Monica stays in the car longer than she really should. She tells herself that if anyone asks she’ll say she’s listening to a good song. But, if she’s being honest, it’s just that she doesn’t want to deal with Grandma. That thought makes her feel small. Smaller than a crumb of cookie on the counter after cookie monster has had his way. This is her grandmother. The woman who gave life to her mother. If you can’t count on family when you’re at your lowest, who can you rely on to be there for you?
She gets out of the car, slams the door, and clicks the lock function on her key fob. Then she moves herself into the building with purpose. The smile is adhered to her face before the woman in the lobby catches a glimpse of her. She pushes her sunglasses onto her head, shoving a few loose strands of her hair back with them.
“Hello again. Your grandmother will be so pleased to see you. She’s actually looking at an old photo album as we speak,” the nurse greets.
This particular nurse is always here on Thursday so Monica is not shocked at being recognized. She signs a sad excuse for her name to the visitors log. “That’s nice.” Grannie had been asking for a photo album pretty much since they checked her into the care center here. The only one Monica could find was the one that, according to family legend, Gran made herself when Monica’s mother was getting married. Monica cringes a little at the memory of the day she brought the album. Apparently, that album wasn’t what Gran wanted. Despite asking for a photo album, for pictures, for memories, Grannie practically threw the book across the room. It was only by luck that Monica had managed to hang onto the corner and keep the old book from falling apart. “She’s looking at the album I brought by? Is she finally coming around to it?”
“Nope, this one your brother brought by. I guess he found it in the attic? She’s pretty happy about it.” The nurse smiles as if this is good news.
Monica smiles back. She wonders if the nice nurse can tell the smile is fake. “I’ll just go see what he’s found, I guess. Thanks.”
The entire walk down the cold hallway she’s wondering why her brother didn’t mention a photo album. Sure, they all knew she was looking for one, but why didn’t he tell her he found one? Was it in Grannie’s attic? That would’ve been the first place she’d checked, if she was the one living in the old house. She supposed she should be grateful he finally got around to looking. But she needed a little longer to be annoyed that it wasn’t his priority when they first started searching.
She rounds the corner and immediately sees Grannie in the old armchair. The sitting room here is loaded with natural light coming in from the lawn facing windows. There are five to ten other people in chairs around the room, but her eyes go right to Grannie. She’s wearing a hand knit shawl around her shoulders to fight off the chill of the air conditioning. On her lap is an open photo album. As Monica draws closer she can see that most of the pictures are black and white. This is not an album she’s seen before.
“Hi Gran,” she says. She plants a kiss on the old woman’s white hair and sits down on the ottoman beside her. “What’s this you have here?” she asks. Her annoyance from earlier, her reluctance to come into this place, has faded with the sight of the old woman. She takes her time looking over the frame, happy to see that Gran looks well. She is dressed in comfortable clothes, pants that look like they’d be perfect for lounging about the house on a weekend and a comfortable looking t-shirt in light blue.
Gran turns her eyes to her and smiles. There’s no recognition there. Monica wills herself not to be offended. She points at the book. “Did Greg bring this to you?”
Those pictures are old. She doesn’t recognize the people in them. Except–she points to one on the left hand page. A young woman and a young man, his arms draped over her shoulder protectively. “Is that you and Grandpa?” Monica asks. The face is the same, although much younger.
“This is my Frank. Isn’t he handsome?” Gran asks.
“He sure is. Where did Greg find this? Is this the book you’ve been asking for?”
“This is my book.” Gran uses frail fingers to grip the top edge of the right hand page. She slowly turns it, revealing more black and white pictures. On the center of the left page, the same couple stands with two small children at their feet.
“Is this Mom and Uncle Tom?” Monica asks, pointing again.
“That’s my children.” Gran’s eyes turn back to her face. They’re pulled together in confusion. “They’re too young to have children.”
Right. This is the reason it’s painful to come in here week after week. Monica sighs and pats Gran’s hand. She doesn’t feel like trying to convince Grannie that she’s not a nurse today. Instead, she reaches up and turns the next page for them, trying to draw Gran’s attention back to the book.
Her breath catches in her throat. That house behind them. That’s the house. “Where is this? Who’s house is this?” She taps it with her finger in time with her quickening heartbeat.
“That’s our house. It’s in Virginia.”
Gran hasn’t lived in the house in Virginia in about fifty years. That’s where she lived when they first got married. The twins were born there. The entire family moved to Arizona well before she was born. And Monica has never been there.
So why is this the house she’s been dreaming of?