Stephanie M Bond


A small woman putters around a harsh white kitchen, the shine of every surface matching the glint of massive, circular lenses perched in tortoiseshell frames upon her nose. She roams from the cramped kitchen into the living room, touching upon a few cluttered knick-knacks to wipe them of a dusty coating. Towards the more living room end of the area lies an aged man stretched upon a maroon recliner, the duo taking up a large patch of the floor space the woman valiantly tries to navigate. The restricted nature of the home reveals that it is part of a larger apartment complex, a community of strangers to the elderly couple. Brittle nails rasp against a leather-bound medical journal as she cradles it in her arms, picking up various other items she has left about the room. Thermometers and unguents lie about inconspicuously for her to collect: a tube of ointment on the edge of the kitchen counter, dictionaries and encyclopedias catalogued on the lower shelves of a dusty bookcase and of a wheeled tea caddy.  While some medical journals lay in plain view, they are now coated with a filmy residue that accumulates while the pages lose their crisp whiteness. The woman is my grandmother, living with her husband in their later years.

The years had curved her shoulders and in pictures from years ago, she is almost unrecognizable. In her youth she stood a few inches taller; her hair that was once chestnut at its lightest lost its sheen to become a halo of white. Though now a shuffling old woman, she retained her boisterous laugh and unyielding attitude, which is often paired with a keen sense of sarcasm to deliver witty lines that her glares cannot express. Many of these reproachful looks are directed towards her husband, who, through the mischievous pilfering of sweet morsels from her well-kept desk, has rightly deserved them. He is a child at heart, tugging at the hem of her skirt and asking for answers that were not always available. This often aggravates her, who only through sheer persistence has managed to restrain herself from admonishing his every inquisitive remark that stalls conversations with colleagues and friends. Through the years however, she has remained fluid: a forgiving elixir, necessary to those who drink her knowledge and refreshing to those who sought her in times of need. An ounce of water being poured from glass to glass through the decades, she never retained the same shape nor refused to change, still holding onto the same properties that made her who she is.

Now pausing in her work, a lingering glance is cast upon the room; there is a sadness that is tangible only during lulls in her work. She has paused in her attempts to unearth medical books from a jumble to organize them, their pages having lain untouched for years. Once a nurse in her earlier years, my grandmother is able to regale my mother and me of stories as a nurse for soldiers, never somber as she gesticulates to punctuate thrilling points in her dialogue. Water and soap washing over one’s hands as they grip a chipped plate never was as appealing as gripping a surgeon’s knife, however. These stories always have closure, a certain sigh from her lips ending their vivid imagery. It is like she has slammed her autobiography shut, leaving the resolving action open-ended with her scrubbing dishes to the lilting voice of Alex Trebec on a rerun of Jeopardy.

My grandmother has always been an intellectual, intrigued by the idea of motion, furthering her wisdom with studies and work. Those aspirations, however, slowly faded over the years. The pressure of finding a partner was too immense to let a woman of her scrutiny escape, and she found herself rearing children who would grow to be my uncles and mother. This new frontier in her life would not deter her love for healing, as she acted as a general doctor and mother to the four newcomers who drank it as eagerly as her colleagues had been suckling on her advice earlier. The glass she had been poured into would slowly shrink as her husband’s heart failed with time, her inspiration in tow. After a triple bypass on his part and a resolution to take a tighter grip on his health by her, personal expectations withered under her strong will to take care of her partner. It was a mutual sacrifice, chocolate bars and dreams of academic pursuit were discarded equally, long after their children had fled the couple’s arms. Having lost her sons to their far-flung professions, my grandmother turned to caring for her husband, recycling her wisdom to watch over him as a plug for the void in her life--a lack of a career, and then her offspring. Hands once trained to revive a man from shock transitioned to curling around a plastic plate, reheating leftovers. Though her husband adheres rigorously to gender roles, she strings him along. He is the child led by the widowed mother who is losing the inner battle of a love of freedom to unconditional love for her child, needing to fulfill the life women of her time were destined to lead. But was she meant for this sort of ending?

Now a smile graces her face as a favorite talk show begins on a battered transistor radio. Her husband shifts in his sleep, disturbing the blankets she has lovingly strewn across his lap. She is a façade, her stony visage belying any turmoil within her gates. Her fiery passion and zeal for adventure leads one to believe that she is not the tranquil lake she superficially proves to be, but rather a dammed river waiting to be unleashed should a crack appear. The strong caulk of her will may not permit the shattering of her exterior, but one can only probe so far into cement with rudimentary tools of conversation. Love, while originally the ultimate freedom, has become a static obstacle.


Copyright 2002-2007 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2007 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.