INTERNAL-eyes: an essay
by Brent Fisk
Four Hour Visit, Eight Hour Drive
I hate to see my grandparents though I love them very much. They are at that nub end of life,
the flame burning too close to my fingers. Last visit, my grandmother asked after my other dead grandparents even though
she’d attended their funerals. Are they more alive to her now than ever?
The new assisted-living facility is brightly lit and beige, plopped neatly in the middle of a
cornfield. Out the window we watch mechanics tear at the engines of farm combines in a mammoth industrial garage. Every
so often a shadowy bird darts across the sky.
Maybe it’s the drowsy silence that creeps me out, the way older people steep in it as if
it were steam from a sauna. After each visit I’m acutely aware of my bones and tendons, even the skin of my face.
I feel a spell of writing coming near the surface, note each detail of the dullness for later use. In winter the wind makes
a great effort to find its way into the building, howling through the cracks of a door, slapping at the vinyl blinds. Cotton,
gauze and antiseptic, the clock on the wall with its barely audible ticks— something’s unnerving about the steady
sweep of time.
Old nurses come and go, doling out pills, checking heart rates and blood pressure, chatting
it up with my mother. Every shared acquaintance has passed away or separated from spouses they once said they loved. Grandmother
nods awake mid-sentence, asks how’s so and so, but I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of them. Grandfather
tries to rise, an urgent need to pee. My brother and I gather up his tubes and wires, each grasping one stick of an arm.
The thinnest threshold slows my grandfather down. In the small bathroom we maneuver him the best we can, help him with his
pants. Someone has stolen his backside, left only a wrinkled sack. So strange to see the wreck of the man, listen to the
rattle-trap breathing, smell the close, sour residue of the indifferent sponge bath.
When lucid he’s one long complaint, his wispy wild hair raging in the static air. The
light outside is winter-bleary. On his shirt sleeve a smear of stewed carrots and spittle. How could anyone not be unsettled
by the complete lack of grace, how the faces set in vague gray ways. There are days I love them so much I wish them dead.
The door sucks tight when we leave, my brother and mother out ahead in the twilight, each with
the spark of a cigarette. We pass the dead motel at town’s edge, its grassy parking lot, its doors with the ghosts
of old room numbers, its vacant lobby dark as the winter sky. I think of checkout times, bland breakfasts, the bridge at
New Harmony that slowly falls into the river. No place in the world I’d rather be than gone from here. We slip through
the fallow fields past the idle oil wells near Elgin, the windshield wipers and strips of blown tires fuzz at the edge of
our high beams. I have seen too clearly this visit, so pass quietly through the night that rises up like a storm-churned
river. Thousands of blackbirds leaf the bare trees. Not a single word passes between us until the pocket change rattles
home in the toll basket and we are free again of Illinois.