by Briana Maley
My grandmother is standing by my coffeepot, making a show of wiping crumbs from the counter onto her open palm. It is 6:30 in the morning. Grandma’s wearing the same toothpaste-green housedress she wore when I was a kid, its fabric soft and thin from so many turns in the washing machine. Her hair is pinned into curls. She never paid for a permanent, not even later, when she could afford it. The Depression never let go of some people, is what my mother used to say.
Grandma looks exactly like she always did, except that her ankles, peeking out above her slippers, are no longer webbed with purple spider veins.
That’s when I remember she’s dead.
“What are you doing here?” I remove yesterday’s coffee grinds and dump them into the trashcan.
“You really shouldn’t let that sit overnight. You’ll get mold in your machine.”
Grandma used to boil her coffee in a dented aluminum percolator. She scrubbed it every day with steel wool.
“Do you want a cup of coffee?” I open the drawer and pull out the coffee scoop.
Grandma sniffs. Is she offended, or disgusted?
“Sorry, I guess you can’t drink coffee?”
My mother used to whisper to herself while she drank her first cup, as if breathing secrets into the dark brew. I assumed she was talking to herself, but now I wonder.
As I fill the carafe with water, Grandma lifts her eyebrows, her eyes locked on my left hand. “When’d you stop wearing your wedding ring?”
My own husband hasn’t noticed this yet.
“Are your fingers getting fat, or are you unhappy?”
I consider taking the easy way out. But Grandma gives me that old knowing look, the one that says don’t try any of your funny business on me, Young Lady.
“At first it was because it was getting tight. But then I realized it never felt right to begin with.” My grandmother frowns and nods her head, as if to say that this is serious, but she’s on my side. “I don’t know if I ever wanted to be married. I think I got married because that’s what everyone does. I think,” I pause, because as an educated woman, I’m not sure I can say this next bit out loud. Grandma urges me on by widening her eyes and leaning closer. “I think I wanted to have a party and wear a white dress.” I push these words out in a single breath. Shame licks my cheeks and reddens them.
“You did look beautiful in that dress.”
“You were there?”
“Of course I was there, Sweetheart.” She reaches her hand out into the space between us. I know she would caress my cheek, if only she weren’t a ghost. “Have you talked to your mother about all this?”
What ever happened to my grandmother’s percolator? Her housedress?
“I don’t think she’ll understand.”
How do objects leave our lives? What will happen to my wedding ring if I choose never to wear it again?
“Maybe she’ll surprise you.”
And people? Why do we sometimes let go of the living, but hold on to the dead?
“Maybe she’ll judge me.” I do not say that I haven’t called my mother in two months. But maybe Grandma already knows. Maybe that’s why she’s here.
“I’ll talk to her first. Get her used to the idea.” Grandma glances at the clock on the stove. “She should be waking up about now. I’ll pop over for coffee.”
Briana Maley’s short stories have been published or are forthcoming in Fiction Southeast, New Flash Fiction Review, Little Patuxent Review, Lilith Magazine, Fictive Dream, and elsewhere. She received Lilith’s 2019 fiction prize and was runner-up in the 2020 F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival fiction contest. She lives in Maryland with her family and a dog named Ramona Quimby.