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Be Neater

Samantha Curreli 


                 Grammy left the house to die. Her multiple myeloma ran rampant through her blood; the doctors had warned us that it would only be a matter of time but I’d refused to believe it. I got home from my first date just in time to see the ambulance barrel up our narrow street, lights flashing for all to see. The neighbors were huddled in close-knit groups, murmuring about the stretcher, how pale she looked, how thin and frail she was under the obligatory white sheet they throw on patients—as if that would keep anyone warm or comfortable.

               I jumped out of the van and shouted at the ambulance as it hauled my grandmother away. My mom rushed from our already running car and ushered me into the back, while my dad bounded down the front porch steps and hopped into the driver’s seat, throwing the car in reverse. Mom spoke in a rush, explaining to me what had happened after I’d left as we back out of the driveway.

              “She got up to go to the bathroom and she fell. Her legs gave out—she thought she could make it to the bathroom without her walker. She said she heard a crack,” Mom’s voice gave out on the last word, but the rest of the details fell on deaf ears as she continued rambling about what’d happened. All I could concentrate on was my conversation with Grammy just before leaving.


              She’d been lying in her bed, her eyes drooping with sleep, but she fought a nap to see me off. I’d just downed a glass of milk and sat beside her bed, holding her hand. She smiled and squeezed mine, then reached over for a tissue and handed it to me.


              “You should be neater, Sarah,” she’d said, gesturing to my upper lip. I grinned and wiped my milk mustache away, then tossed the crumpled tissue into the waste basket.


             “Score!” I raised my hands, imitating a referee. Grammy laughed, but a wave of coughs overtook her and I dashed to the kitchen for a glass of water. Careful not to spill, I handed it to her, biting my lip. She gave me a gracious smile, unable to speak yet. The doorbell rang and my stomach knotted. I bent, kissed my grandma on her bald head and whispered, “I love you,” blinking back threatening tears.


            My mom slammed her door with such force, the car shook. Dad turned and looked at me, worried. He reached in his pocket and handed me a crumpled tissue, promising me it was clean—I didn’t care. As I began dabbing my eyes, my mom pulled my door open. I slid out of the car and fixed my red and black pleated skirt, sniffling.


            The three of us made our way through the parking garage and across the street to the hospital. My combat boots thudded against the uneven cement walkway, the rubber heels drowning in my heavy heartbeats. My mom led us straight to where my grandma had been taken—as the primary caretaker, she’d grown to know the hospital like the back of her hand.


            First, Mom went in to make sure it was safe for me to enter the small room. I could hear the beeps and toots of the various machines surrounding us. I held my breath and leaned against the wall, waiting for the okay. Dad looked at me and brushed my cheek with his rough hands. I smiled up at him, trying to hide my annoyance before glancing back to the door.


            “So,” he began, taking a deep breath. “How’d the date go?”


            “I don’t want to talk about it. Grammy would want to hear about it first. She said so yesterday.” My voice cracked at the end of the sentence and I held my hand out for another tissue. Instead, he took my hand and squeezed it gently, just as Grammy had a few hours before. I let him hold my hand and returned the squeeze, a fresh stream of hot tears crawling down my flushed cheeks. I looked around the emergency room and sucked in a shaky breath. The walls seemed as though they were bleached each night and the fluorescent bulbs’ glow bounced off the paint, resembling “the light” leading to heaven. But the moans echoing down the hallway, monitors’ incessant beeping, and the stench of rubbing alcohol reminded me that it was all a façade—a hell on earth.


            I looked down one hall and saw walls lined with hospital beds—most were empty, but a few were occupied with grey, exhausted faces. I glanced in the opposite direction and focused on a little girl who was being pushed around in a wheelchair by an older girl I’d presumed was her sister. They were laughing, but the girl pushing the wheelchair had red rings around her eyes and her brows were knit. She looked up at me and gave me a sad smile, then turned her attention to an approaching doctor in a pristine, white coat and mint green scrubs. Before I could see anymore, Mom stepped out of the room and beckoned us inside.


            The room was cramped, mostly taken up by the hospital bed, wheelchair, and machines. I took my time to look around the room, mostly because I was too afraid to see what my Grammy had been reduced to since I’d left for my date. Finally, I turned to look at her. She lay stiffly under the starch white sheets with a grimace painted across her face. When she saw me, she shifted, and let out a soft groan. I watched as the frail woman lay in the hospital bed, diminished to skin and bones. This was not my Grammy. A decade earlier, my Grammy had been full of life; her contagious laughter would bubble from her pink lips. But at that moment in the hospital, there was no joy in her face, or light in her eyes. Instead, her pallor reflected the toll her cancer had taken.


            With her skinny, bald head and long, skeletal hands, she looked like Nosferatu. I sniffled as I stepped closer and sat on the side of her bed. Mom began to protest, but Dad shushed her before leaving to get coffee. I stroked the veiny hand ever so gently and sniffled again. Her small eyes rolled over to look at me. The corners of her mouth turned upwards and she let out a small chuckle, making me smile with her. She weakly pulled my hand closer to her and kissed it.


            “How was the date?” Her voice was brittle like dead grass in August. She coughed once.


            “It was pretty good, Grammy. But I wish I’d stayed home with you.”


            “Shush, no. You’ve got to have a life, Sarah. Don’t let me get in the way.” She took a deep breath from her oxygen mask. I listened to the heart monitor on the other side of her bed; Grammy closed her eyes.


            I sat back and watched her sleep, trying to block out the various mechanical noises in the room. My mom had stepped into the hall for a moment and I tried coming up with a fun story to tell the sleeping woman, but nothing came to me. All I could do was hold her limp hand and brush her skin gently with my thumb.


            “I’m getting some water. Do you want anything,” my dad asked. I looked up and he was already by the doorway, itching to get out of the room. I nodded.


            “Could you get me another coffee?” My mom’s voice was strained.


            “Of course,” Dad said. And he was gone. Another half an hour passed. Dad returned with our drinks, but left again to get some air just before Mom excused herself to go to the lady’s room. I watched the doorway, nervous about being left alone with Grammy—I listened to the monitor, my palms sweating. The beeps slowed to a crawl.


The heart monitor gave off a high-pitched whine. I looked up to see the green line run flat across the black screen. I cried out for help just as Mom returned. Her eyes widened. She stood frozen for a moment before running out to get the doctor. I stood and patted Grammy’s sunken cheek, trying to wake her. I begged her to wake up as I blindly searched for her hand again, my bracelet charms tangling in the wires and cords she’d been hooked up to. I studied her chest to see if she was breathing, but her whole body was still. Her hand was cold.


            Footsteps hammered down the hallway. I gripped her hand even tighter.


“No—please!” I cried, sliding to my knees beside her. “Please don’t let her die! Please don’t take her away from me yet,” I wailed, pulling her already cool hand closer to my face. My head pounded as I prayed for her to come back.


Just as Mom rushed into the room, Grammy squeezed my hand and the monitor picked up a steady pulse, the flat green line creating jagged peaks again. I looked up at Mom, who was joined by a balding nurse, his eyes wide. I looked back down at Grammy, who was staring back at me. I could feel the color drain from my face as she winked at me.




            The doctors said it was a glitch in the equipment. But to be sure, they examined her thoroughly—“just to be sure,” as a nurse had said.  But that night, I lay cocooned in my black comforter, wondering if Grammy had really died. She was dead. She died—I think. She was talking to me and then she fell asleep. The monitor went off. Her hand got cold. I could have sworn she stopped breathing. The heart monitor couldn’t have done that, too.


That night, I dreamt about Nosferatu, peering out of his coffin. I could hear the creaks and groans of the old hinges as he pushed it open. I saw him step out, his body shrouded by his cape—but instead of dress shoes, he wore my grandmother’s suede slippers. I woke to the scent of bacon wafting up the steps and into my room. My stomach grumbled.


            I crept down my winding attic stairs, my bare toes scrunching in the blue carpet. Once at the door connecting my bedroom steps to Grammy’s room, I paused, placing a hand on the cold wood. I sucked in a deep breath and pushed the door open, only to see the empty bed waiting for her return. I stepped down onto the hardwood floor and rushed through her room, her absence pulling at my nerves.


Walking into the dining room, I paused, wondering if Grammy had actually woken up, or if her waking was just a cruel dream. But when I entered the kitchen, my doubt vanished. Mom was laughing at Dad as he danced around the kitchen with a hot pan sizzling with grease and a couple of slices of bacon. I smiled and sat beside Mom at the counter, watching Dad put on a show.


            “Hey, Sarah,” he said, grabbing a pair of tongs and flipping the bacon. “You want me to make you some eggs and bacon? It’s the breakfast of champions, you know.”


            “Oh, I’m sure all of the Olympians chow down on some hearty bacon each morning.” I snorted. The morning flew, accompanied by teasing and playful banter between the three of us as we prepared to venture back to the hospital. Once back there, we were directed to another wing, away from the emergency room.


I pushed my way in front of my parents, but my mom caught me by my dangling red suspenders and made Dad and me stay in the hall. A few minutes later, Mom finally walked out and leaned against the doorway, her arms folded across her stomach.


“You guys can come in, but she’s asleep, so you’ll have to be very quiet,” she said, making sure to make eye contact with only me.


“But how does she look?” I leaned away from the wall to try to get a peek into the room, but her bed was out of view.


“She’s a completely different woman,” Mom pushed a clump of hair behind her ear and smiled. “She’s got more color to her cheeks and she’s breathing much better.”


“Good,” Dad said and put his hands on each of my shoulders. “Let’s go in just to see.”


“Yeah!” I whispered and headed inside after Mom.


Her new room was far nicer than the box we’d been in the previous night. Instead of four simple walls and a small cut out for a door, the new room housed four chairs and a large window, blanketed by two heavy, green curtains. The walls, although the same shade of bleach white, were less harsh with the lights dimmed. I walked to the far side of the room and took a seat beside Grammy’s bed, watching her sleep. Every few minutes, I would peek at her chest rising and falling underneath the thin white sheet just to be sure that she was still alive.


“You think she’ll be able to come home,” I whispered, leaning against Dad. I looked up at him and he shrugged, then pulled at one corner of his graying mustache.


“I don’t know,” he said. “She’s got a long way to go, Sar.” Dad smiled softly and ruffled my hair.


            The weekend passed and the school week dragged, bringing a heavy load of homework—half of which I’d neglected so I could visit Grammy each night. As soon as Mom came home from work, we would leave for the hospital. Dad stayed back to make dinner and by the time we made it to the hospital, Grammy would be awake watching the evening news. She was still too weak to sit up properly, but she tried her best to keep up with our stories and what life was like on the outside. The doctors called her their “little miracle.” They explained that they’d never seen anything like what had happened with Grammy. So each day, they continued to closely monitor her, conducting tests and blood transfusions.


Weeks flew and Grammy slowly gained enough strength to sit up—and within two months, she was walking again with the help of a walker. Mom said it was a gift from God. I said it was magic. A week before Christmas, Grammy was released from the hospital, her multiple myeloma at bay. It was the best Christmas present I’ve ever received.


            I ran home that afternoon. By the time I made it to the front porch, my black jeans stuck to my legs, soaked from fat snowflakes. I rubbed under my eyes and saw that my black eyeliner smudged, but I didn’t care. I swung the front door open, startling my mom, who was seated in the large green La-Z-Boy chair, reading in front of a fire in the fireplace.


            “Shh.” She pressed a long finger to her lips. “She’s asleep. It was a rough day for her.”


            Pouting, I sat across from Mom on the green couch, which was slowly falling apart, thanks to the years of wear and tear—and the cats’ persistent clawing around the edges. She returned to her book and I pulled out my writing notebook, shirking my math homework for yet another night—numbers could wait.


            That night as I was passing through Grammy’s room to get to bed, she stirred and called me over. I sat in the chair beside her bed and she took my hand. We chatted about how boring middle school is and how we would watch the newest Twilight movie together once it came out on DVD—years earlier, we’d decided that going to the theater was overrated. And “sparkling vampires weren’t exactly worth the eleven bucks for one viewing,” was how she’d put it. I snorted at the memory and she laughed, her voice booming. This time, she didn’t end in a fit of coughs.


            My bladder woke me up in the middle of the night and I slipped out of bed and slinked down the steps, my feet as light as could be. Careful not to wake Grammy, I slowly opened the door and peeked out. But she was sitting up, looking out the window beside her bed. She turned to face me when she saw the door open completely and smiled. I waved and tiptoed through to the bathroom. When I returned, she waved again and I smiled sleepily, closing the door behind me.

            We fell into the habit of chatting before going to bed—most of the time Mom would have to come into Grammy’s room to “break up the party,” as she put it. I would reluctantly climb the steps to my bedroom, but would find myself waking up in the early hours of the morning in need of the bathroom, thanks to my new obsession with pumpkin-flavored tea. Each night, I would stop back into Grammy’s room and pick up the conversation where we had left it just hours earlier.


            The night after Christmas, Grammy and I sat on the edge of her bed whispering about all of the different Halloween parties she’d been to when she was a kid. I struggled to picture her dressed up as a clown—her favorite costume. During a break in the stories, she turned her head back to face the window, breathing through her mouth.


            “You know,” she whispered. “If you happen to come down one night and don’t see me here, don’t panic. I’ll be back by morning.”


            I squinted in the darkness, unsure if she was joking. I just nodded, not sure how to respond—was she losing it? I stood, then kissed her goodnight. I returned to bed, cuddling with my old stuffed bat under the covers, remembering how she had tried to answer the home phone with the receiver facing away from her mouth even after I had her turn it right side up. Maybe she is losing it. I remembered her wearing her sweatpants backwards on Christmas Eve and smiled sadly.


As heat spread to the tips of my toes, I fell back to sleep, dismissing what she’d said. After all, she almost died—of course, she’d be a little wacky.  Soon, I found myself in a dream with Dracula hiding in my rusted locker at school and being whisked away to his castle in Romania just before science class. I was upset to wake up from that one. But the first day back to school after break, I thoroughly searched my locker, hoping there was some truth to it. I almost expected to find a chewed rat bone—a souvenir from Renfield—on the top shelf. All I could find were textbooks, old papers, and a half-eaten candy bar.


            During the boring classes, I thought what Grammy had said a week earlier, wondering what she had meant—was she actually serious? Where would she go at night? I jokingly mulled the possibilities around in my head: Special agent? No. She’s too old. Angel sent to do God’s work? Nah. She once stole candy for me when I was five. Possessed by a demon? No. Her head hasn’t spun around yet. The thoughts continued, keeping me awake through math class—a rarity.


            That night, I couldn’t sleep. I watched the clock beside my bed tick from ten, to eleven, to twelve… Finally, I dozed off for a short, dreamless sleep. Just a little after three in the morning, my eyes opened and the first thing I saw were the vampires on my Lost Boys poster over my bed staring back at me. I shot out of bed, my curiosity getting the best of me, and, as quickly and quietly as my feet would allow, made my way down the steps. I peeked from behind my door. The bed was empty. I swung the door open completely and the room was still; vacant. I looked over where her slippers usually sat at the foot of her bed. They were missing, too.


            I walked to the bathroom—no one was there. I walked around the entire house. Grammy was nowhere to be found. I listened closely to the creaks and moans from heaters and old boards. A car drove down the street and I listened to Dad’s snoring crescendo. Between the snores, a lone bird sang to the waxing moon that peered in through one of Grammy’s windows. I studied what I could see of the night sky, debating whether I should tell my parents. Then again, she’d probably be ticked off if we put out a silver alert.


            I walked back to the front door, slipping on my snow boots, and snuck out of the house, easing the storm door shut. I shivered and rubbed my hands together, then made my way down the wooden front steps, setting out to search for Grammy. I looked both ways once I made it to the top of my hill and walked around the entire neighborhood, looking in bushes, under porches, in alleys between houses. After searching for an hour, I returned home as the sun began to rise and around our house. No Grammy. I chewed on my lip as I reentered the house and silently pulled off my boots, preparing what I’d say to Mom and Dad about Grammy.


            Mom, Dad, Grammy ran away. I can help make fliers. I rolled my eyes at the thought. She’s not a dog. I rounded the corner for one last sweep around her room and froze. The first rays of sunlight were peeking through her now pulled down shades, landing on Grammy’s muddy suede slippers at the foot of her bed.


            And there was Grammy, tucked under her mountain of blankets. My stomach flipped and I stepped closer. My hand flew to my lips as I spotted a trail of blood stained her lips and chin. I held my breath and leaned closer. Two, long fangs glistened in the moonlight. Closing the distance, I pulled my black pajama sleeve over my trembling hand and wiped her mouth.


            I whispered, “Grammy, you really should be neater.”






























































Samantha is a recent graduate of Caldwell University and is currently studying for her MFA in Creative Writing at Arcadia University. Her work can be found on,, and in WirtchWorks Magazine. For more, visit her site:

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