Iowa Writes

APRIL NEWMAN
The Bedroom


The bedroom had dark plank floors with one rug poking out in the center. The walls were yellow behind a painting of wild mustangs galloping through a mountain range, their muscles statuesque. Grandma kept quarters in turquoise beaded purses from South Dakota on her dresser, the brown-edged photos of her children jammed into the sides of her mirror. In the corner was a black rolltop writing desk. She placed a photo of her father, Donald, there.
 
Grandma died in that bed. The same one where her children were conceived. She died skeletal thin and skin faded the color of a sliced pear, almost translucent, her shoulder bones and clavicle pronounced; eyes pinched and sunken. A delta of wrinkles fanned softly toward her ears and her lips were flat and nearly purple. My Persian cat, Walter, folded himself into her side as she lay dying. In her morphine delirium, she called out names of school mates, strangers to us.

The bedroom had dark plank floors with one rug poking out in the center. The walls were yellow behind a painting of wild mustangs galloping through a mountain range, their muscles statuesque. Grandma kept quarters in turquoise beaded purses from South Dakota on her dresser, the brown-edged photos of her children jammed into the sides of her mirror. In the corner was a black rolltop writing desk. She placed a photo of her father, Donald, there.
 
Grandma died in that bed. The same one where her children were conceived. She died skeletal thin and skin faded the color of a sliced pear, almost translucent, her shoulder bones and clavicle pronounced; eyes pinched and sunken. A delta of wrinkles fanned softly toward her ears and her lips were flat and nearly purple. My Persian cat, Walter, folded himself into her side as she lay dying. In her morphine delirium, she called out names of school mates, strangers to us.
 
“When I die you have to play Beulah’s Boogie. And dance. And I mean it,” she had told everyone on different occasions; she may have been dangling a cigarette. Of course I promised. But when it actually happened, I wasn’t nearly ready to dance.
 
She waited until all of her children and grandchildren were in the house, blown in from the road or down the street—all tattered like wet newspapers. She passed exactly two hours after I stepped off the plane from Florida. I don't know how she realized I was finally home, her eyes like clamps in that yellow room, the light now custard around us.
 
When it happened, the cat jumped up and out of her arms, running with his body crouched close to floor, his hair raised high up like a ridge on his back. Half a dozen people crowded her bed, sitting on the edge or standing near the window sill. They checked her pulse; they felt her lips for signs of life with their trembling fingers. They murmured and cried out, but everyone was still touching her as she melted away.
 
One of my aunts turned on Beulah’s Boogie almost immediately. It sounded loud enough to fill a football stadium, the jazz horns blazing as they zipped her up in a black bag and rolled her out of the bedroom for the last time—this time on a gurney. Dance! But my legs were a zombie’s, arms made of rope, and the whole scene felt filtered through a lens smeared with butter. Dance! Time had turned on its ears. Dance! We have to dance! And even though my wrists weighed a thousand pounds, for her I raised my hands.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


APRIL NEWMAN

April Newman is a MFA Writing candidate at Columbia College and was the 2006-07 Graduate Opportunity Award recipient. She was a featured student reader at Creative Nonfiction Week 2006. A graduate of The University of Iowa, this Dubuque native now lives in Chicago with her puppy, Kona.

This page was first displayed
on December 26, 2006

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