Miranda’s grandfather thought the world of her. She had been the first person the hospital had called when he was admitted. It had been snowing, a constant wind wrapped around the city like a coil, changing things, energising things, sending normal people mad. Christmas felt unreal. Miranda had just left in a hurry to the ER on a call and her grandfather had had the late-night news playing on the television in his room. That’s all that she could remember of the scene, and since then had struggled to feel in her head through the environment anything out of the ordinary—any sense of foreboding or unease that would signal the powerful and inexplicable event that would follow. He had, according to Jasmine his carer, a nice and trustworthy woman, nodded off to sleep before floating a foot and a half (level with the tallest flower in his bedside bouquet, Jasmine had repeated) above his bed before being thrown into the wardrobe, which had fallen on him. He had broken several bones including his left femur and his sternum, and almost died of pneumothorax—a buildup of air in his chest cavity. Since then Miranda had had several discussions with Jasmine, trying to determine whether the event followed a pattern, or could have possibly been predicted by either of them. She had had experiences as a child with her grandfather where things would move unaided—a tissue box an inch or two across the coffee table, pictures on the wall, or the television would turn off, turn on. She wasn’t able to wear watches—nobody was—in her grandparents’ house, because they would stop working. She thought about those times as though they were a seperate part of her life—compartmentalised like a dream—that was there, and this; her life, her husband, her house, her dog and car and job and trips to the Bay, was here, was real. Though she wasn’t spiritual she was uncomfortable with the idea that there could be things going on around her, medical or spiritual, that she wasn’t aware of. That she wasn’t privy too or wasn’t sensitive enough to apprehend.
Now it was January, the news still played on the television. He hadn’t recovered but developed further symptoms which so far had eluded a satisfactory diagnosis, but he was dying slowly. She visited when she could. She wasn’t used to hospital rooms dressed so nicely, with such nice views. She worked in ER at a public hospital. It was noisy. White and honeydew. The rooms had cracks in the walls, curtains separating private deaths. She didn’t mind it, she had grown used to it—to the smell of coffee in the break room where some of the doctors smoked, body half-in, half-out of the emergency exit door, tightening their jackets against the cold and the night. People in ER often had tired faces; tired, upbeat, wired. Her grandfather’s room was dim, firm, expensive-looking. Miranda took off her coat and lay it over an armchair. She wondered how long it would take for the rest of the family to get the picture and come for another visit. He was asleep, rolling the fingers of his left hand over and over—she saw it in the window’s refection, and placed her own hand over his. His pulse was a little high. He was having a bad dream; she saw it in his face.
“Grandpa,” she said softly. “Dedushka.”
He frowned slightly, his eyes still searching, following invisible paths in his dream. He was developing Parkinson’s, and Miranda marvelled at that—that he would outrun it. Her grandfather would likely die before the disease took his mind and body. She warmed her hand on his arm, feeling between his fingers. He roused and looked at her. His expression remained the same and it felt, as it had for the past few weeks in her experience, like he had been conscious of her there, was only trying with great effort to wade through the spell of sleep to open his eyes and see her there. He was clairvoyant, that wasn’t an issue up for discussion, as much as Miranda resisted that conclusion, the implications of it, although she supposed she had never really confronted herself about it—had never had a talk about what exactly it meant—for her, for the world around her, for God, whatever or whoever that was.
“You must be freezing,” he said slowly, wheeling his eyes gradually, painfully around the room, where it landed on the thermostat.
“No, it’s good in here,” she said. “It’s perfect, do you want me to change it?”
“Why would you want to change it if it’s perfect?” he said.
When she was a girl her grandfather had a trick where he would set, or appear to set things alight with his hands. No one knew how he did it. Dedushka would say he didn’t know either, and to keep it a secret. He could also make things appear. He had caused a colleague of her father’s to lose a document that he had been relying on for a promotion. This was well known in the family. He had shown it to Miranda once—it was looseleaf—a report maybe, or an account, it sat inside a locked cabinet in his study. Purportedly it had travelled there instantaneously, without the cabinet being unlocked. He also caused what Miranda could only describe as spirits to enter into rooms where seances had or were occurring. They were mostly tall, slender black humanoid figures that passed across one’s vision, rarely in the periphery like a mental trick—she and everyone she worked with at the hospital experienced those frequently; shapes shifting out of sight, movement that lapsed from the imagination into the visual, a kind of temporary, sleep-deprived dementia. No, these human-looking shapes occupied the central portion of one’s vision—Miranda was not yet ready to say that they were physically there, in the room the way she and he were. These things brought, like many of the inadvertent manifestations of her grandfather’s magic, a very gross, weighty and penetrating sense of doom or dread. She didn’t know what they were or where they came from.
Dudushka rubbed his eyes and looked through lenses held just past his nose at the television.
“So he did it, did he,” he said mysteriously. When Miranda looked it was advertisements. He put his glasses down and yawned, as though he weren’t sick and dying and in pain. As though they were back on the farm, and she had come into his room on a Saturday morning to coax him into showing her his magic.
“I want to go for a walk,” he said, reaching for his bed’s remote.
“No, Granddad, how about some TV.” Miranda searched for something nice, something apolitical.
“Don’t you think you’re being intolerant?” he said, the bed’s mechanics whirring as he titled upright with the control.
Miranda ignored the question. He wanted her to respond with something like, “Intolerant? Do you mean condescending?” so that he could say, “Aha! So by your own admission you are being condescending! How about a walk?”
She found a National Geographic documentary and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Jupiter,” he said, looking out the window. “Blowy isn’t it?” Miranda walked to the window. In the streetlight down below the trees shimmered in the white light, arching, trembling silently in their rows. They were like hostages they had been showing on the news all these weeks—for a moment the images overlapped, flashed in Miranda’s mind. She thought of those innocent American soldiers kneeling in the desert, their faces black cotton sacks; what they would do to them, what was waiting for them today. Tomorrow.
“You know, the face—” Dudushka began. He had been studying her as she looked out the window. Reading her mind. “—the face contains the soul. The human face, not the animal face, which is—hairy, flea-bitten, feathered, completely transparent—an implement of a physical order. The face was the wand before the magi decided they needed one. We interact with the world through our face, and it is the part of our physical body closest to the other side. We kiss with our mouth, kissing is a synecdoche for sex, which is the second-highest order of magic below human sacrifice, and we also form words which directly affect other minds, and subsequently both the physical and spiritual worlds. The ancients wore the masks of demons to assume their power. They shrunk and spiked the heads of enemies not merely to intimidate or denigrate, but to capture and assume power. As soon as a creature has a face it is able to be viewed on a personal level.” Miranda alternated her focus between her grandfather and the television. Ads played and it destroyed the moment. People smiling manically, objectlessly, obnoxiously. She turned it off so forcefully she punctured the keypad on the remote—a dark hole was now where a round red button used to be.
Her grandfather peeled back his sheets and sat on the edge of his bed.
“The water,” he said, pointing to the jug of red cordial on the bedside table. Miranda poured a glass. Dudushka finished it quickly then looked at the empty glass, and at the beads of water falling, cutting through the fog.
She would take him for a walk, she decided. The word “DELERIUM” had flashed into her mind and she suddenly felt a terrible dread, a guilt at the memory of elderly patients of hers who had slipped off the deep end under her care—had lost sense of their own agency and distinctness from their environment, their purpose, direction and personhood. It was a fate worse than death, and it was treated so lightly. People need stimulation. Her grandfather took the cue and stood with her. Without warning he slipped off his bed gown and began to change. Miranda turned, but secretly watched his slender, slightly hunched frame move in the reflection of the TV. Slowly, carefully, gracefully. He was something like seventy-seven years old, she couldn’t remember exactly, but spry and lucid a great deal of the time, like a twelve-year-old boy. She admired him for being so strong, and for never discussing his pain with her.
The hospital grounds were empty. Litter blown in from the street danced in the courtyard—a sheet of newspaper was caught in a vortex by a row of aluminium seats. Everything had the sense and texture of brushed metal, Miranda thought. Nothing felt conducive to recovery or health. She held her coffee to her cheek. Dudushka wore his ushanka and his camel coat and strolled comfortably, independently around, looking at the various bland accoutrements of the hospital square as though they were flowers, bees and ferns in a winter garden. She wandered too, experimentally surveying the environment the way she imagined he was—peering into things, elaborating on the sad and abrupt initial impressions to see if, magically, they could yield something deeper. She began to feel optimistic, less tired, but the hardness of the air buffeting her face, making her nose and cheeks numb wore away at something she knew was illusory and derivative, not authentic. Miranda wept secretly and briefly when she saw that Dedushka too was not content or inquisitive either—it had been a mistake somehow; he was reflective but not inspired, plodding, in fact, about the courtyard the way she was. Plodding.
“This,” he said, pointing to the newspaper, still trapped in its spiral.
“Yes?” said Miranda. “’This’?”
“You asked me once where I got my power.”
“I’ve asked you numerous a time and in many different ways over the years how your tricks work; are you saying something now, Grandpa? Are you saying it has something to do with debris?”
Dudushka smiled and continued his desultory course around the courtyard with his arms wrapped behind him. Miranda realised she had made a mistake by shunning him but knew trying to remedy it now would not yield a thing. She let him go and thought more deeply about the paper, about the way it spun. She had vague recollections of him saying something about weather, natural cycles, geography. Yes, perhaps about vortices and whirlwinds. She thought then about the whirlwind that carried away the prophet Elijah in his old age. And where would he go? she thought. “The wind,” came the old verse spontaneously to her then, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Dedushka, she thought, must be born of the Spirit. He was an Elijah in his own right, walking up the mountain, into the whirlwind, naked, cloakless, an unanswerable mystery.