Abuela

Diana Zainah Rodon

 

Her front door is unlocked. Again. Maybe if she’d gotten into the habit of locking her door, I wouldn’t have my dad’s tale about the time he left the house, still sleeping, wearing only his underwear. We’ve told her it’s not safe. The robbery a couple years ago that left her without a television and much of her jewelry should have taught her that. But she doesn’t believe she owns anything that valuable anyways.

                Yet I must admit, it’s a nice feeling to walk into that house immediately, throw the door open in a grandiose manner wafting the smell of Cuban cooking directly to my person. And she won’t hear me enter, cause she’s old, and old people never hear anything. This allows me to walk directly into the kitchen and watch the glee spread over her face at my arrival.

                “Quieres algo para tomar? Una malta?” she asks promptly.

                She always asks this, and I always give her a “do you have to ask?” look. Once she’s registered my reply, her movements are quick as she grabs a bottle from the fridge, a bottle opener from the drawer, pop the cap off, and hands me the bottle with a glass. I imagine Cuban sugar crops every time I sip that liquid that’s sweeter than soda and blacker than coffee. The taste is overpowered by the mere smell of her cooking; even the flies are biding their time with hungry tummies.

                Now that I’ve been treated to a refreshment I am put to work mashing plantains, as that’s the easy job. After twenty years, I’m still not allowed near the hot oil brimming from several pots and pans on the stove. I never understand why she makes so much food for one person. Picadillo, arroz, frijoles, platanitos, tostones. Even when it’s my whole family there are always leftovers and we’re too full to eat more. She could feed an entire army this woman.

                The army would fall in love with her if she cooked for them. If there’s one thing she knows how to do, it’s food. When we’ve finally sat down to eat, I’m salivating. And when that first forkful reaches my tongue I vow to visit her every day for the rest of my life and eat her food and become jolly and fat. That would be a nice life, for the both of us.

                But when we try to make conversation, I’m reminded why I don’t come here more often. My broken Spanish, her broken English make speaking to each other difficult sometimes. I use a mouthful of food as an excuse to translate my answers to her questions in my head before I reply. It goes on like this for what feels like hours, painstaking efforts at conversation as we eat.

                A phone call saves me from the questions, even if for a moment. I reach for her phone, closer to me than her. I get a glimpse of the caller ID before I pass her the phone, Dr. Sandman. His office must be calling to confirm her appointment.

                Her face read with hidden panic as she hung up. “El se mudó el cita. Puedes llevarme?”

                “Si, si. Ahora?” I shift in my seat.

                She nods and we both get up, panicked, unsure what to do. She grabs a plate, but I motion her to her bedroom to get dressed. I’ll take care of the dishes. It’s moments like this where the impracticality of using so many plates strikes me. I let scalding hot water sear my fingers and soap envelope my arms as I wash. Maybe it’s an effort to disinfect from the hospital I’ll be entering. Maybe… Yet my own body getting sick is the furthest from my mind.

                “Nana!” I hear her yell from the other room.

                I run with soapy hands. I think some’s gotten in my hair. I turn the door handle with my elbow, in vain efforts not to soap up the entire house. She’s sitting on the bed, and the first thing I notice is her hands clutched in her lap, shifting up and down slightly but uncontrollably. She sits with unstable hands and nothing to cover her top half, her single breast exposed. I didn’t know her Parkinson’s could truly prevent her from movements. It’s supposed to be mild…

                Her mastectomy bra lies next to her and I run to the bathroom to wash off the soap grime. I return, move toward the bra, yet first unclenching her palms from each other and moving each arm to its appropriate side. I place on the bra, positioning padding and breast to be symmetrical, I hope. I find the nearby shirt and place it over her head before the most difficult part, placing each limp arm through each shirt hole.

                She wants me to put makeup on her but I refuse. We’re in a rush, going to a hospital, and she can’t even move her hands without the momentary twitches. If ever there was a time not to wear makeup, it would be now. We argue over this all the way to the car. Tensions are high and I don’t believe either of us cares or knows what the argument is about anymore.

                But the car ride is silent and long. We are both scared, she, for her life and health, me, for those things but terrified that I’m accompanying her. Why isn’t it my dad, or even my mom? I’m not cut out for this, I’m nineteen. I’m not adult enough, I haven’t had experiences. I don’t know about medical things, I haven’t even had sex yet. My mom knows about medical things and she’s had sex. She should be here, she knows what questions to ask, I really, really don’t.

                I’m panicking, but I can’t show it. She’s done this before, the whole cancer thing. She can do it again, things will be fine. The worst they can do is remove a kidney, or she’ll be on dialysis, nothing unmanageable. Is that painful? God, I haven’t even thought of that. I’m worrying about her life but not the state of it. I’m panicking again, but I can’t show it. Not now.

                When we finally arrive at the hospital, I grip her arm and lead her to Dr. Sandman’s office. I know that when I get there and she goes behind those doors and I’m sat in the waiting room, I can let it out. I can panic; no one would expect me not to.

                It’s here. We’re at that moment. I see Dr. Sandman in the doorway waiting for her. He gives me a polite nod and motions her inside. I give her a kiss and watch her go through. The door creaks closed, seals itself to my person. I sink and only notice that I missed the chair when I hit the floor. But I don’t move, I just wait.

Illustration by Alyssia MacAlister.

Illustration by Alyssia MacAlister.


Previously published in the UKCCWS Illustrated Anthology Vol. 2 (2015) with the accompanying illustration.

Diana is a Miami transplant living in New York City, where she is on an epic journey to find the most authentic Cuban food. She holds a BSC from the University of Miami in Journalism and English. By day she works among books and by night she is still reading them.