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Common House Magazine

Short-Term

Merron Douglas

Grandma buys a handful of five-dollar scratchers at the local gas station and uses her uncut thumbnail to uncover her riches. Hunched over her cheetah-print steering wheel, ruby-red polish flashing like a siren in the sunlight, she scratches away at the latex to reveal matching thirty-sevens. She slaps the ticket against the wheel, hollers “Ten dollars!” and backs out of her spot. Her bumper kisses the taillight of a parked Jeep.

She scratches off the rest at her kitchen table, brushing grey flecks onto the paisley tablecloth, the rest collecting in the pink crevice between her skin and lacquered nail. She loses thrice, wins five dollars, then loses again. She gets up on aching legs and goes to watch Jerry Springer, is frustrated when she can’t find it on the television guide. She sits in her late husband’s La-Z-Boy, the technicolour of the new age flashing across her sagging, wrinkling, loose features, and loses time.

 

• • •

 

Grandma goes to the shopping mall to buy a sweater. The days have grown short and grey, and she needs to be prepared for shovelling season. The inside of the department store she used to frequent is draped in swaths of white plastic, is populated by dismembered mannequins and the entrails of old light fixtures. She goes to Macy’s instead and walks back out into the cold twenty minutes later with a pair of sleek black stilettos. They live in her passenger seat, perched on top of a stack of identical shoeboxes. They never see the inside of her house.

 

• • •

 

Grandma’s landline rings a week before Christmas. She gets flour on the handset, a sheet of sugar cookie dough stretched across her countertop. The stranger on the phone asks about her health, if she’s taking her medicine, if she’s sleeping well. She forgets what he asked by the time it’s time for her to answer. That happens sometimes—her thoughts feel like they’ve slipped down a hill, and she’s chasing after them.

“I won a few dollars on some scratchers,” she tells him. The colourful tickets sit in a neat pile on the edge of her table. “I’m going to use the money to buy a new sweater.”

The man goes silent on the other end. Grandma hangs up and goes to watch Jerry Springer. She can’t find it on the television guide.

 

• • •

 

Grandma knows the man in her house, but her tongue has forgotten his name. He tracks snow onto her welcome mat and leaves it to melt. He guides her upstairs and slides a wool sweater over her head, runs a brush through the tangles in her hair. She scratches on a lottery ticket while he runs a carpet cleaner over her living room floor. Two nineteens are unveiled, and she whoops, slaps the ticket against the table. “Three dollars!”

The man gently pries the ticket from her hand. He leads her to the kitchen sink and lathers soap in his palms. The scent reminds her of Italian lemon groves, of the eighties and the August sun. He captures her hand between his, rubbing suds over her round knuckles and arthritis-stiff fingers. He scrubs latex from her nail bed and lets warm water push it into the drain.

Grandma knows this man. His touch is familiar. His name is nestled in the pocket inside of her cheeks. “I won three dollars,” she tells him.

He dries her hand with a paper towel and lets it fall to her side. His flat lips quirk down, then tremble into a smile. He presses them against her saggy cheek. She looks up and sees herself reflected in the shine of his eyes.

Merron Douglas (she/her) is an MFA Fiction candidate at George Mason University. Her work has previously been published in CC&D Magazine. You can find her on Twitter @medouglaswrites, or holed up in the back of your local coffee shop.

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