I go over to my grandmother’s house now and her legs are wrapped in gauze. She puts her arms around me to greet me and she still says, “Oh, Robert, it’s so good to see you.” Her words are still warm and passionate, but her arms sag after the embrace. When we sit down, she rests her elbows on the table, and I can see the outline of her bone, wrapped by a thin veil of wrinkled skin. She takes a few breaths before continuing. She still talks about British murder mysteries, articles in the Christian Science Monitor, that interesting piece she heard on NPR. She sees me look at the corner of a large bandage taped to her leg. “The doctor cut out the worst of it out last Monday,” she says.
I remember far away, on vacation in Maine, a river half a mile wide. “We’ll swim across,” I said then, and she responded, “I don’t know if I can do it, Robert.” “Of course you can. ‘You can do whatever you put your mind to,’ is what you’ve always said to me.” The current ran strong that day, but I was thirteen then, and a thing like that current is stronger when you are a kid. I didn’t think I could do much in life, but I knew then that we could swim it together. I swam out first, plunging my head down into the water. I fought the current the whole way, stopping at the other side to look back. She was swimming, her arms rising up and down as a steady white froth of water pulsed from behind her kicking feet. We stopped for a breath at that other side, holding onto the river’s grassy edge so the current wouldn’t take us, breathing and looking back at the shore where we’d been and where we’d be going.