed and the woman on it. Her empty face is dimly lit by the nightlight plugged into the wall. I pick up the drawing and switch out the lamp.
That night, sitting on the edge of my bed, I trace one finger along the edge of the drawing. I stroke the girl’s curtain of hair. The sound of arguing from the young couple that lives above me floats through the ceiling. Delilah jumps up and curls into a spiral on the pillow.
Maybe Lydia had loved him. Who was I to assume otherwise? Who was I—with my shabby apartment and my string of failed romantic relationships and my superficial friendships—to say she’d been wrong to give him what my mother hadn’t been able to? To take what she herself had perhaps desperately needed in that moment?
We needed him, too. Yes, but I didn’t need him anymore. I hadn’t needed him in a long time.
I think of my harsh tone, my petty cruelties. Tomorrow, I’ll patiently spoon the mashed fruit and cottage cheese into the waiting mouth, the same as I do for Oscar and Geraldine and Mrs. Yang and Mr. Jenson. I’ll arrange for Joby to bring Lydia’s dog, Leo, to the nursing home—I’ll wheel Lydia downstairs to the garden and she’ll reach through the bars of the wrought-iron fence to stroke the soft short brown fur with the fingers of her good right hand.
I’ve been so righteous in my anger that Lydia failed to recognize us as real people but aren’t I guilty of the same?
I find my purse and dig out my cigarettes and lighter. I go into the kitchen-dining area and push the window up and pull the ashtray close. I’ll remind Lydia that her family loves her. I’ll tell her she can be proud of her granddaughter. I’ll promise everything I said about Melvin was a lie. In time, Lydia will forgive my callus behavior. Eventually, she’ll probably be moved to a lower-grade facility and forget me altogether.
Lydia hadn’t stolen my father from us. He’d never been ours to begin with.
I sleep eight hours and wake refreshed. A bowl of oatmeal and two cups of coffee are followed by a few hours of internet surfing. At two o’clock I pull on my scrubs and do my makeup. I have the distinct feeling I’m going to see Joby today.
As I merge onto the freeway, I decide I’ll take Lydia down to the garden this afternoon. We’ll sit on the patio benches among the climbing roses and the hummingbirds beating their tiny iridescent wings as they chirp at the feeder. Joby will arrive with more artwork to show me. Together, we’ll guide her grandmother back upstairs, Joby chattering as we wait for the elevator and Lydia leaning her weight on me as the doors ding and slide open. I’ll sneak an extra dinner upstairs so they can eat together while they watch Lydia’s TV shows.
I park in the employee lot and swipe my badge. Alexis is on the phone at the front desk. I throw her a wave. Had Joby gotten a ride from one of her parents the other times or did she take the bus? I think I remembered Melvin saying they live in—
The door to Lydia’s room is propped open. Joby.
A first-shift aide and a housekeeper are inside, stripping the bed and removing the towels from the bathroom.
“Where’s Lydia?” Has the family moved her to another facility? Maybe she’d regained some of her speech or writing abilities and told Melvin what I’d done. Or Joby.
The aide drops the towels into his basket. I think his name is Dan or Dean. “Had another stroke this morning. Around five a.m.”
Ah, they took her to the hospital then, for observation and blood work. “Is she . . . ?”
“She died.” He touches my arm on his way out. “Sorry, Lisa, I know you spent a lot of time with her.”
The housekeeper sets two folded nightgowns into a cardboard box. I slide the painting of the Jack Russell terrier from the wall. On the back is printed: To Grandma. Love, Joby & Leo.
Bryn says, “Here, put it in this box. The son is coming to pick everything up this afternoon.”
My fingers open and the painting flutters onto the folded ivory sweater, the menthol smell drifting up to sting my nose.
Jessica Hwang’s fiction has appeared in Reservoir Road Literary Review, Bright Flash Literary Review, Mystery Magazine, Tough, Shotgun Honey, Uncharted, Failbetter, Wilderness House Literary Review, Moss Puppy Magazine, Samjoko, Pembroke Magazine, Grey Sparrow Journal and is forthcoming in Rundelania. You can find her at jessicahwangauthor.com.