By Randy Drover Honourable mention for the Cuffer Prize 2013
Jordan is tall and wiggly on his used bicycle. Thin frame, wicker basket. He rides along the Southside Hills daily, always wearing his torn Blue Jays coat with that big pocket in the front. Stuffing coming out like an old pillow.
He still lives with his mother, and at night they hang out of open windows, smoking and fighting like an old married couple. Since I moved next door to Jordan, he’s had six new dogs, all named Duke.
“Found a new job,” he says. “Don’t you want to know where?”
“Sure Jordan.” I’m waiting for the bus to go visit Grams.
“Uncle Ted got me on the crew tearing down the Grace. Paying me seven dollars an hour. How much does it cost you to take the bus?”
“It only costs me a loonie to get in to Kelly’s some nights ’cause they knows me.”
The bus pulls up.
Grams was at the Grace Hospital until it closed in 2000, then they moved her to a nursing home off Torbay Road. The home is nice; a new building with faux chandeliers and heavy yellow light. She’s gone downhill since the move, and I can tell that she misses the Grace. I’d think that any person in Grams’ situation would dream about being back in their own home, but she just goes on about how she doesn’t like the yellow they have on the walls in her room, that she liked the white walls at the Grace better.
Grams has her own room in the home, with a window facing an enclosed back garden. She spends most of the day in bed. The nurses say they try to get her down to her chair once a day, but sometimes they can’t. They have little labels put on everything: hairbrush, food tray, lamp.
Today, Grams is back in 1964 and she thinks I’m Uncle Louis. Not Louis now, but as a young man back in the day. She’s not happy to see me, not happy to see Louis at 26, and after cursing on me for a minute, tells me to leave.
I call Louis from the entertainment room. They’ve got one of those furniture-style televisions with a fish tank on top. I count the goldfish while the phone is ringing.
Jordan is on his Sunday morning ride to the mini mart. He picks up two packs of smokes for him and his mother and a can of Coke. I tell him I want to see where he works.
Most of the doors are boarded up, with layers of graffiti over the plywood, and the crewmen have caution tape plastered across them. One door at the back is clear, but locked, and Jordan gets a thin piece of metal out of the basket on his bicycle.
“Picked this up last April down on the dock. Perfect for getting in doorjambs.”
The inside of the Grace is soiled, with scales of curled paint peeling from the walls. Floors full of water spots and filing cabinets with no files. There’s a clock hanging in the entrance; tilted on its side and 40 minutes slow. The hospital doesn’t exist in the present. It’s lost somewhere between the past and future, disconnected and asking to be pieced together. Above all, the Grace is empty.
Grams’ old room is four down from the nurses’ station on the sixth floor. The ceiling sags from water built up in the corner where the sink was. There are fake flowers, faded from the sun and the dust, and a pot where real flowers used to be.
Jordan isn’t saying much, poking around the old cobwebbed halls and shouting to hear his echo. Grams’ old bed is in the middle of the floor, and I wheel it to where it had once been, sit up in it, with bunches of pillows at the small of my back.
From the height I see the landscape of the city. I see the place that Louis told me about at the home. The church that he would point to when Grams would start to slip.
See down there, he’d tell her, that’s where we talked for hours, where I told you I was sorry. From the far-up window, Grams could recount her steps, navigating the city streets without touching her foot to the floor. She’d see the railway station where she met Gramps, and their first home. Where she would walk her dog past the waterfront. A bell chimes for the end of a nearby church service.
“We got to get going,” Jordan says. “Ma’ll be wanting her smokes. We can come back later.”
I tell him I won’t be coming back.
The past is seldom where you think you left it. It is for Grams. Her past is at home inside the Grace, stretching from the Southside Hills to the waterfront.
I ask Jordan about the Grace every time I see him. I just want to know how far along they are or if anything else has been taken out. And I suppose I’ll be sad when the walls come down and the trucks plow over the foundation.
Randy Drover is an award winning writer
living in St. John’s. He works in publishing and
is a poetry editor at Riddle Fence.
Next week: Carmelita McGrath’s “Three-Minute Egg”