My grandmother moved in with us when I was seven. Broke, she’d come back to Detroit from Arizona on a train. A Mayflower moving truck arrived the next week with a yellow box twice my size that contained her life like one of the Reader’s Digest condensed books she read. She pulled out some clothes for her dresser in the room she’d share with my sister, then the box sat for years like an upright double-wide coffin in the corner of the basement. My father put it on bricks to save from the occasional flooding. We used to climb in the box that smelled old like my grandmother, to hide in or to dream of going somewhere far. We never went anywhere that was not in the palm of Michigan’s hand. All we knew of Arizona was the petrified wood she handed us in tiny beds of cotton as gifts when she arrived. We saw cactuses only in cartoons. She never talked about what happened out there housekeeping in a convent. My grandfather died before I was born. She’d gone out west with a lady friend, then came back alone and lived the rest of her life in my sister’s room in a space curtained off that was as big as that box laid flat. She died when I was twenty-one years old, and I got drunk in that basement at her wake. When my mother had had my dog put down one day while I was at school, I barely shrugged, then headed off to my job at the party store, then after work to dry-hump my girlfriend in a way that was remarkably similar to my dog humping my leg during his glory years. My sister cried as hard as she cried when Elvis died, which was remarkably hard. I wonder now about my grandmother’s friend Hilda and what broke down out in the desert. If grandma kept any pictures, they weren’t in that box. She collected rosaries and kept a heating pad on her back every night and sat on her bad watching a tiny portable TV with an ear jack so she could crank up the volume without disturbing my sister—the last of the five kids, the only girl. We called her Little Grandma as she got littler, her brittle bones hunching her into nothing. To have a long life reduced to one Mayflower Moving box. Whenever I see one of their trucks, I fold into myself in shame for leaving her in that lonely box all those years, making fun of her farts, just like the dog’s. Old, and I’m one of them now. Put down. Put to sleep. Take me home, she said, and we didn’t know where to take her. You know the rest. How one day the water rose too high and ruined everything.
Jim Daniels‘ recent books include Rowing Inland and Street Calligraphy. His forthcoming books include his next collection of short fiction, The Perp Walk, and his coedited anthology, R E S P E C T: The Poetry of Detroit Music, both to be published in 2019 by Michigan State University Press.