Always In My Heart

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Gold
Kit Tunstall


“Is that girl from down the street going to water my plants too?”

“Yes, Gram.”

“Did you tell her that my ficus needs special attention?”

Tara sighed as she checked the restraint of her grandmother’s seatbelt. “Yes, Gram.”

“Mitzi needs her pills.” Anxiety laced her watery blue eyes; once as bright as Tara’s, but now dimmed by age. “The vet said…”

“The yellow pills in the morning, and the blue one at night.” Tara shook her head, briefly wondering if her dark brown locks would fade to the same shade of yellowed white as Gram’s. She patted Dorothy’s hand. “Susie knows what to do.”

“But…”

“Don’t worry, Gram. We’ll be back on Friday.” Tara squirmed at the lie, but Uncle David had been adamant that she not tell Gram why she was really going to Utah.

Dorothy’s wrinkled face was still pinched with worry, but she subsided into silence. Tara was able to leave the suburb behind and merge into Denver’s busy traffic before her grandmother spoke again.

“I feel sick.”

With a sigh, Tara fished in her large purse for the box of pressure bands. She found it, raking her finger on the sharp cardboard corner. “Dammit.”

“Watch your mouth, Tara. Cursing isn’t ladylike.”

She swallowed back a retort as she pulled out the box. “Put one of these on your wrist.”

“My doctor says…”

“Just do it!”

Dorothy’s lips trembled, causing her dentures to click together. She took the box with a shaky brown-spotted hand, slowly removing one of the bracelets. “What does this do?”

Her voice was so meek it made Tara wince. “I’m sorry I snapped at you, Gram.”

Her grandmother turned her head away without answering.

Giving up, Tara said, “The bands control nausea.”

“Well…” Dorothy frowned down at it, but slipped it on. Then she returned her gaze to the car window.

Tara was guilty to feel relieved by her grandmother’s silence, but she didn’t feel like engaging Gram in conversation. They had nothing in common, and she wished there had been someone else available to drive her to Utah. As usual, the others had refused, so she had shouldered the burden of Gram.

As they ate up the miles, passing from the city into the mountains, Tara turned on the radio and started to sing along in a quiet voice. Once or twice she saw Gram tapping her fingers against her leg, but she didn’t join in.

The farther they got from the city, the fuzzier the radio became. Tara fumbled with the dial, searching for a station. She caught a signal and tried to get it in more clearly.

“You are always in my heart
Even though you’re far away
I can hear the music of–”

Tara wrinkled her nose at the man’s smooth voice, then flipped the dial.

“Wait!”

“Huh?” Tara’s head snapped toward Dorothy at her urgent tone. “What’s wrong?” She frowned when she saw the blissful expression on her grandmother’s face. Was she delirious? Had she forgotten her pills? Could she be having a stroke?

“That was Glenn.”

“Who?”

Dorothy shook her head. “Glenn Miller. He was the greatest.”

“Oh. Do you want me to turn back to that song?” Even as she asked, Tara had tuned in the ’40s station again.

“This was our song.”

“Yours and Grandpa’s?”

“Um hm. The night I met Edwin, this song was on the jukebox.” Dorothy’s eyes were dreamy. “He asked me to dance, and he looked so dashing in his uniform. How could I say no?” She sighed.

“What happened?”

“He had to ship out, so we spent the night together.”

“Gram!” Tara’s mouth dropped open in shock.

A blush tinged Dorothy’s cheeks. “Not in that way. Goodness, no. I lived in San Francisco in those days, so we walked down the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, talking all night.”

“Did he leave you?”

She nodded. “He had to. But before he left, Edwin gave me a ring, and I promised to wait for him.”

“So you got married when he returned?”

“Yes. We played ‘Always In My Heart’ at the wedding.”

“Did you–?”

“Sh. Listen to this part. It’s my favorite.” Dorothy closed her eyes as her lips moved to the words.

“I don’t know exactly when, dear,
But I’m sure we’ll meet again, dear,
And my darling, till we do
You are always in my heart!”

As the last notes faded away, Tara said, “The song is so old.”

“So am I.”

“Did you really wait for Grandpa?”

Dorothy’s eyes flickered away. “It was a lonely time, dear. Everything was so uncertain.”

She blinked, wondering if she was getting Gram’s meaning. “Did you cheat on him?”

“We weren’t married then.” Dorothy’s face was defensive.

“You did. Whoa.” Tara’s eyes were round with disbelief.

“Why are you so surprised? It happens too many times to count.”

“I didn’t think you would do something like that.”

“Why not? I’m human, you know.”

“No, you’re my grandmother.”

Dorthy’s papery skin wrinkled as her mouth formed a smile. “I wasn’t always your grandma, Tara.”

She was reluctant to concede that point. Tara preferred Gram remain in the neat mental compartment she’d created for her–prim, proper, and a pain-in-the-ass with her doctors’ visits, weekly shopping, and Tuesday night bridge games that no one else was willing to ferry her to. “Did you tell Grandpa?”

“Yes. He understood.”

“What else did you do, Gram?”

Dorothy shrugged a bony shoulder encased in a bright polyester floral-print shirt. “That’s enough revelations for today.”

Tara sighed as another song came on. “Do you want to listen to this one too?”

“No, thank you. I never liked that boy’s music.”

She bit back a grin as she flipped the dial, searching in vain for any station to fill the silence in the car. All she found was static, so she reluctantly snapped the dial off, waiting for Gram to start in with her typical complaining.

Instead, Dorothy said, “Tell me the truth, Tara.”

She stiffened, and her hands tightened on the wheel. “About what?”

“Why are we really going to Utah? I don’t believe it’s because David’s daughter had a baby.”

“She did.”

“I’ve never met the girl, so why would she want me to meet her little girl?”

Tara’s mouth grew dry, and she reached for the soda in the cup holder. “Well, she told Uncle David she wanted to get a generational picture.”

“You’re a terrible liar, dear.” Dorothy’s tone was almost bland, but her eyes were sharp.

With a sigh, Tara gave in. “They want you to move out to Utah.”

“Posh. That woman hates me.”

“Aunt Kathy?”

“Yeah. She’s the reason I never met my granddaughter.”

“Don’t you want that to change?”

Dorothy shook her head, causing thin strands of yellowish-white hair to fly up before they settled back into the permed style. “Are they going to put me in a home?”

“I don’t know.” Beads of perspiration dotted her forehead.

“Tara?”

“It’s a nice retirement community.”

“Why? I’m happy in Denver.”

But I’m not happy having you there. I’m tired of running your errands, and holding your hand. She left the words unuttered. “Perhaps Uncle David just wants to have you close.”

Dorothy seemed to pick up on her thoughts anyway. “Did you ask them to deal with me? Are you tired of taking care of me?”

Tara wanted to lie, but somehow the truth slipped out. “Yes. Uncle David needs to do his share.”

“Am I the millstone about your necks, good only to be passed around now?” Her words were bitter, and her eyes shone with unshed tears.

“Gram…” She took a hand off the wheel to reach for her grandmother. Dorothy pulled away. “I can’t do it all alone, and no one else will help me. It’s too much for me right now.”

“It’s that boy, isn’t it?”

“Marcus?” She didn’t mean to sound defensive. “What about him?”

“I know he doesn’t like me.”

She swallowed. “He likes you fine.”

“But he doesn’t want to be encumbered with me, does he?”

Tara shook her head. “I want to marry him. He proposed, but…”

“Not if I’m around?”

Tara glanced at her grandmother, surprised by the acceptance in her voice. “Yeah.”

“I see.”

“I’m sorry, Gram. I really don’t want to do this.”

“Yes, you do. I can see it in your eyes. You’re relieved to be rid of me.”

Tara didn’t bother to refute the statement, knowing she couldn’t. Gram would see through the lie.

“I was a person once. Not this old husk, but a vibrant young thing like you.”

“I’m sure you were.”

Dorothy snorted. “Don’t patronize me. Think what you want, but I know the truth.” She leaned her head back against the headrest. “You’ll get old too.”

“Please don’t be angry.”

“I’m not. I wish things were different, but you have to do what’s right for you and your young man.”

Gram sounded so old–defeated, even. “You’ll probably love the nursing home, er, retirement center.”

“Why didn’t we bring Mitzi?”

She sighed. “They don’t allow pets.” Tara looked at her grandmother in time to see a tear streak down her cheek.

“David couldn’t find me a home that would let me keep my dog?”

Tara shrugged. From the speed of the arrangements, she would guess he’d chosen one at random from the phone book. Probably the cheapest too.

“Will you take her? She’s a good little dog.”

“I can’t. Marcus is allergic.”

“What will happen to her?”

Tara shrugged again, knowing it was one of the myriad problems she must deal with upon her return to Denver. “I’ll find her a good home.” “Don’t destroy her, please. She’s only a few years old. Unlike me, she has her whole life ahead of her.”

“Don’t talk like that. There will be others around your age. Uncle David said they have daily activities, and…”

“What? Keep breathing?” Dorothy shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about this now. I think I’ll sleep.”

“Okay.” Tara let the tense silence grow, unsure what to say to her grandmother. How could she make her feel better about becoming an inconvenience? When had Gram changed from a young girl to the elderly woman in the seat beside her? When had “Always In My Heart” faded to a dusty memory, seldom heard, and forgotten by everyone else? Would Gram fade away as the song had? Tara sighed deeply, wondering if she could keep Gram in her heart, or if she would let her go when she wasn’t part of her life anymore. When she returned to Denver–and Marcus–how would it be? The relief she expected, or sadness at their parting? Was she doing the right thing?

*

Two hours later, Dorothy awoke from her nap. She sat up, blinking. “Where are we?”

“Almost home.”

Her mouth twisted. “Utah will never be my home.”

Tara felt for her hand on the seat, squeezing it in hers. “No, we’re almost back in Denver.”

A hint of hope darkened Dorothy’s eyes. “Did you forget something?”

She nodded.

“What?”

“That we’re family. I called Uncle David, and he knows we aren’t coming.”

“Really?”

“You belong in your own home, Gram.”

Dorothy frowned. “What about Marcus?”

Tara swallowed. “If he can’t accept you’re part of my life then I don’t need him.”

“Brave words, but love is not so easily swayed.”

“I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to do the right thing.”

She sighed. “I hope you won’t regret this, dear.”

Tara gave her a bright smile. Her words were as confident as she felt. “I won’t. Now, why don’t you tell me more about the Dorothy I never met?”

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Kit Tunstall lives in Idaho with her family. She is a full-time freelancer, with publications in several ezines and magazines. She is also poetry editor of Dog-eared. Kit can be reached at kitssubmissions[at]prodigy.net.

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