Cheryl Snell ~ Tracking Time

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 ReviewThe Drabble, Roi Fainéant, and The Café Irreal. Her books include nov­els and poet­ry and she is at work on a col­lec­tion of micros.