The following short story appears in our Spring/Summer 2019 issue. Purchase this issue in digital format to read the rest of Jeremy’s story plus the other poems, stories, essays and interviews that were featured in this issue.
On a normal night, I sit in Nelly’s room bored out of my mind, trying with all get out not to say “whoa, Nelly!” since it sounds so ridiculous and Nelly ain’t no horse. Somewhere behind all those wrinkles and that gray mop of hair, she’s a woman. It’s real hard though, not to say “whoa, Nelly,” since every once in a while instead of just twisting the washrag she carries around with her everywhere, she pops it into her mouth and starts chewing on it even though she ain’t got but half a dozen teeth. Most days, she wouldn’t have a clue even if I did let her swallow it whole, because she’s an ol’timer and has the disease. Today, though. Today ain’t most days. Today’s special.
I guess I should probably fill you in a little on Nelly. “Bring you up to speed,” like my pa always says. “Slow down, Pen,” he says if I run home after school and start telling him Andrew got a detention. “Bring me up to speed,” and I have to back up and tell him Andrew got caught during recess kissing some girl behind the tetherball pole and the teacher sent him to the office where he told the principal a thing or two, and, well, that’s when he got a detention. (That’s my brother for you.)
So let me bring you up to speed on Nelly. I been sitting with Nelly like this—two hours between dinner and bedtime—for the better part of a year because my pa gives me fifty cents an hour to babysit (as he calls it), babysit while the two on-staff nurses get their dinner break, though Nelly sure as heck ain’t no baby. She’s about 106 years old from what I figure, though no one has her records so I can’t really be sure. “Not even her birth certificate?” I asked the nurses one time. Nope. “Not a baby picture, even?” I asked my pa. Nothing. How can someone not even have a baby picture? My pa keeps a box with our baby pictures right in his closet under his Sunday shoes and I know because I’ve snooped. But Nelly don’t have a birth certificate or a baby picture or nothing. Fact is, Nelly doesn’t have a past because she’s the only one who knows it and she’s too crumpled up to remember. So sometimes I just come up with a backstory for her. That’s how I put her at 106. Born and raised about 1850 on an island somewhere. I just haven’t decided which one yet. She was a basket weaver from back in the day when baskets were still made by hand and not from machines. That’s why she loves twisting that washrag. Someday I might bring her some willow branches and have her make me a cornucopia (that’s a word I learned in school last Thanksgiving). Yep, as long as she doesn’t try eating the willow branches, I’ll have her weave me up a huge cornucopia that I can fill with all sorts of things.
JEREMY SCHNOTALA has an MFA in fiction from WMU. He lives with his husband in Grand Rapids, MI where he teaches English, creative writing, and theater. In 2018 he won Saints and Sinners Literary contest and The Tishman Review’s Tillie Olsen Short Story Award. Recently, his story “An Altar of Skins” was nominated for The Pushcart. Other work available in Chagrin River, SHANTIH Journal, New Ohio Review, and New Rivers Press. More information at schnotala.com.
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