“Come on in, Claire,” Grandma called from the kitchen.
When Grandma and I sat down to eat I allowed myself one of the questions I’d denied before: “Why’s he sitting out there?”
Grandma stared over the jug of whole milk between us on the small, round table.
“It’s where he set himself,” she said.
I looked toward the screen door that opened onto the porch. The whole world outside was deep blue. Blue air, blue fence, blue grass, and if I could have seen him, a blue Great-grandpa.
“Should I take him a biscuit?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “He knows what he wants.”
By that summer I had my own room, but when it came time for sleep Grandma said I should get in with her. I carried my suitcase and laid it on the wooden floor by her bed. I’d undressed before her so many times I didn’t even wonder if she was looking when I pulled my T-shirt off and stepped out of my jeans. My whole family used to visit in the summer before my big brothers got jobs and girlfriends, before my mother started sending me alone, saying, “You should help take care of things,” which meant letting Grandma take care of me. Back then Grandma gave us new clothes she’d been making all year. Mom would measure my brothers and me in the kitchen in Washington, all the while on the telephone with Grandma in North Dakota, who’d be writing John, Carl, Claire on a slip of paper, recording the shapes of our bodies in numbers beneath our names. My grandma could recite the circumference of my bust, hips, and neck, and the length of my arms and legs the way God is supposed to know the number of hairs on my head. She sewed dresses for me, and aprons of sturdy, cotton cloth. These were my summer clothes. At first I didn’t like them, but Great-grandpa said how nice I looked, and once when I wore a blue dress the color of the veins under his wrists, he looked at me and said, “Set your pretty feet down.” He’d never said pretty when I was wearing jeans.
After undressing, Grandma and I pulled the white and brown quilt up to our bellies and stared toward the dark ceiling.
“I don’t want death finding you alone in the house. You’ll sleep with me until your great-grandfather passes,” she said.