Heather Adams “Warmer Over Here” [flash fiction]
Caleb holds his grandmother’s elbow, a little surprised that she doesn’t pull away. The driveway is full of potholes and he’s worried about her falling. The gutters of the house are hanging down, barely still attached. Sometimes, most of the time really, his grandmother is that way too: barely still attached. The doctor said that portions of her brain are disintegrating, and when Caleb heard this, he thought of snowflakes melting.
The white paint is peeling off and the boards have rotted in places. Out of habit, they go around to the back of the house. The porch is covered with brown leaves and cobwebs, swept to the side as Caleb opens the screen door. The wooden door behind it sticks and Caleb kicks it, hoping his grandmother doesn’t notice. When he was growing up, if he had so much as put a toe on the door, she would have lectured him about the smudge mark.
“Here we go,” Caleb says, reaching for her elbow again. But she shakes her head.
“Okay, have it your way, Nana. But I’m right here if you need me.”
She doesn’t say anything, just looks around. The kitchen barely looks like a kitchen anymore. All around them things have fallen apart. The green walls, which Caleb remembers as warm and cheerful, are covered with dirt; the color looks like something that someone planned to cover up with another shade but never got around to it. The cabinets are scratched and some of the cabinet doors are missing.
“Somebody might have been in here sometime,” Caleb says, opening what used to be the silverware drawer and finding nothing but a couple of rocks and a rusty mouse trap. His grandmother is still standing near the door, looking. In the air, there is a dry, stale smell.
“I know it looks different. But maybe you’ll remember something. Maybe something about it seems familiar? Here, you can sit down.” He pulls out a stool and brushes off the dust with his sleeve. She sits down carefully, fingering the bottom edge of her cardigan.
“Look, you had all your cookbooks lined up right here.” Caleb points to a shelf on the wall, remembering the laminated covers and spiral edges. He waits to see if she will react, but her face doesn’t change.
Caleb keeps on anyway. “And over here you’d roll out the dough for biscuits.” He touches the counter, now covered with wood shavings.
His grandmother tries to smile. “You always liked my biscuits.” He can tell she doesn’t remember anything. She is only saying what she thinks Caleb expects her to say.
“It’s a little chilly. Do you want me to move your seat over here?” Caleb points to where the sun is shining through the back window.
“The sun,” his grandmother says, reaching out her arm. “I remember.”
Caleb waits to see if she will say more and when she doesn’t, he smiles and nods, letting her think that is something at least.