First English translation of Catalan author Jenn Diaz’s short story “La Decisió”
Translation by Dan Beizsley
A tree, another tree, nothing, a house, nothing, a tree, another one, a blue car, three trees together. How far is it? Granddad’s new house is further than the old one. I liked the other one more because it had a rocking chair and he let me sit on it. He said that if he ever sat down on it he’d never get up. He never used it himself but he would help grandma sit up straight in it. Since she died Granddad has been living alone and now Mum and Dad say that at the new house he’ll live with more people — with other granddads that live alone. I asked what they’re going to do with the rocking chair but they still don’t know. I want to keep it.
Dad says he’s afraid of going to visit him. If he doesn’t look well, and mum agrees, then they’ll find him another home. Dad says the other places they looked at were too expensive. Mum says they should carry on searching and Dad asked why they had to decide so quickly in the first place. Mum reminded him that her sister decided it all. “Yep” agrees Dad. I try not to say anything because when I do they remember that I’m sat there and they stop talking. I don’t want them to. Three trees, a small house, a dirt track, a red car — the fifth since we’ve left home.
When we get to the nursing home I ask where Granddad is. I look around but all the granddads look the same, just like babies. The place is full of rocking chairs and I wonder if Granddad brought his own and if I’ll be able to use it whenever we come.
“Aren’t there any kids here?”
And yes I know, only granddads live here. I want to ask if there are any children but they’ll say no and then tell me to keep quiet. They’ll also do it in that tone, you know, as if I’ve done something wrong when I haven’t. If I speak like that again I’ll be in even more trouble. Mum says people want to rest here but I don’t understand why they’re resting if they just sit about all day doing nothing. At least at home Granddad could go for a walk, here he can’t. They have a garden and he can go for a walk there as long as he doesn’t go further than the railings. I’d say it’s more like a prison but they say it in another way because I guess there aren’t many grandads in prison. When I see him entering he looks at me and says hello and greets me with a kiss. Mum and Dad look at us with a pained look. They don’t want me here but neither will they let me stay at home by myself. Granddad says he likes the place a lot because the garden is big and pretty and there’s a gardener that looks after it and it everyone treats him well. Sometimes in the afternoon he plays cards with another granddad and I ask him if there are women here and he says yes but fewer than men.
Maybe if Granddad had died before Grandma he wouldn’t have gone to the nursing home. Mum says nobody would have gone to visit him. Not even the neighbours — only his children and then only sometimes because a man by himself is a pain and is covered with sadness. Men don’t converse with you about the weather or whatever and so nobody likes going to visit them. With women they do things and they speak about the weather or whatever and it’s a lot nicer and they give sweets to children. I guess it’s why there are fewer women here than men. I think if Granddad had stayed at home we would have gone to visit him but maybe I’m not so sure.
When we start speaking to him he tells us that it shouldn’t be like this and it would have been better if he died first as he was 7 years older than Grandma and she knew how to be alone a lot more. They’d spoken about it before and just took it for granted that Granddad would die first. She was more prepared to be a widow but then she died suddenly. When Granddad starts talking about Grandma and her death Dad tries to change the conversation. He makes a gesture showing that I understand and changes the conversation. It’s better because it makes me sad when Grandad gets like this. Before he used to laugh at everything. I remember he used to try and scare me when I sat next to him — “boo!” — and we’d both laugh. When I got a bit bigger he didn’t try to scare me as much, but he was still fun, not like now.
When we leave the nursing home I realise I forgot to ask Grandad if he’d brought his rocking chair. I keep quiet because I’m sure that if I ask they’ll make one of those faces and I’m fed up of those. We get in the car and nobody says a word. Mum smokes a cigarette and it must be bad because she only smokes when she’s nervous and she hardly ever does it in front of me. Even more surprising is that Dad asks for a drag, it’s the first time I’ve seen him smoke. It doesn’t suit him. He makes a weird face. I sit behind Mum who’s in the passenger seat so they don’t see me so easily in the mirror in the hope they will forget about me.
What I least like about the nursing home is that there is a lot of silence and then there’s the strange smell. Before he lived there he didn’t use to make that smell. In the car the first thing Dad said was that the best thing to do was to get him out of there as soon as possible. Mum said that their old house is already up for sale and there are other people who want to live there. The agency is in charge of the sale now and Dad says he doesn’t understand why they have to do everything so fast and Mum reminds him that it’s her sister doing it all. If I’d said anything I’d have said that Granddad didn’t seem so bad, but neither does he seem content. It’s also true that since Grandma died I’ve not seen him content for a single second and now he hardly ever laughs. But at least in the nursing home he doesn’t cry like he used to at home.
One house, three trees, a green car, the horrible song that Dad likes on the radio. They say he could come and live with us while they search for another nursing home, but they also say that there isn’t one in the world that he’d like because they’re all sad places. You only have to enter one to know they are. But Grandad can’t live alone any more. I know that Mum doesn’t like the idea because the other day she was talking to my friend’s mum about her father-in-law, and she said he’d end up coming to live with them and she would have to look after him. My friend’s mum told her to get a nurse or somebody to come and look after him but my Mum grimaced and searched in her pockets for her cigarettes.
Do you want one?
Nah, I gave up a few years ago.
I’d love it if Grandad came to live with us because we’d play games together and sleep in the same room. At least that’s how I imagine it. Maybe it’d soon turn into a hassle, I don’t know. Dad’s a little nervous and he turns the radio down because he says it’s giving him a headache. Mum looks out of the window and doesn’t want to speak anymore. When mum complains she just repeats the same phrase, everything was her sister’s decision and Dad says he already knew that. Mum looks out of the window.
When one of them dies I’ll bring the one left back to my house. And if my wife, because I’ll have one then, tells me she doesn’t want to because it’s too much work then I’ll tell her that I’ll do it all. If it’s my family then I will work it out, but what I know for sure is that I won’t leave them in a nursing home. One day I told Mum about it and she said it was great idea but that she hoped to die before reaching the situation of not being able to live alone. She also told me that all kids thought like that. But after having kids, buying a house and working there’s no time and time is a thing which you begin to value when you’ve lost years of your life. She told me and I didn’t say anything back. Instead I spat on the ground because I was angry. Mum told me off and said I should be a good boy and that nobody would want to marry me if I didn’t know how to behave in public.
When we got home Dad said he was going to bed and he lay down and said he wasn’t hungry and he wouldn’t bother with dinner. Mum just sighed and when she realised that I was watching her she asked me what I wanted for dinner. But she asked in a way that annoyed me, you know, none of this is my fault but it seems as if everyone blames me and talks about my bad manners. I don’t mind having dinner or not. Mum prepared a bit of soup and we ate in silence at the table where we always eat. Dad got out of bed and joined us and said to Mum that it’s unfair that her sister makes us do all these things.
Be careful what you say, someone might be listening.
Maybe she thinks I haven’t figured any of it out. Even though they don’t want to speak about it in front of me I’ll end up finding out sooner rather than later. Dad frowned and said he didn’t mind if I ended up knowing. Dad thinks we shouldn’t leave Granddad there in the nursing home. It’s quite far from home and in the end it will only be us going to visit him anyway and he doubts Mum’s sister will ever go. Mum says she’s certain of it and she promises tomorrow when they have more time they’ll look for somewhere else. Dad says that in the meantime it would be best if he came to live with us. The house is up for a sale, as mum said, and all because the sister wants to sell it and keep the money, that’s what’s going to happen. She was convinced that if Granddad wasn’t still alive then her sister would be a little more respectful. It wasn’t like that. Mum pulled another one of her faces.
You always figure it out when it’s too late.
She was right, I think. Dad said she’s always been smart and she always figures things out before anyone else. Maybe it’s because they’re things women know about, things that men don’t see until it’s too late. Mum said she didn’t want to be compared to her sister. I carried on eating my soup slowly because it was too hot and I couldn’t finish it in a hurry. When I finished I got up from the table and said what I’d wanted to say from the beginning because it’s what I think — Grandad should die like Grandma and then he wouldn’t annoy us anymore. Mum and Dad looked at each other as if they were blaming each other for what I’d said and then I went to bed without cleaning my teeth which I’ve never done before but nobody told me off or said anything.