My grandma lives on a grey road because the road commissioner got a good price on the concrete. His sister had just married Glen Roscoe, who ran a small concrete plant, and though the commissioner thought it strange that Glen hadn’t died out with the rest of the Neanderthals, he knew his sister would be angry if he drove away another husband. So the roads near my grandma went down grey, and the marriage between Glen Roscoe and the commissioner’s sister lasted a record breaking two and a half years.
It was hot when Mom and I pulled up, and the grey road smelled like tar because that’s what they had to fill the potholes when the concrete began to chip away. We walked up to the front door and went in without knocking because Grandma wouldn’t have heard us even if we did.
My grandma’s house has never had the pleasure of being the right size. Mom said it was too small when she lived there, but now grandma complains that it’s too big. If you could see her in it I’m sure you’d agree. She was sitting alone in the living room, half asleep, when we came in.
When my brother and I were little we called her Talking Grandma because mom said Fat Grandma was too mean. The memory prickled uncomfortably when I saw her and realized I wouldn’t call her either anymore. She’s small now because she’s the kind of old where you don’t eat. Her skin has begun to fall away from her bones, folding into messy creases around her joints, and her hands and feet twist like tree roots from the arthritis, which has crept up into her shoulder where it sits like a small animal under her skin.
Grandma woke up then and we talked, though she mostly listened. After a while she said she wanted to go for a ride and so we went. We drove her down the grey streets patched with tar, and even though I know the story about Glen Roscoe and the road commissioner by heart, I felt a little sad that she didn’t tell me again. Instead she fell asleep while my mom kept driving. When we’d pass buildings that my mom used to know she’d turn around and say quietly, “That’s where I met so-and-so” or, “They rebuilt that after it burned down in 1967.”
The roads turned to black as we wove in towards the city where new buildings marched towards the center and there were no potholes filled with tar. Mom stopped telling me about the buildings because they were too new to have any stories, and eventually she turned around and headed back to grandma’s.
The road commissioner is dead now. So is Glen Roscoe and his ex-wife. When arthritis tangled their bones and cataracts clouded their eyes there was no tar to patch them, and so they fell apart like the grey road should have done.
My grandma sits on her couch and looks out her window at it sometimes. My grandma who likes drives into the city, but falls asleep before we reach the end of the grey road. My grandma, who said things like, “The Negros,” only to say later, “The Arabs,” and now who says nothing. My grandma, who’s knotted and broken and alone in a small house that feels too big.
When we left she cried so that her milky eyes turned crystal blue and for a moment I almost recognized her. We stood on the porch and I bent down to hug her, and when we left we could see her in the window looking out at the grey road. Mom swerved to avoid a pothole and said, “Who knows how long grandma will live on a grey road,” but I knew what she meant.