The Best Short Story

Amy Kingdom's Smile and Nod

"Nanny, your hair looks nice," they tell me. I hear that and I smile. "Can I help you with your meat?" they ask me. I hear that and I nod. "She looks older," they whisper to each other. "Helpless, like a little child," they sigh quietly. "So who gets her next Channukah," they ask each other under their breath. I hear that, too. I smile and nod.

Eighty-nine next April. Three children, seven grandchildren, fifteen great- grandchildren. And a hearing aid in my right ear that works better than most people seem to think. So I listen--I listen to the ones who tell me they love me, who say they appreciate my wisdom, who cut my meat, who like my hair. I listen to them mumble to each other through clenched smiles. "Without Gramps she's lost," they say. Gramps is my husband, was my husband, Larry. A good father, a wonderful husband, and a fine man. He's been dead ten years, my Larry. Lost him to diabetes. And yes, without him, I am alone. Three children, seven grandchildren, fifteen great-grandchildren.

And I am alone.

I eat my dinner. Comed beef and potatoes--the meat's too fatty, potatoes could have been softer. Conversations whiz across the table. Occasionally the chatter is interrupted with an almost screamed, "So, Nan, I'm glad you switched to brown eye shadow. Blue's not your color." And then back to the more important and more interesting family gossip. Sometimes I look up to find Louise looking at me, head cocked sideways, a small pout of concern on her five-year-old face. Why her mother dresses her in those frilly shmatas, I don't know. But her face, something about her innocent little pixie face, makes me so sad. Once she asked, "Is Nanny crying, Mommy?" "No, honey, she has cataracts and her eyes dry up," replied my granddaughter, Freda, without looking up from her plate. I smile and nod.

Larry would have loved Louise, my little shana madela--he would have eaten her up. He would have laughed wholeheartedly at her attempt at the Channukah blessing last night: "Baruch-atta-in-my-eye-elohanu- melvin"...and so on. Her little eyebrows bunched in concentration. She looks just like Freda looked at five-years old, and identical to Rachel--my daughter, her grandmother--at that age. I'm Nanny, her great-grandma, the one with the hard candies in her pocket book. I'm a comfortable lap and an audience for her improvised ballet dances in the kitchen. Louise doesn't see the wrinkles that line my face, the skin that hangs from my arms, or the veins that show through the top of my hands. To her, I am not a helpless old woman, --I'm her Nanny. And.I hope I die before I become, to Louise, what I am to my children and grandchildren ... nothing.

Eighty-nine next April. Where will I be when I'm ninety? I sit at the dinner table and listen to my offspring discuss my future in muffled whispers and turned heads. "You get her next, Mark," Rachel murmurs to my son. Now why she frosted her hair, I just don't know. "She'll be happier in Connecticut," Mark hisses back. "Call Laura in Florida--she can take her for a year or so," they decide quietly. Smile and nod. Eat my comed beef. Smile and nod. Honestly, I don't care where I live. It doesn't really matter anymore. Have you ever heard that expression Wherever you go, there you are? Well, I beg to differ. I never really seem to be anywhere. Nobody really notices, anyway.

I know, Larry, you would say, "Chin up, Bea, chin up." But it's so much easier to keep my head down and listen to my grandson mutter, "Look at Nanny--it's so sad--she's nodding like she can even hear a single word we say." Then there is the muffled, "Hush--wouldn't it be awful if she could hear us." But I watch Rachel giggle at the idea as she cuts Louise's coined beef. Freda utters a barely audible, "Yeah right." Mark and his wife scoff quietly at the possibility. I smile and nod.

 

Prizes:

George S. Diamond Prizes
Beck Shakespeare Prize

English Prize
The Erskine Prize
Zinzendorf Prize
Beck Oratorial Prizes