Ashley McCurry

Lemonade and Delirium

My grandmother lay atop a white sheet at the city hospital, descending into a surgery-induced madness of which she now has no recollection. We observed her flailing her arms toward the ceiling like an entrapped swan, organizing antique jars and pale porcelain figurines in cabinets, turning washing machine knobs and television dials, and reminding her late husband to pick up his suit from the cleaner.

We sang “Little Green Valley” to calm her nerves because then she was six years old, playing with her sister who hadn’t yet left this world, and Mamaw had turnip greens and cornbread and buttermilk on the table. But first they had to get the harmony just right.

My husband stayed with her while we took a break to get lemonade, and the cashier said, “It’s on the house.” She probably noticed the shadows encircling our bloodshot eyes, and it was now day four of the lemonade breaks.

At the hospital, my grandmother was slapping my husband as she tried to rip out her IV. Streams of blood spurted across the sterile linens and the white tile floor. My mother kept the visitors away: the friends, the scandalmongers, and the gossips, who had no right to see this sparkling Southern Belle, this 80-year-old debutante in a threadbare hospital gown, screaming at the nurses to let her talk to her daddy.

When we drove back home on the fifth evening, my mother remained at her side, unlocking a rare moment without chaos permeating the spaces between every word. A lifetime of sorrow sat motionless on the bed beside them. She clasped my grandmother’s hand and whispered, “I love you,” dusty words carefully constructed after decades of neglect.

My grandmother’s eyes briefly settled upon her face before shifting to the window overlooking the city. “The love was always there,” she responded. Perhaps to my mother. Perhaps to the fragmented phantoms that were endowed momentarily with life, briefly establishing residence in that hospital room.

The next day, the haze lifted, and that was that. We often speak of the sweetness of that moment, but only among ourselves. We never discuss those five days with my grandmother.

Ashley McCurry is a speech-language pathologist, MFA student, and short fiction/creative nonfiction writer living in the Southeastern United States. Perhaps more importantly, she is a rescue dog mom, cosplayer, and lover of short stories and musical theater. Her work has been published in Bright Flash Literary Review and Six Sentences, with a forthcoming publication in Flash Fiction Magazine.