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My mother and I guided my grandmother as she wearily prepared herself to make the laborious trudge back to the car, her limbs already screaming for rest just seconds after stepping out beneath the searing summer sun. Inhaling deeply to obtain any oxygen that the trees had to offer, she was clearly exhausted from the effort it took to pick herself up from the wheelchair, legs clumsily shaking like those of a newborn giraffe. My mother and I knew better than to let her try this, but once Meme set her mind to do something, there was no stopping the old soul. Her mind was set to walk. Who were we to hinder her of doing something that would have otherwise been so simple anyway?

Of their own accord, my eyes took on the familiar act of watching her movements. Surveying her was not all that new to me; I had observed and learned her movements and mannerisms many times in my life - her poised and powerful persona never becoming mundane to me. But this was a different way of watching her, of tracking her every step to be ready to steady her if she should make a wrong move. When had our roles been reversed? She was always the one watching and helping and guiding - not me.

I almost resented the woman with the skin the color of hot cocoa and the head that had been adorned with tight, cinnamon-colored curls for calling us to a halt right outside of the Sam’s Club that we had just exited. Could she not see the waves of heat rising from asphalt? Could she not tell that my grandmother had had enough radiation as it was without us standing there under the scorching sun? I was expecting the usual “Would you like to make a donation to so-and-so foundation?” but was instead slapped with another question. Perhaps it was the rag that took the place of the auburn hair that once spiked and pointed and speared from her crown - signifying her sharp personality and humor - that prompted this woman to ask my grandmother if she was sick. My grandmother only turned the corners of her mouth up slightly and nodded. The woman then gave her the look - the look that people give when they’ve just heard that so-and-so’s goldfish has passed on to the greater fish bowl. It’s the look of pity, and it’s the look that no one had ever given my grandmother. No one pitied Phyllis Burch; they only held reverent fear and awe for her. The woman with the hot cocoa skin was not off to a very warm start with me. She proceeded to ask how long my grandmother had been sick, and I faintly remember wondering if she was a mother because only mothers ask so many questions. My grandmother told her that she had been diagnosed in May of that year, and I quickly searched my mother’s and my grandmother’s faces for any sign of emotion so as to prepare myself for the knot in my throat that would surely follow the sighting of tears. There was none. Neither of them ever showed what they were feeling, both of them being the ideal definition of strength.

Hot cocoa was nearing the end of her police interrogation when she asked all of us if she could pray with us. Right there. Outside of Sam’s. Any thoughts of the sun or of aversion towards that lady quickly fled as she took Meme’s aged, slender hands that held the secrets to a full life within the lines of the palms in her own smooth, chocolatey ones that had probably reddened many small bottoms once upon a time. All I remember after that is wondering when it had started raining because my cheeks were suddenly very cold and damp.

Cancer doesn't care about prayer.



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