Granny’s heart still beats in Valley Nursing Home, Room 11A with a happy face white board hanging on the door. Her home is a colorless, stagnant pool of muted, disintegrating leaves, fingers of dead limbs her canopy. She hovers in her rail-bed with a bag of urine hanging off the side with a crooked, yellow piss tube reminding me of a lopsided dead neck. She’d always hated the single-wide where she half-lived with my shell-shocked farmer granddaddy, former WWII sniper who vowed to God Almighty if he ever made it back home he wasn’t going anywhere ever again and he stayed true to his word. Breathing through my mouth, I sit in a sticky seat next to sticky bed, my feet wet in fetid soup. I’m annoyed, judgmental. The CNAs are hillbilly idiots. Granny struggles in death gnats. I could step on her oxygen tubes. I could hold a pillow over her face, help her along, out, over, through—pick a preposition.
One of Rich Valley, Virginia’s hills looms large outside of Granny’s window. A single cloud eats blue sky above the emerald hills.
“Watch it eat, Granny,” I say, pointing, rubbing my belly. “Hungry.”
She doesn’t hear shit, I’m almost certain. Her mashed face matches the mashed food—pallid bananas, potatoes, soft dirt in Styrofoam cups growing sad pansies that really can survive anything, even this place. Her just-for-show rimless glasses have creeped down the family Grecian nose. She’s skinny and soft. Soft and rotting in this soft basement. Give me a hard knife to plunge in her chest. I could bring in a .45 and blow her brains to smithereens. I could shove marbles up her nostrils and kill the steam spot on an eighty-seven-year old mirror. I could choke the mashed potato shit out of Granny. That would help her way more than sitting in this sticky chair.
“You’re back. You win the Bestest Grandson Award,” says this CNA with half-rotting teeth. She could make more at McDonalds. She could make way more at Walmart. She walks around in her mushy shoes, schlepping cups of sloshing apple juice to toothless, gummy holes. I don’t know her damned name. Probably Mandy.
“Yeah, well,” is the only thing I say to Mandy. “You know,” I add, former teacher, shrugging. Maybe I graded one of her argumentative essays a million years ago—who knows?
The cloud has eaten its way out of my view. Interstate 81 traffic doesn’t give a soft-serve shit that I’m staring at it drive in and out of my line of sight.
“I could register Granny’s toenails as lethal weapons,” I say. I don’t want to be a complete asshole, but I add a dash of tabasco to the dish: “It’s not like she can cut them herself.”
Mandy looks at me. My tone is light but the words bite, something I used do with students stranded in my English classes. But that was another life. I halfway want her to say something like “Fuck you. I do the best I can. I’m overworked, make jackshit…” But she doesn’t say a thing. She walks out of Room 11A with squishy steps as if the VCT tile is freshly plowed earth. I can almost hear ripe tobacco growing, smell wild honeysuckle leaking perfume and fresh horse shit that never particularly bothers me. She returns and hands me toenail clippers in place of a shovel.
“If you can’t do it, I’ll be glad to do it,” Mandy says. I finally read her name badge and find out she’s a Heather not a Mandy.
I don’t do bodily functions.
I could never be a nurse, help someone to the toilet, wipe someone’s ass. Yes, I changed my daughters’ diapers but they were my babies and that’s different. Heather caught me with a left hook with her “If you can’t.” Saint bitch. I hate her. I catch a whiff of vile vegetable broth from some other room that’s floated into 11A. I could use plastic explosives and blow Valley Nursing Home into a parallel universe and Granny’s single-wide will morph into a mansion and her depressed husband a brave king.
“Thanks,” I say, scooting the sticky seat closer to Granny, her real name Evangeline, insisting always that you gotta eat. Maybe the hardest meteor ever could obliterate this place. I sing or cry to myself, Clouds eat blue sky. I snip away one sharp nail after another, making the soft softer.
John Christopher Duncan lives with his wife, Stephanie and two daughters, Hannah and Emma, in Abingdon, Virginia. He is a graduate of Queens University of Charlotte’s MFA creative writing program. He has published fiction in many publications, including The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and The Best of Carve Magazine.