June 22, 2022 by The Citron Review
by Catherine Chiarella Domonkos
My grandmother’s lover flies through on a carpet of caramel pillows, honeysuckle wings. Cotton candy tufts waft toward her. She tilts her head back, sticks out her tongue, smiles. She’s always had a sweet tooth. And morphine plays tricks. So when I arrive at the hospice, I’m not surprised by her report. She introduces me to her nurse and to the imaginary roses crowded on the windowsill: yellow, pink, purple, orange and red. What, no white? I ask. White is for sissies who cry when their father leaves, she says. It’s not even a color. She shuts her eyes in disgust, lids thin as tissue paper, but she’s a tough broad at 96. The only thing on the windowsill are cards my kids made for her. I notice Deb forgot the “d” in “grandma” and Tom’s drawn a picture of something ghoulish, although I’m unsure what exactly. She tells me when she was twelve her father, a waiter, handed her a bunch of white lilies, mums and baby’s breath then ducked out for good, determined to make it in Hollywood. I looked and looked, but I never saw him in any movie, she says. I don’t tell her she’s told me this story, or what I think about a parent abandoning their family. I’ve held back this long. Ah, Angelo, she sighs a raspy, jagged exhale, always with the flowers. She must mean my father Anthony, although he’s never been the flower type and doesn’t have the nerve to visit her here.
From the bedside armchair I consider the crappy father who bolted, the indifferent husband who lingered, how she endured such a lack of love all these years. She waves an arthritic hand. The yellow box up there. Get it down for me, will you please? I point toward the crown molding, ask, This one? She says, No, the one next to it. I mime pulling down a box. It’s got mass, contents shuffling around; I’m good at this. I offer to lay it on the bed next to her, but she pats her lap with both hands, inviting. She swats back the lid, looks at me with enormous veiled eyes, pink blossoming on sallow cheeks. She dips her fingertips into the bits of paper the way she used to caress her collie, Bambola. All from my Angelo. Her voice is a rattle from somewhere deep. Love letters. I have no idea what she’s talking about. I hear a swish like paper turning; it’s the bed linens. Sifting, she reads air, nothingness.
I leave her alone with her hallucination while I catch up on e-mails in the café: my assistant missed a deadline, the delivery service is still out of organic spinach and there’s a lice outbreak in Tom’s class. Until the nurse interrupts me, I think you’ll want to come back now, she says. I’m overcome with unexpected sadness, dizzying grief. As we walk toward her room, a gust whirls scraps and pages like New Year’s Eve confetti and roses in all colors except white. A caramel-pillowed carpet swoops into the room on butterfly wings. My grandmother blinks as she’s lifted, titters as she flies away. I ask her nurse what the hell is going on, where’s my grandmother? In an indulgent voice reserved for the most pathetic, she says, Why, Angelo came to get her. I pluck a feathery blue cloud from the whorl, lift it to my lips. Cotton candy was her favorite.
Catherine Chiarella Domonkos’ recent short fiction appears or will soon appear in Flash Frontier, Heavy Feather Review, X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, Litro and other literary places. It will be anthologized in Best Small Fictions.