Someone Lost, Something Gained


The room is cold, dark, when Veda jerks awake. Nothing is out of place, everything exactly as it was before she fell asleep curled into Granddad’s side. The clock ticks away the seconds, mocks her for her uncertainty. Her mind slowly clears of its sleepy fog, and her world shatters around her.

She pushes away from the man she’s lost, and bile climbs in her throat. A broken scream tries to claw its way from deep inside of her, but a numbness smothers it, spreading freezing fingers through her being. Any and all nonessential functions cease as she stares at Granddad - the husk of who he was.

Veda lied to him, and now she’s paying the too-heavy price.

She turns off the oxygen, carefully pulling the cannula from his nose. He remains stiller than she has ever seen him. Veda turns away, hangs the tubing on the post of the headboard. The heating system kicks on, filling the room with a heat that can’t reach her through the ice that consumes her.

Phoning Patrice is easier than it should be. It should be utterly impossible for Veda to tell the woman that Granddad has died. It should kill her to say those words. Patrice breaks down on the other end, but Veda feels nothing as she hangs up, cutting off the sound of crying. It isn’t fair to the nurse, Veda knows that. She just can’t handle the sound of another’s emotions right now.

The empty, hollow cold doesn’t leave as Veda calls Granddad’s doctor. It remains as she calls for a coroner. The dispatcher promises to send someone out as soon as possible, and Veda hangs up without another word. Her voice is gone now. She crosses the room on wooden legs to the safe sitting under the desk.

Of course he set the combination to her birthday. The thought should be heartwarming, but how can it warm a heart no longer there? Her hands tremble when she reaches for the file folder, and she clenches her fingers into a fist, if only to stop the shaking. Finally, she manages to pull out the papers necessary for this next step.

The neighbours are watching from their windows and front stoops when Veda pulls open the front door to let the paramedics in. She informs them tonelessly that he signed a Do Not Resuscitate order, assigned her as his medical proxy. The woman does a double-take, staring at Veda with too much sympathy, but then she steps into the bedroom with her partner.

Veda stares through the door, staring at the man she needs so desperately and the man who’s come to confirm the death. His voice echoes in the bitter silence. Her skin divots under the pressure from her fingers, digging deeply until her nails break the skin through the sweater she wears. Shaking her head, Veda turns, thanking them for their time.

They leave, condolences hanging in the air, suffocating Veda with the insincere platitudes. She makes one last phone call then curls up in the armchair; the file folder lies, ugly and screaming of her loss, in her lap. She fidgets with the corner of the folder and stares at the tubing and the tank of oxygen that kept Granddad breathing for so long. Her vision goes blurry and hazy at the edges, like a photograph’s vignette border, but she doesn’t blink.

“Would you like a moment to say goodbye?”

Veda finally drags her gaze to the funeral director. Nothing of what he’s said has registered in her mind, except for the final question. She opens her mouth to say something, though there is nothing she can say that would be acceptable. Nothing will bring Granddad back. So she pivots on her heel, goes back downstairs instead of replying. Her departure can be answer enough.

“We’re sorry for your loss, ma’am.”

She blinks owlishly where she stands at the base of the stairs, refrains from flinching in the face of his sympathetic smile. He seems surprisingly calm at her lack of reaction, speaking. Veda knows he must be accustomed to this - or worse. After a long moment, she gives a succinct nod and ducks her head to avoid his muddy-brown eyes that see too much where there is nothing.

He follows his associate outside, and Veda closes the door behind them. Through the window, she watches them load their van then climb inside. They pull away and take everything from her. She wraps her arms around her middle, moves to stand with her back to the door. The weight of the morning has never felt heavier.

It’s colder now that she’s alone, truly alone, for the first time in months. Never before has she felt so isolated. Not as a child, spending days and nights by herself when she was far too young to learn how to fend for herself. Not even when she first moved out of Olivia’s at fourteen and slept on the streets for weeks, digging through dumpsters for meals and relying on charity of strangers for everything else.

Veda has tried her best to live on her own throughout the last eleven years, but she’s always gravitated back to Granddad’s. He had searched relentlessly for her once Olivia let it slip to Debbie that Veda ran away, bringing his granddaughter back to his home without any hesitation. She felt obligated to repay him for that. More than that, she know that she couldn’t treat him the way her family always has. He deserved better.

Of course, growing up the way she had meant that she was wilder than Granddad expected. Too many times he had to let her run away, to learn that home with him was the better choice. Too many times he had to watch Veda go back to Olivia until the cycle repeated itself. Too many times she broke his heart, and he forgave her each time.

Not taking care of Granddad hadn’t been an option. Her entire existence started revolving around him, and now that she doesn’t have that, Veda is absolutely terrified. She has no idea where to go from here. Her throat tightens, and she swallows thickly, pulls her phone from the pocket of her sweater.

To: Clarissa
Can’t come in tomorrow. Sorry.

The silence grows heavier the longer she stands there, and everywhere she looks are the ghosts of memories. In everything that the house contains is Granddad’s presence, the solid comfort and unwavering strength of who he was. It presses down on her until she can barely stand on her feet. Veda grabs her keys off the hook, shoves her feet into a pair of tennis shoes, and pulls her jacket on as she steps out onto the stoop.