#79: Toward the Setting Sun

My grandmother passed away this Thursday. Mom’s mom. I last saw her in the hospital in Shanghai this previous Christmas. She’d gone in a few months prior because of a fall outside her apartment, and when we went to visit her bruises still weren’t healed and her eyes were clouded over, and she had trouble remembering names or if she had already had lunch that day. She’d ask my aunt when I was coming to visit but when I was there in person she thought I was a former coworker, and would ask me how the meeting went. There were nevertheless threads of awareness, changes in demeanor that signaled some deeper recognition. When she saw my brother she’d start laughing, patting his cheeks and speaking to him in English: Who is this? Who is this?

She’d been able to stay in hospital care since then, as under China’s social policies her benefits depend on her involvement and rank in the Party system. Her husband, my grandfather – who also has been in the hospital for kidney failure, high blood pressure, and other symptoms coinciding with old age – doesn’t have as high a status, and is therefore only allowed a maximum two-week stay, after which he has to go home for a day before being readmitted for the following two weeks.

I’m flying back on Friday for the funeral. Tomorrow’s my thirty-first birthday. This weekend one of my best high school friends got married.

Thursday afternoon I was reading on the living room couch when a bird crashed into the window. It had been trying to fly toward the reflection of the setting sun. I got up and saw it splayed on its back on the front porch, definitely still alive, still breathing. I went outside and cupped the fallen bird in my hands, its feet twitching, one eye half shut, the back of its neck warm against my thumb. Holding the bird I realized I didn’t really know what to do with it, and set it down for a moment before picking it back up and carrying it out to a tree in the front yard, I’m not sure why. A more natural resting place than a concrete porch, I suppose. As I walked it there the bird tried to call out. But no song, only small gasps, and the inside of its beak looked unnaturally red. More life seemed to come into it, enough that is closed its wings, and I was able to set it upright at the foot of the tree.

I came back inside and looked up what to do. I grabbed a t-shirt and empty shoebox from my bedroom closet. By the time I got out to the tree again the bird was lying eyes closed on its side, and under the tip of its beak in the thin snow: a small spot of blood.