Tara slammed the taxi door behind her with one hand and used the other to pull her raincoat’s collar tight against her neck from sharp, slanted drizzle. She found herself checking for the camera dangling by its worn striped strap in the scramble for cover. Should have brought a tote or a backpack to protect from the weather at least, she thought, but was riding on impulse and not wanting to think too hard about what she was here to do. Her boyfriend didn’t believe her, her parents didn’t believe her, the specialists at the rehabilitation center wouldn’t have believed her (if she had mustered up the courage to ask honest questions). So here Tara was, at visitor check in, feeling the weight of an embarrassing plan.
Something was making Grandma sicker, fast. Just a few short weeks ago she was cracking wise ass jokes, eating desserts like a delicate queen in her royal bed chamber and slyly turning her shiny dark eyes to share a secret look with Tara when Dad did that thing where he hissed at her for sitting “unladylike”. The memory made Tara’s eyes sting. She wiped it away, ignored how prickly red hot her face felt, picking up her stride to reach elevator doors before they closed. Tara knew what it must look like to everyone: poor Tara was losing her beloved Grandma and couldn’t cope. Poor Tara was struggling with the idea Grandma might not make it out of recovery and was looking for someone, anyone to blame. Grandma stopped talking and Poor Tara took it personally. Her parents whispered words like “deteriorating” when they thought she was couldn’t hear. Her boyfriend was losing patience for emotional support.
But they were wrong. Something was MORE wrong than natural: Grandma seemed beyond just exhausted, drained, dying in a million unreachable miles away medication fog. She looked terror-stricken.
Tara shared a tight smile with the nurse’s station while turning down the next hall. She needed to get her head straight. Ignore the smell of stale urine and noxious cherry scented cleaner. A quick double check to make sure the hall was as clear as she thought suddenly made her hands clammy and heart pound. The door was in reach. Tara wilted with shame. What was she expecting to happen? A quiet press up to the door gave no signs Grandma was awake just yet. No TV hum, no nurse making futile small talk. The plan was not a well thought out one by any means. Leaping into the room, camera blazing would scare the absolute shit out of Grandma, but so what? Tara recoiled, ashamed of the thought. Was she desperate for any sort of reaction from the old woman at this point, even at her expense? She did care, she thought. She was doing this for Grandma.
“Care enough to call off work, to sneak into Dad’s study, to steal his polaroid, to purchase discontinued film for it, to be shaking now, to be here at the door… it was time.” Tara’s grip tightened on the camera held close to her chest, lens aimed high. She wiped the sweaty palm on the knee of her corduroys before grabbing the knob.
1, 2, 3. Door was flung open with more force than intended. She was scared enough to close her eyes tight without meaning to.
Click, click, click. Press, shot, printed.
The door hit the jam behind it loudly.
Click, click, click. The first polaroid fluttered to the floor, the second soon followed. The flash was intense.
Tara heard a soft gasp from the bed.
Click, click, click. The vibrating door slowly bounced back from impact, striking Tara’s elbow just right and it was then her turn to gasp. She dropped the camera as it spit the last photo to the floor, clutching at sharp pain instead.
She opened her eyes to meet Grandma’s bewildered gaze who was sitting up in bed, slack jawed. Silence. Standing there in the doorway, sheepish in the quiet and feeling the urge to hide any evidence of theatrics Tara quickly gathered up the camera pieces.
“Sorry! I’m sorry, I… sorry I scare you Grandma.”
Tara rushed to the bed to sit beside the old woman, gripping her neck in embrace. The tears came shortly after when there was no move to return it. Not unusual for her grandmother these days. Tara pulled back to wipe tears and dribble from her nose but instead was startled to be met with intensity. With her hands still on the woman’s shoulders Tara watched as those coal eyes slowly trailed to the ceiling, lips parted in a perfect “o”. Tara’s followed to join them. Nothing. Foam tiles on the ceiling. A grey water stain long dried, dampened, and dried again. A couple flies dead in their light fixture tomb. Tara exhaled, looking back at the woman’s face and it’s soft, familiar smile lines around eyes that did not lower again. Unblinking. Both women sat in their separate worlds for a few moments.
The unbroken stare eventually made Tara retreat uncomfortably, releasing the shoulders she realized were probably clenched a little too hard for a hug. Feeling immensely embarrassed at the sight of the photos scattered on the floor she set to work cleaning up. What if there had been nurse in here after all?
“Such an idiot.”
The thought almost made her laugh while struggling to thumb the corner of the first photo off the floor. It was 50% occupied by part of her own finger.
“Sorry ma’am, just testing a theory.”
She did laugh then. How would she have explained any of this to another person without seeming unhinged? They would have jumped out of their skin at her barging in. The next polaroid tossed in the bin was all blur and bad lighting.
“Pardon me, Nurse, I’m cracking and no one seems to care.”
Tara froze then, knelt on the cold tile. She suddenly reached for the corner of the bed’s metal frame for support to stand. Holding on too tight, way too tight, knuckles white, in the other a final developing picture. Stole a look at the old woman limp, quivering, small in her hospital gown mouth open eyes fixed and watering now. She looked like a hungry baby bird shooting desperate glances from Tara to the ceiling, Tara to the ceiling, Tara back to ceiling again. She didn’t want to look, didn’t want to know, know any more than she already did. No, she thought, ripping away from the bed to look up in time to see a long, filthy trail of hair sliding back into the darkness of the above like so many creatures pelts. No, she willed, watching the ceiling tile slide back into place by a set of too long too many fingered hands that had just been deep in Grandma’s throat, leaving fresh wet stains as they went.
Credit: Medusae Spine
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