In the mornings, we run errands. The grocery store for LaCroix. McDonald’s for lattes. My grandmother tells me she needs to go to the bank. I tell her we went to the bank yesterday. My grandmother tells me she needs to go to the bank. I tell her we went yesterday. My grandmother tells me she needs to go to the bank. I ask her why. I show her the cash in her purse. I put the purse away. We sit in quiet. My grandmother tells me she needs to go to the bank. 

Winter in the Midwest is dreary. My three-year-old daughter and I are visiting from Arizona. I bought my daughter an emerald green faux-fur lined coat for the trip. 

My grandmother wants to drive. She opens the driver’s side door. I lead her back to the passenger side. It’s my treat, I say and take her keys. 

I am the adult and she is the grandmother, but I was the child, and she was my second mother, and I am the parent, and I have a child.

 My grandmother does not remember my daughter has a coat. I point out the coat in the backseat. My daughter cannot fit in the car seat with the bulky coat. My grandmother points out the street she grew up on and the cemetery where she names everyone who she knows is buried there. She asks again why I came out in the Midwest in winter without a winter coat for the child. 

I show her the coat.

She says we should go to the mall to buy a coat.

I show her the coat.

In the afternoons, I ask questions about the past to avoid the present and pretend the future does not exist. I sit in one of her big, burnt orange chairs, and my grandmother sits on her couch, and my daughter runs around the condo with her Anna from Frozen doll. She stops every time she runs through the living room and asks my grandmother if she thinks Anna is beautiful.  My grandmother tells me about the Charlie McCarthy doll she received as a gift when she was a small child. The neighborhood kids had envy. 

I ask about Viola. There has been snips and starts. There has been generational trauma. 

Viola was my grandmother’s older sister. She died in 1933 at age 7. She got sick, and she did not have antibiotics. My grandmother’s father came into her room in the middle of the night to tell her. 

I ask my grandmother if she was sad when Viola died. 

She says, “My mother.” She stops. 

My daughter runs through the living room. I remind my daughter adults are talking, and she must be patient, and we will play with her soon. My grandmother takes the doll and tells my daughter the doll is beautiful. My daughter says she will hide the doll so we can find it.

My grandmother stands up from the couch and retrieves her checkbook and says she will write me a check so I can get my daughter a coat. I say no, the coat is hanging up in the hall closet. She puts the checkbook away. I lead her back to Viola. 

My grandmother was my daughter’s age.

My grandmother tells me her parents packed a lunch every day, and the three of them walked to the cemetery, and her parents sat in front of Viola’s grave for hours. I ask her what she did when her parents sat at the grave. She said she thinks there was a playground nearby. I ask how long they went to the grave. She says until her younger sister was born. A year. Then they sold their house and moved into a new house further away from the cemetery. 

My daughter wants to play with us. Three-year-olds need attention like oxygen. No, I say, not now. Wait. Practice good patience. My daughter wants us to find Anna. She wants us right now. One second. Wait. I will tend to you. You must respect this boundary. My grandmother will be gone soon, and you are still here, and you and I have time, and you must understand I am grieving. 

“They talked to that grave like Viola was still alive,” my grandmother says. 

My daughter taps my knee. Wait, I say. Wait, wait, wait, Mommy is getting frustrated. Play by yourself. Please. Mommy wants to have a Mommy conversation. Mommy needs time. 

My daughter stands in front of me and holds up Anna. She is near tears. Not now, I say, and look over her. My grandmother opens her checkbook to write me a check so I can buy my daughter a coat. 




Stephanie Austin’s short stories have appeared most recently in Carve Magazine, Pembroke Magazine, The Sonder Review, Emrys Journal, Open: A Journal of Arts & Letters, Pithead Chapel, Jellyfish Review, and Heavy Feather Review. Her CNF has appeared at The Nervous Breakdown and The New England Review’s Web Series “Secret Americas”. She has a forthcoming publication in The Sun.