TO CUT A WIDE SWATH by Therese White

I smell ammonia. Old people. We visit Great Aunt Alma for no reason. It’s Sunday, reason enough. Her room: a single cell, a single window. The bed backs into a corner. Her white bedspread, a canvas. Little blocks, cut from her underwear, lay stacked: pastel patches. Her arthritic finger points to them. Her mouth opens; no words exit. Tan knee-highs choke her calves. Her strap slips off her shoulder. Her feet are firmly planted in sturdy, black loafers.

My grandparents are not surprised; they are blasé.

I stand mute, wondering what language Alma is forgetting: French or English. My plain face stares kindly, as I remember a recent verb conjugation in Madame Lessard’s class: couper...tu coupes...she cuts.

My grandmother wrests away Alma’s scissors. Arms outstretched, Alma breathes in quickly, cups my 14-year-old face, whispering, “Magnifique,” and I blink.

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