The Structure of Bubbles

After a lifetime of smoking Virginia Slims, my grandmother was dying of lung cancer in the oncology ward of Milwaukee’s Aurora Sinai. It was the Fourth of July. My Aunt Patty and I were sitting in the hospital cafeteria sharing a lukewarm plate of Salisbury steak and waxed green beans.

We were supposed to contact the priest to deliver last rites as soon as we finished eating dinner. I can’t say I loved Grammy Livy, but I can say I felt sad. I drank a little carton of milk as if I were in elementary school, and my aunt drank a little airline bottle of Maker’s Mark whiskey as if it were normal.

“Don’t tell your mother,” Aunt Patty winked, blotting her lipstick with a paper napkin. I noticed that her hands were trembling. Of the two of them, my mother was the more accomplished at handling death, having already buried my older brother. And as everyone knows, losing a parent is a piece of cake compared to losing a child. Right then, my mother was upstairs on the fourth floor, attending my grandmother. That’s just who my mother was—a caretaker.

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