Had to write a flash-fiction for class. Based off the life of my grandmother, Shirley Harman (1929-2011).
These legs. These legs that were wrapped in stiff cotton diapers and dangled in the air as your mother carried you, one arm pinning your back to her stomach. She carries you like that all the time, even when she's picking beans in the garden, stopping only to put you down when she needs to tend the iron stove, and to cuddle you when you cry. When your sister tugs at her skirt from behind, she swings around with at her hip in a way that says, “You weren't my first baby and you won't be my last.”
These legs that lay shriveled in your wheel chair. Wobble when they hold you up during physical therapy. The physical therapist with the glasses calls you Geneva. Your name is Shirley.
These legs that you used to chase ducks, to skip through the tall grass to the well where you kept your pet turtle. These legs that you used to run away when you found the monkey in the barn that screamed at you, throwing fistfuls of the chicken fed it was eating. Your mother didn't believe you until she saw it herself, the poor lost monkey run away from the circus.
You stood on these legs on your wedding day, covered under layers of white lace. They were shaking then, but still felt strong, as strong as they were on the hay wagon summers lifting the bales from the lower body up.
Standing, they tell you, is a dangerous activity. You must call a nurse if you need anything, to use the bathroom, to get a drink of water, to fetch a picture of your newest great-grand children from across your room at the nursing home. Ava and Luke, both born after you were in the hospital. You only hope you can see live to see them.
These legs that you used to carry cats, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. You have photo albums filled with pictures of this. Pictures of you holding two cats in the same pose as you holding your two oldest daughters. Pictures of you holding your youngest daughter, Carolyn, at the same time as your oldest grandchild, Anthony; they were born just six months apart. Then there's pictures of you bending you knees so Carolyn can hold your hand as she walked, in her shiny Mary Jane's and homemade Easter dress.
These legs that you walked on to feed Barney everyday after Carolyn went off to college, until he passed on eight years ago. These legs that until this summer, you still stood on to pick berries and beans, to cook with the Women's Committee at Mouth Zion Church.
It's not the cancer that's doing this to you, it's the radiation, the cure that made you so weak, too weak to eat, and your muscles lost everything they had. The physical therapist with the glasses calls you by the wrong name again. You don't correct her.