Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Winter 2021    poetry    all issues

Fiction Winter 2021 cover


Andrej Lišakov

Kati Iso

Devon Bohm

Sarah P. Blanchard
Playing Chess with Bulls

Brandi Sperry

Parker Fendler
Mittens and Things

L. Michael Bohigian

Elizabeth Lyvers
The House and the Sea

K. Ralph Bray
Rocket Girl

Brittany Meador
Darkside Knocking

Nick Gallup
My Son's Grandmother

Rodney Stephens

Salena Casha
When you find yourself at the bottom of the stair, think of Diderot

John Maki
Max, They

Nick Gallup

My Son’s Grandmother

The hospital was noisy but orderly chaos. It took the doctor a while to find a quiet place where they could talk. The doctor was young for a surgical oncologist, still in his thirties, who made no attempt to nuance it. “She’s dying, Mr. Hayes. Her kidneys are shutting down. She has only a few more days to live.”

Ford wasn’t surprised.

“Can I keep her here?”

“Afraid not. The insurance wouldn’t pay for it anymore. They’ll pay for a hospice, though.” He handed Ford a brochure. “Here’s some info on one. Only a few miles from here. A beautiful place.”

Ford shook the young doctor’s hand. “You guys have done a fantastic job.”

“We do our best, Mr. Hayes. Even if it’s only life extension. Your mom’s a tough lady. Just wouldn’t give up. Every time I saw her she was asking when could I reverse her colostomy.”

Ford walked back into the hospital room, forgetting he still had the hospice brochure in his hand. His mother was 88 and, although she suffered from a number of maladies, none had to do with dementia. She noted the brochure.

“What’s that?”

“Something the doc gave me.”

“Let me see it.”

He passed it to her and silently watched as she leafed through it.

“A goddamned hospice. I’ve had it now.”

She was too savvy for him to argue otherwise. They didn’t send patients who had even a remote chance of getting well to a hospice. There may have been patients who defied the odds and walked out of a hospice, but he guessed they would all fit into a very small phone booth.

They chased him out of her room at ten, but not before she could ask him once again if Jake, his son and her only grandson, had called. Her disappointment was evident when Ford told her no. She doted on Jake. Always had. Birds of a feather.

She had said little when Ford attended UM and graduated Summa cum Laude. Jake attended the same university, attaining only gentleman C’s and an occasional B. Still, she hung on Jake’s every word as he recounted his wild adventures at his playboy fraternity house that was invariably on, or skating very near, probation by the university.

Jake was her knight in not-so-shining armor, and she did a good deal of vicarious living through him. Henry V had died years before, and she was lonely in the big house he had left her, even though Ford had moved back in after Gwen was killed in the car crash. She relished her grandson’s visits and made it worth his while to spend his spare moments with the queen of Oxford Manor.

A nurse advised Ford they would transfer his mother to the hospice the next morning. Visiting hours began at one p.m., and the directions to the hospice were on the brochure.

Of course the place was beautiful. It was a hospice.

His mother was in the last bedroom in the lakeside section of the hospice. It had large windows on its southern and western sides. The southern windows showcased a vivid blue lake. A small lake, Ford deduced, as trees on the other side were very near. The western windows looked out on large oak trees thoughtfully spaced and carefully policed of brush or fallen debris to avoid any suggestion of the intrusion of woodland. It was midday, and the sun was shining softly through the oaks and creating a mellow glow in the bedroom. The blinds had been raised to the top of the window and the heavy curtains, covered in a soothing light gray fabric, had been drawn to the sides of four tall windows.

There were no boats on the lake, and Ford doubted there ever were. The lake was a prop, meant to soothe and nurture. There was not a sound of activity from outside. Inside the room, he could hear an occasional muffled voice, and sometimes a phone rang, but someone would quickly pick it up and speak softly into it. Never a prolonged conversation. Almost absolute serenity and solitude, totally unlike the hospital he and his mother had been in the night before.

She was napping when he arrived at the hospice, so he had pulled a chair close to the windows overlooking the lake to enjoy the view. He wondered why they would bother to have blinds and heavy curtains available to block such a beautiful view.

Maybe some patients preferred to spend their final days and hours closeted from the outside world, he mused, and didn’t care to be reminded they would soon be taking leave of such things as inviting lakes and shady oak trees. So, please, nurse, they might ask, would you lower the blinds and close the curtains? The view’s a little depressing.

Others, perhaps, might want to enjoy the world they’re departing as long as possible. Open the windows wide, please, nurse. Let in all of the light. There, isn’t that a magnificent view?

His musing upon this great mystery at end of life was interrupted when he heard his mother rousing from her nap. He pulled his chair close to her bed, which was covered with the same gray material as the drapes. She was frail from cancer and radiation and chemo and had looked small even in her body-sized hospital bed. Her hospice bed was queen-sized, and in its expanse she looked almost child-like.

She wasn’t fully awake yet, and the unfamiliar surroundings had momentarily confused her. Even with her advanced age and terminal illness, she still somehow managed to look younger than she actually was. She had been a beautiful woman in her youth, a Miss Dayton who just missed becoming Miss Ohio. The girl who had edged her out had gone on to win Miss America. “Who knows,” she often speculated, “If I had shook my ass a few more times at the judges, I might have been Miss America.”

Possibly, Ford conceded, but his mother was a notorious flirt, and although he had not been around at the time, he was confident she had flirted to the maximum extent with any male judges who might have been admiring her anatomy.

In any event, the Miss Dayton title came with benefits, even though it was 1934 and the height of the Great Depression. The benefits were not pecuniary, as in prize money, but rather attention from men who had money. The definition of “having money” in those days had been obscured by the depression and went so far in some cases as to include almost anyone having a steady job.

His mother’s name was Vickie, and every man she met wanted to sleep with her. But she understood market value and brusquely rejected the heavy breathing of would-be seducers. And so she was until she met Ford’s father, who had a steady job and was willing to proffer up a wedding ring. Little did he suspect he would be the first rung up her extensive divorce ladder.

Her talent in the beauty competitions was dancing, and she had a dancer’s slim. athletic body. Her teeth, and this was in an era when the last thing on a person’s mind was dental care, were perfect. Her hair was on the dark side of blonde, but she helped it along chemically until it possessed the hue of polished gold. She was blessed with large blue eyes and lashes so long an admirer might think them fake unless he were fortunate enough to get close and inspect them for himself. Bottom line, she was an extraordinarily attractive woman, even into her elder years. As she got older, though, her maintenance time grew.

No matter, she happily put the time in.

Ford had inherited the mundane looks of his father, Augustus, tall and brown-haired with wide, deep-set brown eyes beneath a furrowed brow. He had his mother’s long lashes, but his eyes were weak and he had to wear glasses early on. And his thick brown hair had not lasted long. He was experimenting with comb-overs by his thirties, and, by his forties, had given up and capitulated to sporting more skin than hair.

Still, he had married well, a lovely girl named Gwen, whom he had met while still in undergrad. Given his plain looks, for that was the way he perceived himself, he marveled how someone as beautiful as she would pay even passing interest in him. Still, at every home match he played on the university golf team, he would look at the small retinue following his play and see a tall, slender girl with long auburn-colored hair and Carolina-blue eyes masked behind large sunglasses.

Given his shyness, it was doubtful they would have ever formally met had she not taken the initiative. His shyness was not due to lack of confidence, just a feeling he was a person of little interest, notwithstanding his prowess on the golf course, where he rarely lost a match. One day, after he had defeated a particularly strong Clemson player, she approached him and extended a hand to congratulate him. She had a firm handshake, and she held his hand for a long time, not that he minded. She removed her sunglasses and smiled her approval of him and his play. Her eyes seemed to sparkle.

“Inasmuch as I’m one of your groupies, I thought it was time we met.”

“I’m Ford.”

“That much I know.” Another gracious smile. “I’m Gwen.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Gwen.”

Without asking, she reached up and removed his glasses. After studying his eyes for a full minute, she remarked that he had kind eyes. She gently returned the glasses to his forehead.

“Is that a bad thing?”

“No, just surprising. Not the killer eyes of a competitive golfer.”

“The competition is with myself. Why obsess over my opponent?”

“Point taken,” she admitted. “I do have some advice for you, though.”

“Such as?”

“You need to practice more on courses other than UM. It’s too easy.”

“It’s rated as a hard Par 72.”

She raised a doubting eyebrow. “I never shoot above 80 on it.”

“Anyone can say that. Care to prove it?”

She later admitted to him he had fallen into her carefully-laid plan. She knew he would challenge her to back up her braggadocio. They made a date to play the following weekend, where she skillfully shot a 78. She also knew he was a pre-law major, as was she. She had also looked deep into his eyes and perceived a soulmate. It was inevitable that they would marry.

They had a son, Jake, who for reasons Ford could never fathom, had the blonde hair and blue eyes and striking good looks and the impulsive ways of Vickie. Ford attributed it to a skipped-generation syndrome. Having been trained as a lawyer to verify facts, he even went so far as to see if such a syndrome actually existed.

It purportedly did not. Genes cannot, per se, skip a generation, The manifestation of genes, or their traits, can, however, skip generations under certain circumstances, the circumstances being that in his case, his father evidently passed on genes to him that negated some genes passed on to him by his mother. If not the genes themselves, then at least the manifestations or traits of the genes.

Semantics, he decided. Sounded like skipped-generation syndrome to him. The bottom line was that Ford and his mother were nothing alike. His son and his mother were virtual clones, excepting gender, of course. Identical twins in every respect. Just born two generations apart.

His mother was fully awake now.

“How long you been here?”

He leaned over and kissed her forehead. “Fifteen minutes or so, Vickie.”

“How’d I get here?”

“They brought you in an ambulance last night.”

“I don’t remember.”

“Like your view?”

“Help me sit up, so I can inspect it.”

He slid her up, which was easy, given her slightness, and placed an extra pillow behind her. She fussed with the pillow a bit until she was in a good position to consider the expansive view afforded by the four tall windows.

“Norman Rockwell.”

“Don’t like it?”

“Looks staged. “

“Should I close the drapes?”

“No,” she quickly said.

He now knew which side she came down on with respect to opening or closing the curtains. She was a “I want to see all the lakes and trees and light I can before I go” kind of person, even if they did look staged.

Ford was only 20 years younger, and it wouldn’t be much longer, he speculated, before he might be making a decision as to whether he wanted to close the curtains or not. Blindfold or no blindfold in a manner of speaking.

“Has Jake called?”

Jake again. “No.”

“Does he know I’m . . .”

“Yes, I called him last night.”


“Left a voice mail you were in hospice.”

“He’s probably busy on a new project.”

“He is.”

“What project?”

“More like a who project.”

“Kimberly and the kids?”

“No, his girlfriend and the kid he’s having with her.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do.”


“He let it drop when he was putting the touch on me a few weeks ago.”

“You part with any money?”


“You’re so penurious, Ford. He’s your son.”

“Which gives me special insight into him.”

“You’re annoyed because I signed Oxford Manor over to him.”

“I do live there.”

“You can still live there.”

Ford nodded as if that were true. Jake had already put the Manor up for sale.

“He’d get the house eventually anyway. What’s the difference?”

And so it went, a conversation they’d had dozens of times. He, the prosecutor of his son and she, a Johnny Cochran scrambling to his defense. No matter what Jake did, the glove never fit. So, Ford invariably caved and chose to acquit by changing the subject.

“Can I bring you anything from home, Vickie?”

Vickie had been only 20 when Ford was born, and she didn’t relish the world knowing such a beautiful and desirable young woman already had a child. So, when he was older and coherent enough to follow orders, she instructed him to address her as Vickie. By then she had divorced Augustus and moved in with her mother and father, whom he could call Mom and Dad if he so desired. But the inviolate rule was he was to call her Vickie.

World War Two was on the horizon. An Army Air Corps Base was nearby and many young officers came calling. The last thing Vickie wanted was a rug-rat running around calling her “Mommy” and cramping her style. She’d break the mommy news to a suitor later if the courtship flourished. By then she would have her suitor panting so hard her having multiple rug-rats would have been of little consequence.

That was the modus operandi thereafter.

Ford had never called her Mom. Always Vickie.

He was her only child, and he heard many times from her how his coming upon the scene had ruined her trim figure. So, no more kids for her. The many officers attending her didn’t agree about birthing having diminishing her figure. She was as desirable as ever to them, but her bedroom door was always shut tight unless a suitor had a wedding ring with which to unlock it. Given her appeal and the uncertainties of the war, marriage offers flooded in. Young pilots didn’t exactly have their futures guaranteed. They could well be dead in a matter of months. So, they were of a mind to marry sooner than later, and especially so with someone as delectable as Vickie. People didn’t have affairs in those days. If they wanted a change of partner, they were more likely to do so through the divorce route.

Ford later characterized it as the Liz Taylor malaise.

Vickie began a series of war-time marriages, each lasting about 18 months. The scenario was the same each time. A six-month courtship, then a marriage of six months until the new husband had completed his flight training and sent overseas. Six more months more would elapse, during which letters of eternal love would be exchanged. But Vickie would soon grow restless. A new and even more handsome young officer would appear, and she would permit herself to be swept off her feet. But first there would have to be a divorce, which the eager new suitor gladly paid for.

Ford had no memory of Augustus, or at least no memory of him while he was married to his mother. He saw him occasionally in the years following the divorce. Augustus knew he had been lured onto the rocks by a siren named Vickie, and, for some reason, held his failure to better navigate against Ford. Ford was puzzled by this.

Until Augustus explained, that is. Ford was 10 or so at the time.

“You’re the reason she left me.”

“What did I do?”

“She never wanted a kid. Blamed me for you coming along.”

After Augustus, there was Karl, Dale, Harlon, and finally, the best of the group, Henry, whom Ford had dubbed Henry V. Harlon, unhappily, did not need to be divorced. In addition to the bad luck he’d already incurred in marrying Vickie, the B-29 he was piloting over Tokyo was shot down in the last few days of the war. The distraught widow received a check for $10,000 and a pension, which she happily accepted until Henry V, who was a prominent attorney with lots of old money, appeared on the scene.

Henry, unlike his predecessors, knew well what he was getting into. In fact, he, or one of the underlings at his firm, had handled her three divorces. Henry was 20 years older than Vickie and was wise to her ways. He had been married several times before himself, so he knew well the pratfalls of marriage. He understood especially the needs and whims of Vickie, and he acquiesced to them. He allowed her to stray off the range once in a while, but gently tugged on the reins when she strayed too far or too often.

Vickie clearly understood her job description. Occasional sex with a 55 year old man and posing as the beautiful and charming wife of a prominent attorney. Henry especially loved dinner parties at his large house, which he had grandly named Oxford Manor. Vickie was expected to throw these parties together, sometimes with only a few days’ notice, and then preside gracefully over them. Vickie was to Oxford Manor born.

Henry worked hard and played hard. He was both a perfectionist and a hedonist. Still, he weathered these afflictions well and presented an enviable countenance. Yes, he looked prosperous, with a slight paunch and a slump caused by either bending too much to read law books or leaning forward too often to sip Martinis or perhaps keeping his eyes on too many golf balls. He was tall and lean, nonetheless, with a tanned face and a visibly intelligent look in always amused brown eyes.

He was a man of unfailingly good humor and disposition, a pleasure to be around. He laughed heartily when he learned Ford had dubbed him Henry V and promptly donned his Shakespearian cloak and recited verbatim his predecessor Henry V’s Battle of St. Crispin’s Day speech. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers . . .”

Ford was 15 when Henry came into his life. By remarkable coincidence, Ford had developed an affinity for golf and was on the high school golf team. Henry bought a new set of golf clubs each year and immediately earned Ford’s undying allegiance by gifting him a $300 set of last years’ golf clubs in a hand-tooled leather bag worth twice that.

Ford put the clubs to good use. By the time he was 18, he had zero handicap and had won the club championship twice. He and Henry won the annual father/son trophy three consecutive years. It was no surprise when UM offered Ford a golfing scholarship.

Henry funded law school for Ford and brought him into his firm when he graduated number three in his class, two spots beneath Gwen, his soon-to-be wife. Henry served as Ford’s best man when he and Gwen married. He gifted Ford a sizeable trust fund and treated him as his own son. He had only one condition which he laid out to Ford at the beginning of their special relationship.

“What is it?” Ford asked.

“I’d like for you to call me Dad.”

Henry died 10 years later. He suffered a heart attack just after he had hit an awesome approach shot on the par five 12th hole of the country club golf course. It was one of the toughest par fives in the state. The caddy raced for help.

Ford was holding Henry as they waited for the ambulance. Although he was in severe pain, Henry looked up at him and smiled. “Did I reach the green, old Sport?”

“You’re ten feet from the cup, Dad,” Ford responded. “It’s going to be a tricky putt, but I think you’ve got a decent chance at an eagle.”

Ford told the EMS crew he would meet them at the hospital.

First, though, and acting on compulsion that even he did not quite understand, he walked to the 12th hole green and studied Henry’s approach shot. Henry’s ball was indeed 10 feet from the cup and, as Ford had foreseen, a tricky putt awaited. Ford studied the putt for several minutes, as if he were putting for the club championship. The putt was slightly uphill and would break to the left. He took Henry’s putter and struck the ball. He had read the putt correctly. The ball coasted into the cup as if it were on rails.

He penciled in a 3 for his dad on the score card. An eagle.

He rushed to his car to join Henry. Henry died several hours later, Ford and Gwen at his bedside. Ford showed him the score card and told him he had scored an eagle on the toughest hole at the country club. Ford realized it was myth that a man could truly die happy, but the look on Henry’s face convinced Ford it was possible for an avid golfer to come close if he had hit a fantastic golf shot just prior to his demise.

Vickie had been too stressed to join them at the hospital. She was captivating, though, at the funeral. The grieving widow role was high drama for her.

A hospice nurse stopped Ford in the hall when he took a restroom break. She was an older woman, a little on the pretty-plus size, with gray hair and comforting eyes well-trained to comfort all parties during end of life proceedings. Central casting could not have sent over a more perfect actress for a hospice nurse. She spoke to him in a soft voice.

“It doesn’t do any good, you know.”

“What doesn’t?”

“Arguing with them.”

“Arguing?” He repeated.

“Voices carry in here. I could tell you were upset with her. It happens.”

“What does?”

“Loved ones arguing with patients because they won’t eat or drink. It’s just nature’s way. The body is shutting down. Eating and drinking is repulsive to a dying patient. You have to understand that,” she said compassionately. “In a day or two she’ll be comatose, and it will be up to you then to take her hands and tell her it’s okay for her to die. She’ll want to stay so you won’t have to grieve.”

He had leafed through the brochure the oncologist had given him and had read that. The nurse had apparently overheard their discussion about Jake. and, unable to discern the specifics, had concluded from the tone of their conversation Ford had been pushing his mother to eat and drink so she could stay around longer. The brochure hinted it was grief denial on the part of loved ones. They must release the person and accept the grief.

“It’s easier for them if you just let them go.”

Interesting theory, Ford thought. But theory, nonetheless. He could not help but feel he would be suspicious of someone encouraging him to hurry up and die.

“I understand. I’ll try to do that.”

“I’m Pam.”

“I’m Ford, her son.”

“I know. You just let me know if there’s anything you or your mother need.”

“Thank you, Pam.”

He was annoyed, not at Pam, but at himself. It was always hard for him to accept Vickie’s unwavering defense of Jake. Ford had indeed been petulant in that conversation.

His mother was alert the next day, but her voice had deepened into a hoarse whisper. Her beautiful blue eyes which had always been so bright and clear had dulled into a pale and barely discernible gray.

He tried several times to get Jake on the phone for her. Voicemail.

Ford tried to make conversation. Not much to talk about. She had long since settled her estate, which he didn’t care to talk about anyway. Almost everything was bequeathed to Jake. She began to speak aimlessly, and then, as if a button had been pushed, she drifted off,

Her eyes became blank and vacant. She was settling into coma.

She was comatose when he arrived the next day. He sat by her bed and watched silently as she breathed long, deep breaths. Although he still had his doubts about the “letting go” theory, he took her hands in his and began to speak to her. He told her he loved her and that it was okay with him if she decided to leave. Still, she clung on.

Her eyes were clamped shut. She had not moved or spoken since he had arrived.

He took out his cell and called Jake. It began to ring. And ring.

“Goddamn it, Jake, answer the phone!”

To his surprise Jake answered.

“Hey, Dad. What’s up? How’s Grandma doing?”

“If you ever checked your voicemail, you might know.”

“Yeah,” he acknowledged. “Got to start doing that.”

“Vickie’s dying, Jake.”

“Jesus, Dad, I’m sorry to hear that. If I had known she was that bad off, I’d have driven up to see her. Or maybe you could’ve sent me an airline ticket. I knew she had cancer and it was just a matter of time. I figured tough as she was she’d outlive us all, you know?”

No, he didn’t know. He’d made it clear weeks ago her situation was tenuous.

He decided to let Jake say goodbye to her. She was comatose and wouldn’t hear him, but at least Jake couldn’t complain later he’d been denied the opportunity to say goodbye.

“Listen, Jake, Vickie’s awake, but she can’t talk. I’m going to put the phone by her ear, and I want you to talk to her.”

“Jesus, Dad. What the hell do I say to her?’

Ford begged the gods for patience. “Tell her you love her, Jake, that she’s been a great grandmother, and that you’ll miss her very much. Tell her that it’s okay for her to go.”

“Go? Go where?”

“That it’s okay for her to die.”

“Why would I want to tell her that? You sure you’re okay, Dad?’

He patiently explained the hypothesis of how dying people tried to hang on longer than they needed to because they didn’t want their loved ones to be grief-stricken when they died. Ford now so doubted the science behind it he had downgraded it from theory to hypothesis.

“That’s weird, Dad.”

Ford agreed but nonetheless put heat in his request. “I’d appreciate it if you did as I asked, Jake.”

There was a pause as he mulled over Ford’s request. Jake, as usual, was looking for the road less traveled, but he sensed Ford was about to lose it, so he reluctantly gave in.

“Okay, Dad. Whatever you want.” He expelled his breath drama-queen style.

“I’m putting the phone to her ear now, Jake. Tell her what I told you.”

Jake mumbled okay. Ford placed the phone next to Vickie’s ear.

He couldn’t decipher what his son was saying, but he could faintly hear the sound of him speaking. He was being fairly loquacious, which surprised Ford. Who knew what he was saying or would say? Jake was 35 going on 15. Ford could only hope he was following script.

He was watching Vickie carefully as Jake spoke. Suddenly her eyes popped open. To Ford’s absolute amazement, they were a bright blue, so clear, so alert, virtually aglow with happiness. Her lips parted, and she silently mouthed, “I love you, Jake.”

That was what she was saying. He had no doubt.

He took his cell away and told his son goodbye.

Vickie closed her eyes when he withdrew the phone. Her breathing quickly grew troubled, and the time between breaths increased. This went on for a few minutes, and then she took a deep, almost gasping breath. A heavy expulsion of air followed. He waited for her to inhale again. And waited and waited. No more breaths.

He began to cry, the first time he had cried since the sudden and tragic death of Gwen ten years before. He had been crying then for Gwen, whom he had loved and who had loved him in return. Before that he had cried for Henry V, who had asked to be called “Dad” and loved him for doing so.

He felt Pam’s deft touch on his shoulder.

“Is she gone?”

“Yes,” he replied. “Mom’s gone.”

“I heard you talking so lovingly to her, Ford. I told you it makes it so much easier for them to pass when someone they really love tells them it’s okay to go.”

He nodded as they walked from the room with the four tall windows.

“I didn’t agree with you at first, Pam, but now I think you’re right.”

Nick Gallup is a has-been/would-be novelist who now wards off dementia by writing short stories, a number of which have been published in such online literary journals as “The Write Launch” and “New Pol Lit”. He is a pilot, an Army vet, and retired DoD contracting official. He lives and concocts his complicated story lines, which he characterizes as “Holden Caulfield does Walter Mitty”, in Cape Coral, FL.

Dotted Line