a fictiony short
for my mother
“Figures you’d be the tallest,” she said in her soft voice, not a whisper but quite low. “From the smallest to the tallest.” It was a sort of joke, a grandmotherly one, and I laughed for her. At first I thought she might be making reference to the Keating stock, being well-known that Keating were gorgeously short and often, famously, referred to as Leprechauns.
Then it occurred to me that, of course, she was referring to something more specific (and by her own keen perception, peculiar). She was referring to my particular stock, as I had been born three months premature. I weighed, by record, only one pound. At the time, very instantly and briefly, in 1975, I was the tiniest living, though barely, human being on the planet. Some would consider it my life’s achievement, surviving birth and living the way I did. Audacious even. Others, the considerably stupider ones, would rate my other achievements far more remarkable: slaying the dragon Ish’ta in 1990, banishing the demon Ganjuk in 1999, negotiating the Faerie Treatise of 2006 (still in full effect to this very day), or even architecting the grand resurrection of the demigoddess Calliope. Things like that.
But, as one would expect knowing anything of my grandmother, none of those things were as consequential as the first of the miracles. None of them would have been possible, too or either, she would argue. So, in a strictly hierarchical sense, grandmother was probably right. Her being on her deathbed, one couldn’t be too strictly anything anyway, it would seem.
“Are you trying to grow a beard?” she asked in her soothing tone. It was one of my most considerable failures. All of my six brothers couldn’t grow a proper beard. Nor my sister. Nor my father. Nor his father. My mother’s father, Wes, Grampa Keating, had a brilliant russet beard. It was thick and manly. He died at age forty-nine. Stroke. Grandmother didn’t remarry. Such things just weren’t done like that back then. Once widowed, always widowed. She’d never dream of it.
I got the russet from Grampa Keating, but that’s about it. My beard was wispy and wiry and left too much of my face showing through. “Beards have come back in style,” I commented, running my knuckles along the hairs at my jaw. “You’ve never been one for trends,” she said, non-judgmentally and gracious-like.
She knew a lot about me, though we hadn’t spoken in a few years. Yet she had forgotten quite bit of things, and important things like eating lunch or dinner, where the bathroom is, and her fifth daughter’s first name; the very daughter who had been caring for her for the last four consecutive years. Seems to me you wouldn’t forget that name. But, grandmother did. Wasn’t her fault, not in the least. Well, unless living for an entire century is a choice, and if you consider forgetfulness collateral for the century, then, I suppose, you could say it was her fault, in a way…
“I brought you something,” I said reaching into the outer pocket of my jacket. The room was eighty degrees, easy, but it was December outside and grandmother didn’t own a coatrack. “Is it a hamburger?” she asked, perking up. She had just eaten half a hamburger not an hour before. “No,” I smiled. “Not a hamburger, Gram.” I showed grandmother the two acorns, closely since her eyes were not quite what they once were.
“Acorns. Two of them.” I could see her mind quickly sifting through her rummaged memories: dusty old stacks of photographs and disheveled notepapers. “You went to the forest,” she said. “Like we always did, on your birthday. When is it? Don’t tell me, don’t tell me. September … twelfth.” “Thirteenth,” I offered. “Right, thirteenth.” It is October, actually, but a slight correction is just as well as a whole one when you’re visiting with a centurion. I placed the two acorns on her bedside table.
“How are you doing?” she asked. “I’m well,” I said, not wanting to trouble her with my troubles. “Going through a rough spot, but I’ll get past it.”
Grandmother smiled. “Me too.”