The cigarette smoke made her eyes sting, but the little girl never minded when her grandmother smoked beside her. She was grateful to have an ally, even if that ally accidentally blew smoke into her eyes.
The unlikely pair sat in the car next to each other, both staring out of the window miserably. The little girl had volunteered to stay behind to sit in the car with her grandmother. What felt like a chore to everyone else was her sweet safe haven. In a bustling family where everyone poked and prodded her, her grandmother was the only one whom she felt she could relax with. Plus, there’s never much to do in Carson City, a small desert town outside of Reno, where most of the residents spend their free time gambling money they don’t have or drinking their bodies to death.
In the heat of the summer, Carson City was blanketed by dust and hot air. No matter how many showers the girl took, there was always dirt underneath her fingernails and sweat plastering her hair to the back of her neck. Regardless of the sweat and dirt, the little girl couldn’t help but notice how much happier her grandmother seemed here. It’s as if her restraints were lifted in this desert; the grandmother’s laughs sounded different, smiling, dancing and cooking like she was a teenager again.
Horses came with the sunsets to feast on the barrels of food the grandmother left out, and the house — oh, the beautiful house — was something special. Wooden floors and coffee cups, once a miner’s home, nestled between golden brown mountains. A wraparound porch which gave its tenants the full freedom to get lost in the horizon. The mornings were crisp, especially in the attic, that special room full of abandoned trinkets to finger through, with thick years of memories and laughter that clung to the peeling wallpaper. And best of all, the little girl got a room of her own with pink walls and new carpets.
Maybe grandmother moving to Nevada wasn’t so bad after all, the little girl thought. But the problem was that the rest of the family didn’t approve of Grandmother Ruth moving to Nevada, especially not the little girl’s mother. After forty years of marriage and chain-smoking cigarettes religiously, Ruth’s husband Albert’s body finally broke down and gave up to lung cancer. The mother thought it would be best if Ruth moved in with the family to California, so they could watch over her. Ruth believed this was a trap; to Ruth, there was still a life to be lived, sunsets to chase and men to kiss. Ruth had heard about dating apps, and how all the youngsters met online these days, so she made an account, and to her surprise, she met Steve.
By the time July rolled around, the weather had become unbearable and the daytime streets were barren as most people hid inside their air-conditioned homes. Steve’s funeral had taken up most of that hot day, and despite how tired everyone was, the mother needed to stop by the store. The mother’s needs normally trumped everything else, not even a family death could be deemed more important. So, Ruth and her granddaughter found themselves waiting in the smoky car suffocating in the hot desert air. It was almost ten at night when the pair listened to the droning of human noises. The parking lot was surprisingly full, with loud children and grumpy, strange men who walked in and out of Walmart. And here the pair sat, puppets whose strings were being pulled in zigzaggy crossroads from their heart’s desires.
The granddaughter was both impressed by and a bit sad for her Grandmother Ruth. At the funeral, Ruth didn’t shed a single tear and greeted everyone who came with a huge smile and hug. Yet in the quiet space of the car with no prying eyes, Ruth allowed herself to cry next to her granddaughter. The little girl felt proud that her grandmother chose her, out of all the aunts, uncles, children and friends, to cry with. They sat holding hands in silence as Ruth smoked her cigarettes. Steve was the reason Ruth came up to Nevada. No one agreed with Ruth’s decision to remarry and move to a different state. But as Ruth would argue, life is short — too short — to not fall in love again. The mother had been whispering to anyone who would listen all day about how she was right, how this was all a mistake, how Steve was gone and Ruth was alone again. The little girl wondered to herself if it was worth it. Was all this pain and labor worth the trouble for a year or two of romance?
In another year Ruth’s phone would be disconnected. Almost ten lifetimes later, the woman thought about her grandmother in the car that one night. Sitting on the wraparound porch of the house, she was grateful to feel the hot Nevada sun warm her face as she looked towards the hills. After all these years, the house still kept its charm, but it was not as beautiful as she had remembered it. The blinds of the house had been kept shut and the horses left to find food elsewhere. The woman pushed her toes against the peeling balcony and rocked back and forth in Ruth’s old chair. In her hand, she twirled a dusty paper that she had found in the closet of the pink bedroom. Ruth’s obituary was printed on it, surrounded by some of her favorite quotes and pictures of her from different phases of her life.
She had returned to the house to escape the chaos of her Californian life. She needed a break from the fast-paced daily survival in the city. Love, like her grandmother, just doesn’t sit well with the woman; it encompasses her until she’s drunk from the outpour, and these days she was barely keeping up. As she reflects on her string of failed relationships, her lips wrinkle up in a smile. Ruth would give love a second chance. Ruth would push her out into the world. If only the woman could go back and sit in that car with her grandmother again — oh, the questions she would ask. Cigarette buds, God in men’s eyes, and smoky desert towns gave the woman answers that she wished were words that came from Ruth’s lips.