To say goodbye, we walk

By Ruth Jeffers

into the garage, no more Buick or Honda, now driving his oldest grandchild and her babies
between Wake Forest suburb and student seminary housing. No more museum of decapitated brooms, empty golf bags, and amputated vacuum attachments. No more fridge full of spare hummus tubs and plastic sheets of string cheese that the fifteen-year-old pilfers, tearing off one sheath at a time, as if Granddad’s de-cataracted eyes won’t notice.

through the front door, without the usual bum bum bu-bum-bum, bum bum, that I think is our
secret knock until I realize it’s everyone’s secret knock.

past the washer and dryer and sink with the blue basin that has taken me twenty-one years to
notice because there are no more bottles of carpet cleaner or dog shampoo or bleach that is older than me or window spray or wood floor polish cluttering the counter.

into the kitchen, beside the three-bay window, my legs planted among the four wooden ones that
no longer sandwich a cracked glass tabletop between at least three tablecloths that pill like those hospital gowns Grandma must have worn every week since she started thinking she’s bleeding internally. No cloud of spice peppering our throats as we pass the counter where the twins are dumping cayenne into the black beans beside forgotten red plastic cups with children’s names Sharpied below the rims.

into the living room, which has doubled in size without the hulking computer desk and rotating
thrift-store display of mismatched chairs and couches and blankets that comfort the psychologically disturbed puppy-mill puppies who won’t step off the carpet and poop under the dining room table and drink water only when Granddad holds them up to the tap. No more screams from at least three children barreling between the furniture and human legs and across the card game that Gabriel and I have so neatly arranged on one of the faded floral rugs. No more whoops from humans or howls from dogs when Virginia Tech scores a touchdown, no more exclamations of Go Hokies! from Granddad as he resumes his seat at the computer desk and stretches his arms across the wooden ones that curl at the ends.

into the bedroom, full of sunlight instead of an unmade king bed and a bedside table covered in
tissue boxes and lotion and mail from someone who has convinced her that this time she’s won a million dollars and it’s for real.

into the walk-in closet, where she hasn’t been standing for hours choosing an outfit from the
wall-to-wall spread of colorful sweaters and blouses and pants that we compliment when we sit together for Thursday night dinner and card games.

out of the closet and into the bathroom, no more suds splashing as she washes little children’s
hair and the water jets pound each tiny vertebra. No more soapy crowns or grimaces as shampoo stings our eyes and we swim beside the rubber ducks.

down the hallway that I can finally walk through without knocking over the porcelain virgin
Mary on the bookcase that presses me into the second bathroom, where there are no more books of golf puns or biblical aphorisms to read while I escape from the living room full of screaming children and relatives asking what I will do with an English degree.

up the stairs, no more electric chair carrying her away when everyone in the house is too loud but
the noise doesn’t fade when the chair pulls her upstairs because her mind goes with her.

down the hallway and into the sewing room that isn’t a sewing room anymore because she isn’t
making a christening dress or poufy purple princess dress for the granddaughters who she gives porcelain bride dolls before we know what it means for Mary to be a virgin.

into the bathroom, where bleach replaces the urine from the soiled Depends that Mom finds in
the shower the day we organize the sheets so he can find them in the middle of the night when she loses control, but he will never use them because she will never leave the hospice bed once she comes home from the hospital.

into the little bedroom, where the cousins watch VHS tapes in a little cube of a TV and let the
static drown out the dinner conversations when they get too long and too adult.

into the big bedroom, where siblings kick each other under the ironed sheets because we
fight even in our dreams.

down the stairs, through the living room, onto the deck, no more plastic chairs where we balance
our sodden paper plates on sunburned knees and swat the flies dive-bombing our small cousin’s leaking hamburger, even though I wish she would realize that she’s eating someone dead and eat something less messy instead. No more forgotten Easter eggs poking through the grass against the fence that he can’t quite reach with the riding lawnmower that he needs to maintain the giant yard that is really too big for two grandparents and their decreasingly sized dogs with increasingly traumatized brains but is just the right size for seventeen grandchildren hunting for eggs.

through the living room, down the hallway, into the dining room where she died and where we
play cribbage and Oh Hell and Hearts and that pointless game with the plastic crabs that try to eat the marbles but just scratch the table where we eat lo mein and vegetable bean curd with white rice because Szechuan Palace still doesn’t serve brown rice, no matter how many times Granddad asks them to. She died here. And I wasn’t next to her hospice bed, petting the little white dog who slept on her legs. But I still suck in my full stomach one year later as I squeeze between the wooden chair and the wall to test the limits of my sodden paper plate with thirds. She sorts her sweepstakes entries here, and we suspect Mr. Green in the ballroom with the lead pipe here, and we count cribbage hands of 15 two, 15 four, and there ain’t no more here, and we reach down to scratch the head of the little dog licking our leg here, and our brains freeze as we swallow scoops of ice cream in paper bowls here, and we wonder how long that napkin has been sitting here and if it is clean enough to wipe our faces with, and if it isn’t, it’s ok because we are family and we’ll catch whatever germs we have anyway.

through the laundry room, out the door, across the garage. Really, Granddad? You’re going to
jump over the sensor? I know the doctor just said you have the heart of a man thirty years younger, but you aren’t supposed to move your arm, and we don’t want your shoulder getting hurt worse and keeping you from playing golf. I know you don’t need golf as much now that you’re leaving your empty house in Lexington and moving to Virginia with your college sweetheart, but—

he scurries toward the garage door as it chugs downward, lifting one leg and then the other over
the sensor, ducking his lanky limbs and back under the door like he used to stretch them over the high jump pole. I shake my head and grin. You’ve still got it. He chuckles, hugging my shoulders with one arm and kissing my forehead. No more hopping and clicking his heels like he always does as we back down the driveway that I speed down on a scooter and slam my five-year-old face into. The plastic surgeon fixes the bump on my lip, but there must be some molecules of the concrete stuck under my skin because, when Granddad drives away from Winston-Salem to his new home with the love of his next life, I hop, click my heels, and taste the salt of the driveway all over again.

Ruth Jeffers is a senior English major and Environmental Studies minor from Winston-Salem, NC. Her life goal is to tell the story of Penguini, a young Italian-Antarctic penguin on a journey from failed family restaurant employee to celebrated pasta innovator. She wrote the opening scene in tenth grade and has been stuck since.