My grandfather is sitting in the chair in the living room, wearing blue pajama pants with stripes. I have never seen him in pajamas before. He looks both very old and very young.
“Would you like some lunch?” my grandmother asks. I tell her “That would be lovely” and she opens the fridge and takes out cucumbers and mushrooms, tomatoes and peppers, and begins to slice them into small pieces. She is talking the entire time. “Your grandfather is having a crisis,” she tells me as she slices the cucumber into perfect rectangles. “I know,” I say. My mother told me on Sunday about the mysterious lump in his stomach and the morphine drip in his room. “Have the results come back yet?”
“No,” she says, making perfect squares of mushroom. “This is a new crisis. There are new symptoms today.” Tiredness circles her eyes and drags the skin into creases and wrinkles. She looks both very old and very young.
“That’s too bad,” I say. I am doing a slow dance around the kitchen, small steps to the right or the left, trying to make myself as small as possible. I shrink against the counter as she sweeps past and reaches into the cupboard for pita shells.
“John, are we going to Emergency?” she asks in my grandfather’s direction, methodically spreading hummus inside one pita shell. “John?” she says again. He is distracted by the paper in his hand and muttering about banking information. “Dorothy, do you have a card for our joint account? You should have one.”
“Yes, John. Are we going to Emergency?” She is curt with him. She has had a long day.
“Yes, yes,” he says, tired. He picks himself up from the chair and shuffles down the hallway towards the bedroom. My grandmother hands me a plate with the pitas and tells me as I eat that he is pissing blood. “The doctor is pretty sure he has cancer,” she says. I smooth my face into sympathy and take another bite. “That’s too bad.” I can’t think of anything else to say.
She nods. “It was his seventy-seventh birthday last week,” she says, and I think maybe she is talking to herself and not to me at all. “That’s a good number,” I say. “Symmetrical.” We sit in silence and she watches me eat. My grandfather shuffles back into the living room, looking more himself. He is wearing jeans and suspenders, and I almost compliment him on them. He takes a jacket from the closet. “You’re not wearing that jacket, are you?” says my grandmother. “It’s got no lining.”
“I want to wear it,” he says. She sets her lips in a hard line and says nothing. He grins at me. “Never get married,” he says. “They’ll tell you what to wear.” I give him a smile and finish my pita. “It is cold outside,” I tell him. “I won’t be going outside,” he says.
We take the elevator to the parking garage and my grandmother goes out to get the car. My grandfather sits in the plastic and metal chair, and suddenly he looks very small and frail. I hug him and his shoulder blades are handles standing out from his back.
“Never get old,” he says. “It’s too painful.”
I listen to his breathing.
“I think that is unavoidable,” I say.
I don’t think he hears me.