Geneva Could Have Walked to Switzerland

by Artress Bethany White

The third time she tried to leave the porch that morning
they put me in charge. My job was to let any adult
in shouting distance know that my grandmother’s sister, Geneva,
was attempting once again to walk out the door to parts unknown.
I knew her as Devil, a nickname that began as expletive and
finally ended in laughter and love. A neighbor would often remark
She almost got away from you, didn’t she?
as I tugged her by the hand back from the roadside.
Still embarrassed about being put in control of an adult
at age five, I merely smiled ascent and whispered
Come on Devil under my breath.

Unlike other elderly family who faded and finally succumbed
to the reaper’s call, I could not remember her passing.
My investigation into her sudden absence
always met with the same whimsical laugh
and question: You remember her? For memorable she was.
The only woman in our family not of that telltale pecan color
minus the veins of black running through it.
Though some might start out walnut,
the penetrating Florida sun had a way of making all shades
of black equal in the long run. Not so Geneva, she was the color
of vanilla ice cream with sweet caramel swirled into it. When she
and my granny stood together, the only way to tell
they were sisters was by word of mouth.

No one talked about Alzheimer’s then,
Geneva was just hardheaded
and wouldn’t stay put.
I still feel this compulsion to find her grave,
to make sure they got the name right and had not chiseled Devil
somewhere on her tombstone,
another rascal who liked to roam the earth.

Published on June 10, 2020

First published in Harvard Review 42

2020-12-05T16:22:45+00:00