We are all alone in the room until his past life enters. Like a colt fresh out of the womb, it is slick, unsteady, and demands to be heard. Once it arrives, the heartbeat of the air shifts: you are old you are old you are old, it taps across our skin. I comb my fingers through my grandfather’s hair till he growls at my presence. He is no longer a man of patience, but he has not yet become a man of violence. We do not say this to each other, the women in this house, but we know that it is easier to swallow a violent man than it is to digest one play-acting patience. My grandfather is nearly both, but almost neither. This is a knowledge we all nurse to sleep each night.
In the stampede that follows, my grandfather’s past life is eaten alive—bones and books and all. We bite into the still warm body and hide away chunks of a forgotten life in our mouths; they then become the lumps in our throats. We bring them up at odd moments, like cows do cud: the day he can no longer use the bathroom by himself, there is a ready story about his last hilltop vacation on our lips. We are laughing, he is screaming. One does not cancel the other out. Instead, we are all dancing around the knowledge that mere translucency does not imply ghostliness. My grandfather has the warmest chest and the glassiest eyes I have ever known. He is solid. This makes his clear corpse-hood difficult, though not impossible, to accept.
That evening, I remind him—I am your granddaughter, we were once the same flesh. He fiddles with his palms, dissected from corner to corner, and I clutch his hands till our fates intersect. His life line matches mine and I think I am not afraid to forget; this is a lie I have learnt from my mother, and I will pass it on. His wife has forgotten fear; she cooks in a grease pan and watches flesh go sizzle every day. When she disappears under the night sky, she is a widow. Nobody convinces her otherwise.
Love pats us on the shoulder and duty turns to greet it; the face-off is bloody and there is carnage all over the living room set where we assemble in the evenings to stitch a family together. My grandfather has baby-white tufts of memory lodged in his ears, and I watch them pushing their way out as though there is a fire in their homes. When they fall into our laps, a refrain is whispered across the room: is it possible to love someone so much you die with them? He babbles incoherently, but he looks at me like he understands. The dead always do.