UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
THOMAS KEARNES

Lame

I dreamt about my grandson last night. He’s my daughter Ruth’s only child. They brought
her in to the emergency room almost thirty years ago. It was warm, even for June. Ruth
had been out mowing the lawn when her water broke. My son-in-law, Todd, saw her
standing in the middle of the lawn. She held the mower in front of her with stiff arms,
like she was afraid it might get wet. My daughter looked up at her husband and said it
was time. My daughter told him to get her suitcase. She said, “After we’re done with this,
we really should look for a new starter for this mower.”

          My grandson, Miles, was born precisely on the day Dr. Hammond predicted. Ruth
only gained eighteen pounds during her pregnancy. The doctor believed a woman should
gain no more than twenty pounds before delivery. My daughter was his star patient. The
nurses in the emergency room thought she was in premature labor. My daughter laughed:
“It’s a baby, not a bomb.”

          Two hours later, Miles was born.

          My daughter called me. She said, “Mother, he looks just like Poppa. Isn’t that
wonderful?”

          I said yes, yes it was.

          My husband waited at the dining room table, smoking one of his Camel unfiltereds.
He didn’t see the need for both of us tying up the phone line.

          Ruth said, “Momma, I’m gonna cut off my hair.”

          I asked why she would cut that thick, gorgeous black hair that was a gift from her
father. Even when he was born, Miles’ head was thick with it, too.

          She said, “I got a baby now. I can’t fool with a head of hair.”

          I told my husband about this. He exhaled and said, “Well, you gotta give it to her.
She was always a practical girl.”

          I nodded.

          “No fooling around with that one.”

          I nodded again.

          Thirteen years later, I held my husband’s hand as the cancer finally claimed
him. Ruth and my son, Marty, argued over the ranch as if my husband hadn’t left it to me.
They argued as if I were already dead. Miles slipped on his headphones and walked under
the starry night. While my children continued to fight, I watched my grandson walk the
perimeter of my land, his shadow passing back and forth like a wooden duck in a
shooting gallery.

          Even back then, before the blood vessels in my legs stopped working and I fell
again and again, I imagined walking with the speed and sureness of my grandson. I
dreamt about his shadow slipping over the ranch’s grounds, bobbing in time with the
music only he could hear.

          In my dream, Miles was still in the hospital. The rest home where Ruth and Marty
put me after my last fall is a good twenty miles away. I’m not sure why I imagined him
there. Ruth had told me a week ago he had been released. A drug interaction was
suspected. There might be permanent nerve damage.

          I spoke with him on the phone right after he settled back into his apartment. He
said, “Aside from walking like Louise Jefferson, I’m fine.”

          I can’t tell you how I knew my grandson was unhappy, why I always believed this
was a symptom of a larger, nastier condition.

          Ruth said, “He has his crutches. He took to them real fast.”

          She said, “Mother, you know Miles. It’s gonna take more than a severed nerve to
keep him down.”

          She said, “He only has to use a cane now.”

          I said, “I want to see him.”

          Ruth searched my chest of drawers to make sure she had collected anything at all
valuable. My roommate, Estelle, steals things then doesn’t remember where she put them
or why she wanted them. My daughter said, “We will this weekend, okay? Now, you got
anything else you want me to keep?”

          I shook my head. That night, this last night, I dreamt of my grandson. I dreamt I
got my walker and headed out the nursing home’s front doors. The whole building was
empty. Even Estelle was nothing more than a made bed beside mine. My grandson was
up the highway in Nacogdoches. He was still in the hospital, tied down by tubes, his body
thin and quivering inside his white paper gown.

          There was no traffic and I never got tired. I put the walker out in front of me then
shuffled my feet up to it. Again and again. Only Miles never lost patience with me while
I was learning to use it. He never talked to me like I was a baby with a full diaper or a
dog shredding a shoe in its mouth.

          I want to tell Miles about my dream. I want him to know even when I dream, he is
with me—and when he is not, I will find him. Todd drove Ruth and me to Miles’
apartment in Nacogdoches. I’ve never been inside it; Ruth always has a reason why I
can’t go in. In the rare moments I’m left alone with my grandson, he always tells me it’s
he and I against my daughter and her husband. “You and me, Granny. You and me.”

          Miles hobbles outside when we reach the apartment parking lot. I roll down my
window and smile at him, try not to notice the tremble that’s taken over my body like a
flu.

          My grandson smiles. He says, “Mom said you had a dream about me.”

          I’m disappointed, so disappointed.

          That was mine, not hers.

          “Did you ever find me?” Miles asks.

          I look at him for a moment, hoping I don’t look as lost as I feel.

          “At the end of the dream, Granny? Did you find me?”

Thomas Kearnes has published fiction in Wicked Hollow, Southern Hum, Blithe House
Quarterly and flashquake. He has work forthcoming this summer in Citizen Culture.
He has also published poetry in nearly a half-dozen magazines, including Nexus and
Slightly West.







© 2006 Underground Voices