Her caseworker has decided Gran needs to be in a potato-free zone. No potatoes, no tomatoes, no eggplant. Gran was never mad for eggplant, and tomatoes she only liked if they were the big drippy summer ones, not the bloodless things they put in salads here, but how can you keep an Irish girl from her potatoes?
They’re all nightshades, the caseworker says. Cause inflammation. You watch, she’ll be walking again.
I looked up nightshades and something came up saying deadly nightshade, so who knows? Then I fell into a Google hole of tomatoes being love apples and how people thought one bite would kill you, like Snow White, and how strange that they would mix love with poison, but then I thought about Josh and it didn’t seem strange after all.
But I don’t think Gran’s arthritic because she likes potatoes, nightshades or no. She’s 97 years old. She outlived two sons. She’s Gran to everyone, me and Mom and Nana, but she’s my great-grandmother and she’ll have a great-great grandchild soon, if my brother’s girlfriend doesn’t change her mind. Gran lived on her own until her fall, still cooking on her old double oven. Now she’s in this bland, eggshell-colored room, fragile as an egg herself.
We’ve tried to cheer it up with cushy pillows and flowers. There’s an old photo of Gran we keep on the particle-board dresser so the aides know she was a woman to be reckoned with once. It’s my favorite picture of her. She lies in tall grass, her face holding every mystery. Bedroom eyes. She’s looking up at someone. Is it Grandpa? Or her dog, watching over her? A good man is hard to find, but a good dog is everything. The field she’s in is spiky, unmowed, but there she is in a skirt, not a bit itchy or bothered. Her stripes lay flat, as mine never do. She lived in a time when people ironed. My surprise when I opened the fridge to find her skirt in it, damp and smelling like pie crust. Skirts were sprinkled. Shirts starched. Nana had given her an iron that did all that, but Gran said gadgets couldn’t make proper pleats. Grandpa was a sharp dresser, she told me once, approvingly. As if that was all I needed to know about him. His plane was lost in the war, so that really is all I know. Gran was good in a crisis: two in diapers and a bun in the oven but she carried on as postmistress, air raid warden, all the things that people needed desperately once. Can she remember any of it?
She forgets my name sometimes. Calls me Gertie, one of those names no one has anymore, and I can’t think of any aunt or cousin with that name, so maybe she was a friend. Someone Gran shared secrets with, before she was Gran. Maybe Gertie was a mess of a girl like me, stripes never lying flat, lipstick too red, no better than she ought to be, as they said in the day. Whoever Gertie was, she’s the kind of friend who never forgets the potatoes. When I visit, Gran’s already reaching for the insulated bag.
“Mash. Extra butter and cream.”
“Ah, you’re a good egg, Gert.”
And if that caseworker gives me the stink eye, I just stare right back in her face. There’s a certain point at which people shouldn’t have anything else taken away from them. When Josh blocked my number I cried and Gran said, Don’t be an idiot, girl: I’ve lost more than you ever will.
Kathryn Kulpa is a flash fiction editor at Cleaver magazine. She was a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her flash collection Girls on Film. Her work is published or forthcoming in Pidgeonholes, Smokelong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, and Milk Candy Review.