Hot, dusty air rips through the open windows of the Silver Bullet. I’m on Mommy’s lap. Our bare legs are sweat-stuck together. It’s flat here, and I can see to forever, but there isn’t anything to look at. Pete got the middle seat to himself, and Nana watches out the other window. Daddy drives and Pop-Pop points to birds that no one else sees.
Yesterday, we drove all day to get to Nana and Pop-Pop’s house. Today, everyone woke up early to drive three more hours. I’m going to meet my Great-Grandmother. Even though Mommy says never to expect gifts, I’m sure there will be presents and probably cookies. This is a big deal. Pete’s missing school and the last time we drove this far we were going to Disneyland.
When I ask if there will be a swing set or trees to climb Mommy shakes her head. “There isn’t a yard for kids. Great-Grandma lives with lots of friends and some will be napping, so you’ll need to be quiet.”
Daddy parks the car in front of a gray building with lots of teeny windows. Everyone gets out. I’m not sure what this place is. Daddy tells me that it’s like a hospital. Pop-Pop calls it the old farts’ home. Mommy says not to worry about it.
I’m a good reader, so I sound out the sign’s letters. “What’s a Ho’s piss?”
Pop-Pop laughs until he coughs.
“Ho’s piss!” I yell, and he sputters, slapping his knee.
Mommy’s fingers dig deep into my arm. She hisses hot, spitty words into my ear. “Enough. Zip your lip.”
The people wear matching pajamas. Everything smells like can peas.
Great-Grandma’s hand shakes as she presses a button that makes her bed whizz up. She curls her fingers at me and smiles. I have never seen a grown up with missing teeth and I wonder if the tooth fairy gives adults more money. Before I can ask, Mommy pushes me forward.
“Can I brush your hair?” Great-Grandma’s voice is a soft crackle.
I nod. Daddy lifts me and sets me on the bed. Great-Grandma is all white like a cloud, and her hair is fluffy like feathers. She has no brush, just a comb. She slides her thumb along the plastic teeth which makes them zing and ping. Great-Grandma moves slowly, one papery hand trailing the other, smoothing my hair.
“Long time ago, it seems all I did was braid hair. Yours is very fine. Not long enough for a proper plait.” Her fingertips feel like a breeze as she combs and my head is tingly like she’s doing magic.
“I’ll come back when my hair is longer. You can braid it then.”
Everyone is quiet. I count the beeps from the machines around the room—twenty-two—before Great Grandma speaks. “That’d be lovely.”
On the way back Pop-Pop says, “Look at that hawk.”
I spot the bird in the sky and snuggle into Mommy. Falling asleep is easy.
L.L. Madrid lives in Tucson. She has an affinity for desert creatures and other feral things. When she’s not writing, she edits a peculiar little journal called Speculative 66. Links to L.L. Madrid’s works can be found at http://llmadrid.weebly.com/.