By Allyson Hoffman
I stole two books from my grandfather’s house in the weeks before he died. His things had already started disappearing. A mosaic lamp stand. A bottle of Tuscan merlot. The ping-pong table in the basement. My cousins and their parents swept through the house each time they visited, tucking an engraved switchblade or a deck of unopened playing cards into the pockets of their hoodies. By then my grandfather was blind and did not notice. The nurse aids who looked after him said nothing. I wondered what they would want from the house, if they could ask for something.
Most of my cousins didn’t even bother seeing my grandfather in his bedroom. “It’s not him anymore,” Gracie said to me on her way out the door, carrying detergent and fabric softener bottles in her hands. “You don’t want to go in there.”
She was right, but mostly because at that time in my life I didn’t want to do anything. After my divorce I had a habit of moving slowly. I loitered at the piercing parlor in the mall when my shift was over. I rode on roundabout bus routes back to my apartment. That night I lingered in my grandfather’s living room, watching the sun cast a gold-orange glow over the crucifix above the fireplace. I studied the built-in bookshelf. Small stacks on entrepreneurship.
Some economics. A few theology texts with the authors’ pictures splashed across the back covers.
I heard voices coming from the bookshelf. At first, I thought my cousins had left a toy or a phone behind. But it was a baby monitor, set there so the nurses could watch TV in the living room while my grandfather slept. Through the monitor I heard a voice ask, “Would you like to pray?”
It was Evelyn and she was one of the nice nurse aids. I liked her because she spoke loudly so my grandfather could hear and didn’t seem annoyed when he drooled on the collars of the shirts she pressed for him. She had smooth skin and a dusting of moles on her arms. She was about my younger sister’s age, maybe twenty-six. She was from the Philippines. She wanted to be a doctor.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a detective. For my ninth birthday, my grandfather had gifted me the full collection of the original fifty Nancy Drew mysteries. I read them all one summer and kept them on the shelf next to my bed where I would occasionally choose one and smell it: damp basement, Listerine, and lavender soap. My grandfather’s house.
Evelyn recited the Lord’s Prayer for my grandfather and I felt myself mumbling along with her, words rote from years of Sunday School. I hadn’t been to church since my wedding, but I knew I’d have to go back soon for the funeral. I’d have to see my grandfather’s casket up at the altar where I made promises I didn’t keep.
That night I wished he would just die. I wanted to go back to the church and get over the guilt.
After Evelyn finished tucking in my grandfather she came to the living room and reported, “Mr. Ed is very tired, but I think he would like you to come say goodbye.” She was so naive she believed my grandfather could even know me. I wondered if she meant that this was our final goodbye, which it wasn’t.
Before I left my grandfather’s house, I snatched two books from the shelf, the smallest, thinnest ones I could find. The kind I could carry in my purse or in the glovebox of my car. The kind of books worth nothing, that I couldn’t sell off for a quick $500, like I did with my yellow spined Nancy Drews. My down payment on a studio apartment three miles from the mall.
A few weeks later my grandfather died alone in his room. Evelyn was listening to the monitor and reading her Bible. I gave her the crucifix that hung above the fireplace, though she never said she wanted it. When I asked her if my grandfather said anything before he died, she said that she didn’t hear anything, and I believed her. I imagined his death as a quiet event, like stealing nameless books in the dark.
Allyson Hoffman is graduate student at the University of South Florida pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing Fiction. She is originally from Michigan. Her previous work has appeared in Catfish Creek and Rufous City Review.
Art: Cold by Josh Graupera
Josh Graupera is a Lancaster born, Philadelphia based artist. He received his BFA in Painting at Millersville University in 2014. Graupera has also attended residencies at the Chautauqua Institution, the Fabric Workshop Museum and Second State Press. www.joshgraupera.com