The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 16, No. 3

A Dream of Being Sufficient

by Elizabeth McCracken

The old woman was eighty-five, with the haughty, batty look of a municipal lion, though she was turning not to stone or wood or soap but sleep. Her breath was neat as new bedclothes. The pulse in her throat kept dream time. Her hands busied themselves with dream tasks: sorting, battening, flying. Her daughter had caught a case of it. She dreamt on her feet. It unnerved her.
     The daughter had come to Des Moines from Austin to inspect the women who took care of her mother: the twilight African American nurse; the overnight redheaded artist; and the daytime uncredentialed Armenian doctor, who was new, and turned out to be bellman strong and punishingly conscientious. She moved her charge every two hours. Though the old woman had not sat in a chair the entire year previous, now she rotated like a clockwork figure: from sofa to dining room chair to loveseat to recliner. "Someday I'll come in," the daughter said, "and find her sitting on the stove."
     "Lyd-dee-ya," said the daytime woman, whose name was Hourig, "no. No stove. But chairs are good." The fleece blanket she tucked around the old woman's legs was a blurred brown plaid that looked as though it had been woven through tears. "Now, for tonight, you know the prayer? She will like to hear."
     It was Hourig who'd found the menorah, who'd found all five of them, stored in the purple tub marked with a Dymo label, menorahs. Three dime-store brass, with Lions of Judah; one branching candelabra; one tremulous art-glass piece with nine fierce spikes beneath the candleholders, as though its true intent was to topple from the table, sever your toes, and then set your house on fire. Another tub was filled with squat blue boxes of leftover candles: Lydia's mother never remembered to light them past the third day, and in this unmiraculous way made one box of candles last years. Everything in this house lasted, and went into a tub, and was Dymo-labeled.
     "She doesn't care about the prayer," said Lydia.

To read the rest of this story and others from the Fall 2012 issue, please purchase a copy from our online store.