“There was a blanket?” I asked. “A light purple afghan? She kept it on the back of the couch, I think.”
“We had to get rid of that old thing months ago,” the nurse said, shaking her head. “We threw it out. It smelled to high heaven!”
Rage rose like bile in my mouth, but I swallowed its bitterness and returned to packing my grandmother’s things into the boxes I’d swiped from work. The nurse, apparently reading some of the anger on my face, continued defensively, “We tried to wash it but that just made it worse. It’s not like we’re in the habit of tossing out our clients’ belongings for the fun of it.”
I clenched my jaw and set aside a stack of large-print mysteries to return to the communal reading room. Arguing with this underpaid, overworked woman wouldn’t bring Granny’s afghan back from the trash bin.
“Besides,” the nurse defended herself once again, “she said we could.”
That was one lie too many for me to tolerate. I’d had too much stress, too little sleep, and carried too heavy a burden of grief to hold my tongue any longer. “That’s a damned lie!” I said, loud enough to make the nurse take a step back. I stuffed a handful of Granny’s sweaters into a black plastic garbage bag and turned to face the woman. “There is nothing short of a command from God himself that would have moved Edna P. Walker to part with that blanket.
“It was crocheted by her aunt Bernice and gifted to her on the day she was christened. She carried that blanket with her everywhere as a child and made it a part of every major life event she experienced as an adult. That blanket held her children and grandchildren as they were born. It comforted members of our family after illness, injury, and heartbreak.
“I always knew when it was time to have a serious talk with Granny because she’d have tea and cookies on the table and that blanket on her lap. She once used it to cradle the head of a stranger, a man who had been in a terrible car accident in front of her house while they waited for the ambulance.”
My voice cracked and the tears—the ones I’d denied myself since that four a.m. phone call for fear of never being able to stop—finally fell. I sat on the edge of the bed where my grandmother had died not two days earlier and let the pain wash over me. The nurse, obviously no stranger to grief in its many forms, patted my shoulder and placed a box of tissues on the small table at my elbow.
“There, there,” she whispered. “Just let it all out.”
After several minutes, my sobs subsided. I mopped at my face with a handful of wadded tissue and sighed. “I’m sorry,” I said to the nurse. “I shouldn’t have shouted at you. It’s not your fault.” I blew my nose and took a deep, hitching breath. “I should have been here with her. To protect what was important to her. To hold her hand at the end.”
“Oh, honey,” the nurse said, “she wouldn’t have wanted you fussing over her.” She laughed gently. “You know how fiercely independent your Granny was. We’re convinced she waited until shift change to let go just so she could do it in peace without anyone hovering.”
I lifted a framed photograph from the side table: Granny and Gramps on their wedding day. They smiled at me from the sepia-toned image, young and vital in a way I’d never had the privilege of knowing them. I put the picture down again and grabbed another garbage bag.
“Can you hand me the clothes in her dresser?” I asked the nurse. “I’m going to donate them to Granny’s church group. She’d like that, I think.”
“I think you’re right,” the nurse replied, pulling open a drawer. She stopped and put a hand to her mouth. “Praise the Lord,” she said.
“What?” I peered past the nurse and into the drawer she’d just opened. There, folded neatly, nestled next to a stack of pastel-colored slacks, was a frayed, stained afghan, crocheted of lavender yarn. I lifted it carefully, hugging it close, as tears began to fall again.
*7/23/17 prompt: light purple, grandma, old couch