ThereAreThingsGrandpaDoesn’tKnowGrandpa Bob bought a new video game console around the time Nana Nancy’s cancer came back. It flowed in her blood now, and hospice workers had come to their home. In the living room, Bob tried to connect the RCA cable for his new video game system while workers set up a hospital bed in the study for Nancy. She’d been sick for several weeks, no longer strong enough for chemotherapy. She didn’t bother with make-up anymore and left her hair to its own devices.

Bob had never owned any video games before. Bob could get sound or a picture but not both at the same time. Where did the yellow cable go? What about the red and white ones? He bought the console hoping that their two granddaughters could come over and play bowling or tennis. Frustrated by the cables, the console in general, Bob left the room to go get a tutorial from one of the hospice workers on how the hospital bed worked. This is how you raise the feet, you push this button to make her sit up, or lie down, and here are the notches to set her table at a different height. It is impossible to say how she felt, moving from the bed she had known for so long, to the bed she knew she would die in. She kept her hands under her blanket because they were cold and shook when they weren’t held together.

The controller for the console wouldn’t turn on. It needed batteries. Bob knew that, but where did they go? The manual might have explained it, but where? It came in ten different languages and had hundreds of pages. He couldn’t remember ever having read a manual in his life. Why start now? Eventually, hopeless, he checked the manual. It told him exactly where the batteries went, except for, a rubber casing concealed the area where the battery bay should be. He took the controller to the store.

“Where do the batteries go?” he asked. “I don’t know these things.”

“Let me take a look,” the clerk said. He nagged at certain parts until the rubber casing popped off. “Here.”

When Bob got home he tried the controller, which worked now but then the console wouldn’t turn on. Somehow he had set it up so the console was on when the TV was off and vice versa. He fixed this. Once he got it working it asked him for his name and to build a video game version of himself. He tried his best to make it look like himself, a little bit of white hair, some glasses, clean-shaven. There he was, oversized head bobbling around, looking left to right on the screen, making a funny face occasionally. Is that all he could do? He tried to make one for Nancy but stopped midway through. He couldn’t get the gray of her eyes right, or the shape of her silver hair.

Later, when he tried to bowl, the controller stopped working. Or it might have been the sensor for the controller. He couldn’t tell, so he went back to the store.

“I don’t think the controller is working,” he told the clerk.

“Did you try recalibrating the sensor?”

“No,” he said. “How do I do that? I don’t know these things.”

The clerk explained to him, in video game jargon, how to recalibrate the sensor. Bob went home and tried but now nothing seemed to work. Had the batteries died already? Why did the sound go? The next morning he woke up early, packed everything back into the box and returned it. When he got home he raised the back of Nancy’s bed and then her feet, lowered the table a bit. He fed her breakfast. She kept her hands under the blanket, clutched together against her chest, like a bulging heart.

Dylan Brown lives in Portland, Oregon, where he’s currently enrolled in the IPRC’s writing program and works as a bookseller at Wallace Books. Other work has appeared in Pathos Literary Magazine and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

Photo by Maria Romasco-Moore