The sun is always setting these days. Dolores feels as if she is perched on a precipice in her rocking chair, the world below staggering in and out of view, all of it awash in a brilliant red. The date is lost to her, as is the time, and she grasps for any indication that the world is still turning.

Hermione comes in at irregular intervals. The little girl has grown tall and slender and has shaved her hair off. Dolores longs to run her fingers over the fuzz that reminds her of Rick. How long has it been since she saw her husband? He hasn’t come to visit her since she moved here. She’ll have to call him at the office, although that always makes him angry. She wonders if there’s anything fun they can do today.

“Would you like to go to the market today? It’s always so nice in August.” Her voice is weathered from a life of such questions and raw from recent disuse.

Hermione doesn’t miss a beat. “It’s March and I’m sorry, Nana. We’re still not allowed to leave the house. The delivery service’ll bring rations around tomorrow.”

Hermione doesn’t smile, but she does bend down so Dolores can touch the fuzz across her scalp, waiting for several breaths while gnarled knuckles rub back and forth and finally run in a trembling line down her cheek. She looks like her mother, and Dolores clears her throat – it is always full of phlegm these days – and says as much.

Hermione puts a mug of steaming tea on the side table. It clunks with the force of the movement. She picks up the remote beside the little flatscreen and opens a streaming service, choosing a documentary about the Arctic. A fleet of penguins propel themselves freely down an ice-encrusted ledge under a blue sky. Dolores’ eyes swing to the window, where a translucent curtain beams red light around the room.

“Can you open the window, dear?”

“Georgia will bring dinner up when it’s ready. Ring your bell if you need anything.” Hermione’s voice is also thick, and Dolores catches her face in the hall mirror as she wraps her arms around herself and scurries from the room, but the old woman can’t grasp what upset her.


Dolores doesn’t know how to work the remote for the TV. She’s been trying for a while now. Every movement is jerky and deliberate, and every button is the wrong one. She snarls when the streaming service disappears entirely but brightens as a face flickers into view under a bar that simply reads “The News” and puts the date as November 3rd.

It’s clear that the man is a politician, from his glistening white skin to the suit that rests uncreased on his thick form. He’s wearing glasses and a mask, and Dolores can’t stand it. They’re all liars! How can she know if he’s telling the truth if she can’t read it on his face? She’s an excellent people reader; she always knew when Rick was cheating, when her children were lying, but now she can’t see anything on his face! His words are nothing more than a buzzing under the heat of her rage as the camera shifts its focus. Everyone has their face covered! Every last one of them!

A broken wail rings in her ears and the door flies open, smashing into the dresser and sending a picture frame to the floor. She turns to see Lucy and a stranger looking at her with alarm but can’t hear them over the racket. Lucy grabs her and Dolores smacks at her with the remote, leaving a mark that will undoubtedly form an impressive bruise.

The girls wrestle her into bed and hold her until she runs out of steam. Lucy takes her hand and rubs circles into it until the noise quiets down. The other girl retreats to the door and looks at her with wide eyes. She’s shivering so violently that Dolores can see it from across the room.

“It’s OK, Nana,” Lucy soothes in her rich voice. The pieces are all there, scattered about like a half-finished puzzle, but they won’t line up. Lucy always calls her Mom.

“It’s Mom,” Dolores says, but as she leans away, she notices abnormalities in her daughter’s features. Rick’s nose is there, sharp and regal, almost too dominating on a woman. She has Dolores’ fine chin, the round cheeks of her mother. But her eyes are an unfamiliar grey. The noise rises again, and arms encircle her and hold her close, and she can’t tell if this is unwanted entrapment or an attempt at comfort. “Who are you? Where am I? I want to go.”

“Don’t we all,” Not-Lucy says, and rocks her until she falls asleep.


Clarity comes at the strangest of moments. One minute, Dolores is lost in a current of memories, the next she is sitting in a rocking chair in front of a TV. She notices things that just a moment before were too hazy to grasp. She’s in the spare bedroom at Lucy’s house, on the second floor overlooking the street. There are cobwebs gathered in the corners of the room, and it’s painted a trendy shade of grey that makes it feel like she’s in a tomb.

She’s surrounded by her things, evidence that she lives here, and she remembers moving in back in March. Lucy was always playing the piano, just as Dolores did in her own home, but the halls are quiet. There’s a picture of Lucy on the mantle, a spiderweb of cracks marring her smile. Of course the house is quiet; Lucy is with the Lord. Remembering is like losing her all over again, and Dolores hunches in on herself, waiting for the turmoil to become manageable.

It takes a gathering of strength to pull herself out of the chair, and her muscles scream at her as she walks on creaking legs to the window. She rips the curtain down. The rod clatters to the ground as the material slips through her fingers and pools like blood on the floor. She’s sick of sunsets.

Outside, the street is totally dead. Snow crusts the ground in dirty chunks, just like it did when she moved in. Perhaps it has simply been a few long days since her granddaughters packed up her worldly possessions and helped her move in here. She racks her brain for an elusive timeline, knowing ‘a few days’ doesn’t sound right.

There is a church across the street. It’s the one that they go to every Sunday. It looks hollow. The dark windows are dead and empty. It is the carcass of a sacred place. The only movement on the street is a brittle leaf that blows across the road and gets stuck on a curb where it struggles for freedom. She stares, arrested by the sign above it.


Georgia pads in bare feet toward her, but she’s focused on the sign.

Worship Independently


Wash Your Hands

“How long have I been here?” She asks, leaning into the woman who comes to stand beside her. Georgia is quiet, and when Dolores looks at her, she sees that her granddaughter has matured. Time has stolen the fullness from her face, like it hooked its fingers into her chin and tugged until she became long and thin. The light catches a grey hair that’s come loose from her messy bun.

“It’s March again, so about a year and half,” Georgia says, weighing her words carefully. She watches Dolores distrustfully, the way a person watches a wild animal caught in a trap.

The last years of her life will slip by like this, a current of uncertainty with brief moments of clarity. She wonders how many chances like this she has left. She draws Georgia to the bed and lets her talk about her job teaching from home, about Hermione and her struggle to establish herself as a librarian without a physical library to work at. The world has shifted to the Matrix, and Dolores doesn’t have the mind to cross that threshold.

“I hope I’ve been an exemplary guest, at least.”

“Oh Nana, don’t you know you’re the best?”

They share a smile. She’s used this moment to its fullest potential. A thought occurs to her, and she voices her complaint.

“I hate the curtains.”

“I’ll order some new ones.”

Her eyes are heavy, and she squeezes Georgia’s hand before sleep claims her, words of love reaching her ears long after the current sweeps her away.

March 06, 2021 20:55

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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