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  • The Fishing Story
  • Beth Richards (bio)

My great-grandmother, I am told, raked her sandy, flat, northwest Florida yard every day, clearing it of blown-in oak leaves, twigs, moss, dogs, children and, particularly, anything that looked like grass. Blackberry eyes snapping under the shade of her bonnet, she'd tell anyone who'd listen that only trashy people grow grass in their yards. The only plant life she allowed anywhere near her house was a slender tea-rose bush, about ten feet from the corner of the wide front porch. Even in the lightest breeze, it scattered hundreds of tiny, unrakeable pink blossoms as far as the eye could see.

The rose bush is still alive, still pink, more than 100 years after she planted it. The fence is gone, the corn and soybean fields converted to rows of slash pine that feed the Panhandle's insatiable paper mills. The two-story barn has been torn down, no longer needed to house the solemn, hump-shouldered cows, sold long ago. But the old tin-roof house still stands, its timbers dry as matchsticks and weathered a soft, dove gray. And the trashy grass spreads tenacious fingers from the edge of the road all the way under the sagging porch.

No one lives in great-grandma's place now, but 30 yards away sits the compact house belonging to her oldest daughter, my grandmother. Bounded by fig trees and a tangled grape arbor, the house sits on a rise of land so gentle that no one knows it's a hill until my grandmother points it out. "It's called Rattlesnake Hill," she'll say, clearly enjoying visitors' nervous, involuntary glances at the encroaching grass and weeds at their feet.

My grandmother and I like to roam the expanse between the houses and catalogue the current state of moss encroaching on the trees, the piercing blue of summer sky, the number and otherwordly shape of new fire-ant beds, the strength of the sun and blanketing weight of humid air. But our [End Page 1] favorite time on the hill has always been evening and full moon, when we sit quietly in the deep shadow of the screened porch and watch the armadillos trundle across the yard. They grunt softly as they dig next to the flowers in their relentless search for grubs. Later in the night, if I raise my bedroom window, there's the incessant hum of countless insects, creaking of tree limbs as the breeze rises and subsides, the patter of small, wild feet.

And on this visit, there is a new sound: a small, square baby monitor. The one in my room perches on the end of the ironing board that someone has set crookedly against the wall. The monitor's mate resides on the oak table next to my grandmother's bed.

For months now, the family has tried to offset the effects of her failing memory: stacking the freezer with heat-'n-eat meals, carefully counting her pills into the pill sorter's brightly labeled compartments. Those who live near her house create reasons to "drop by," pick up the mail, and take her to her favorite lunch buffet. Those farther away call morning and evening. My aunts hire a housekeeper to come in three times a week and fix lunch. While there, she convinces my grandmother to change spattered clothes worn since the housekeeper's last visit. No one can convince her to take a shower.

The plan worked, more or less, until a few weeks ago, when she forgot to use her walking cane, took a false step, and fell. "Cracked hip, not broken," we tell everyone, relieved. When she's released from the hospital, we pack her and the walker and the instructions and the doctor's answering service number. We drive her home, carefully settle her in bed, look at one another and say, "Now what?"

The monitor hacks out an ambiguous code of buzzes and squawks.

My grandmother remembers who we are, mostly. But not what day it is or what happened yesterday or even 15 or 5 or 2 minutes ago. Last time I visited, we drove the...


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