So the oligarchs want their own space race? The old, when young, were actual pioneers. They came from everywhere to settle new land and sometimes they got lost. My own great- grandparents once planted the American flag on their acre of sand and spit, only to be told they were in Canada now. I want to understand how we came to this.
The old might know. I visit them on Wednesdays, filling my devices with their history.
They have learned to expect me by now. They keep an eye on the Home’s door while they wait for me, arguing about the moon landing (still!). It begins to matter less who wins the argument, and more who is the loudest—both states have the capacity to keep the blood rushing through the bodies’ stutter of ellipses.
In their dayroom, I stop to listen to the woman who greets everyone with a shuffle-ball-chain move from her tap-dancing days. She wants to know how the word great can apply both to a depression, a war, and a whole generation of withering folks. Those things are the opposite of great, she pleads. She’s trying to hang onto her critical thinking skills, so I can’t argue. She reminds me of my mother, curled like a comma over a piece of paper, adding up columns of figures. She was trying to stay “sharp” she said, but the sums were already always wrong.
I remember the day Mom wanted to do some spring cleaning. This was beyond her physical strength, but she did not want to stop doing what she had always done. I suggested we begin with cleaning out one drawer stuffed full of her old bras. One by one, I slipped the straps over her outstretched arms and fastened each clasp. She’d wriggle around a bit and then reject the garment. I had never seen her uncovered breasts before; they did not seem to fit in with the rest of her pleated skin. Time had not aged them much. In the end, we kept only three of the dozen bras, and suddenly she asked me, “Would you like to see my scar?” She was talking about her hip replacement. I could only nod.
Now looking around this room, I imagine the architecture of the aging brains, the bridges crumbling faster than any of us can shore them up. My own mother sat right here in this room, kicking a beach ball back to the row of patients opposite her. She laughed as the men all aimed the ball directly toward her, and only her. The women with nothing to kick scowled instead.
“I think my father was not good,” she told me one day as we were looking at family photographs. She pointed at her father in his military uniform. “Did you know him?”
“No, but I heard he was very brave. He was a runner, a foot soldier who carried messages during his war. The enemy shot him in his feet.” That was long before he abandoned my grandmother, who said she would be damned if she’d ever divorce him. When he died, his mistress sent his nude body back to her on the train.
By now the patients have all acknowledged me, their expectant faces waiting for me to interrupt them with questions designed to steer the discussion. That kind of thing is supposed to be good for old people, to build new synapses and all that. One man who does not understand my questions recites the names of dead generations like a grocery list kept in a pocket. All his life, he believed that repetition yields a truer truth, granting gravitas to ditto marks. The Lost, the Greatest, the Silent, the Me, X, Millennials, the Z is the only list he still has locked inside his mind. He is wearing a tee shirt with the words Greatest Gen across it, a gift from a daughter desperate to orient him. He points to it as if he can still read words and asks me, Are you one of us? I shake my head, and he softly says, but you look so much like your mother.
Cheryl Snell has published stories in The Ilanot Review, The Drabble, Roi Fainéant, and The Café Irreal. Her books include novels and poetry and she is at work on a collection of micros.