by Nikoletta Gjoni
We stand around her bed—like weeds—rooted and swaying in place to the motions of her
“You have her hands,” I say to my mom quietly, as she’s stroking grandma’s gracefully long
fingers. Somehow this seems to be the most important detail as we drown in the yellow light of the hospital room. It’s a pointless sentiment, already dissipated and forgotten, but my words are worth more when I’m alone, so I grow quiet.
I sit and remember stories, like how grandma beat a soldier with a brick after being attacked on
her walk home from work, or how she climbed trees as a child, a tomboy in a sea of frilled dresses and straight postures.
I think about her hands wrapped around her rolling pin, flattening the phyllo against our granite
countertops; imprinting those movements in the stone as if to say: I was here—remember me.
Near our first shabby apartment in Cicero, my mom crossed a busy street while carrying
groceries. A bag suddenly burst and food went flying, oranges rolling down the dirty road as she chased after them. Feeling exposed and embarrassed, she began to cry as the light turned green, and thought to herself: This is not who I am, while undoubtedly thinking about her mother in Albania—her anchor so far away.
I watch her chest rise up and down. I know—before she's even gone—I’m going to miss the taste
of her byrek, and perhaps this is what my mom feared on that dirty street: to never know comfort again, or familiarity. I work hard to draw her consciousness closer to the surface of her skin, sounding out the syllables of her name in each language so I don’t forget. But even then, my efforts bring nothing.
Nikoletta Gjoni studied English Literature at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). As an undergraduate, she was one of 33 students selected to undertake university-funded research in Albania, where she focused on the censorship of news and literature under the Communist regime of the 1950s-1980s. After graduating, Gjoni worked in broadcast news for several years before leaving to focus on her writing and to pursue work in the nonprofit sector. She has recently completed a debut collection of linked short stories about people living in Communist Albania, spanning the 1970s through to the present day. You can find her work in Bartleby, Kindling Volume III, and Cleaver Magazine.