Having made and cleaned up after dinner, I ducked in to my computer area to try to clear out emails and stay abreast of the net world despite my busy-ness in the physical. My grandmother materialized beside me and picked up a book on my desk.
“Are you reading this?”
“I was doing, but I finished it a few weeks ago. I actually read it every year.”
“The Handmaid’s Tale. Hmm. Is it good?”
“I think so.”
(a keen glare) “Well, obviously, you think it is, if you read it every year. I’m asking if it really is any good.”
“Um, it’s used in a lot of literature classes, I think …”
“That doesn’t always mean anything. (glancing at cover) Margaret Atwood? — ah, no wonder it’s good.”
I ventured, surprised, “You know her work?”
She leveled me with another keen, cool, blue glare and said, after clearly taking my measure and finding it ‘okay’ but slightly lacking, just as she would have always done in the old days, “Well, I ought to; didn’t you give me The Robber Bride some ten-to-fifteen years ago for my birthday? I’m not a complete nincompoop, you know.”
I didn’t know what to say to that because I am unthinkably easily cowed. “It’s a good book,” I said finally.
She slapped the book against her open palm and said briskly, “When I’ve finished with that silly Janet Evanovich book, I’m going to start this.”
The Janet Evanovich book to which she referred, one of Ms. Evanovich’s entries in her series about the bounty hounter Stephanie Plum, I believe she has read umpteen times since coming to stay in February. Her review of it depends on her mood: some days it is foolish and crazy, other days it is far too sexual, and many days it is hilarious and I must immediately pick it up as soon as she has finished it.
In contrast to such mixed and confused evidence as that, I find my grandmother’s moments of recollection are so sharp and so scathing that I think she is surely still the same alarmingly put-together, rough-tongued and critical woman with whom I grew up, and then she will turn around and be disarmingly, candidly lost as to where she is, confused and admittedly frightened.
I hate what is happening to her. But I love that she doesn’t front even in her illness and tells me straightforwardly when she is lost or afraid. She will come in and wake me in the middle of the night to express her fears to me, because she has never been a woman afraid of making her voice heard. Even when she thinks I am someone else, whether that someone else is a more distant relative or a stranger altogether, she is brutally honest with me (recently she told me I looked “weird” without my glasses on, and also mentioned that I wear too many boys’ shirts). If she had had less confidence all her long and brazen life, she might have concealed her advancing illness for longer, so I suppose I should be grateful for that much at least.
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