Starość nie radość, Helena says. Don't get old. All you get is shitty underwear.
It's true. The underwear is parachute-shaped and the color of a dusty lozenge. It is American underwear, the sad kind from a pack that understands the wearer has given up. The bra is handmade and older than I am, but even its pre-war hardware is falling apart. I guide the straps over her shoulders and pull it closed with some effort, hook it shut with the only hook still attached. I laugh.
See? You wanted to be fat.
I know, she says.
In the pictures my grandmother is skinny bordering on gaunt. Razor jaw, high cheekbones, thin lips. Sinewy. If it were now she could've been a model. But it was then and she was a schoolteacher and there was a war, and besides that the standard of sexy was different. You didn't see anyone salivating after bones. You had to look like you could get through a winter.
The murmur was nothing but the hospital mandated a cardiac diet, though she refuses to eat if she can't eat what she likes. We go to the kitchen one step at a time. I make her sweet coffee and runny eggs like she likes them and she stares at the birds while I stare at the screen.
Every month I make a calendar on butcher paper and nail it to the wall. Every day I stand in front of it for longer than normal in case I'm forgetting an important date, a deadline or someone's birthday. I worry that things will roll off of me because I'm not all the way conscious. Perhaps the paranoia itself a form of consciousness. My mother has never allowed me to nail anything to the wall so I tape four sheets of paper together and stick them there instead.
Since I got here in June I've done this six times.
Every day I write one thing I did in the little square. Something to remind me I inhabited my body that day. If I write, I write down the number of words that I wrote. Sometimes it's seven hundred and sometimes it's seven. The seven are usually harder to come up with. If I read, I write down the number of words that I read. If I weigh myself, I write that down too. I write down 135 and 133 and 137 and wonder which are the parts of me that keep expanding and contracting to make all those numbers possible in one day.
I write down the crazy things too.
For example: last week I almost bought a goddamn candle for $7. They have all these candles that are for different things, any area of your life that needs help, Motivation Creativity Sex. There's even one that says Manifest A Miracle. Is that the emergency button for candles? I think about that but decide it should probably be reserved for the terminally ill, children with cancer and people going bankrupt. Anyway.
Every time I go shopping I stalk the Money candle. It's green and smells good. Like citrus and clove. Like things that are supposed to get you energetic about making money. I place it in my basket every time, then take it out. I do this about once or twice, wanting to ask the universe for a book deal, or another job, but then there's the reality of spending $7 on a fucking candle.
I walk away, itself a form of asking.
Helena is in the living room, the blue TV glow illuminating her face. The soap operas run several times on repeat because she forgets that she watched them. The stack of cards is in front of her on the table, dirty with curling edges. She reaches for them every now and again, picks up one or two before dropping her hand back into the folds of her sweater. The show goes to commercial and she picks up the stack. In the glow her veins are violet.