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Meemaw Attic
Meemaw, a story of respect

     The day had come for the old soul to leave her house for the last time. No one wanted to keep her anymore. The reigning generation, a dozen disconnected relations on the spring side of thirty, would have set fire to the home, along with Meemaw, for the insurance money had laws not forbid such things.

     They scurried about the place like hungry vermin scratching out anything of value, although their values were deeply suspect. Meemaw cherished her tchotchkes, Irish lace, and antique paintings, nothing of great worth but collected with care over a lifetime. The descendants, having all but muted her long ago, ignored her pleas for attention. The intruders searched every room and hallway, the attic, and the space under the stairs. Grubby fingers rushed over the Behr Brothers upright piano, the mahogany bookcases, and the delicate cluster of Limoges pill boxes. All her priceless mementos were now orphaned dross. Clutching hands rummaged through it, seeking things made of gold or silver that might have melt value. 

     “Art makes you a fully realized person.” That wasn’t quite what Meemaw wanted to say, but her menu was limited. No response, of course.

     “I don’t know why Gran Taylor held onto all this dusty shit,” one of them said. Paula’s kid, or grandkid. It got confusing after a while.

     “Your mouth is your business card,” she said, though that didn’t seem to fit either. It didn’t matter; no one heard her attenuated voice over their own frantic thieving.

     “It’s a century old at least. I think most of it was Mimi’s.” Idiot. Meemaw couldn’t put a name to his face, or any of their faces. It was hard to believe they were her blood.

     “Who?” asked a twenty-ish girl whose eye make-up surged in orange pulses like some robotic insect.

     “Her.” The rude one walked over to Meemaw’s tabernacle and picked it up.

     “Respect flows out and comes back like ocean waves.” Not bad. Again, no one reacted.

     “Looks like cheap plastic,” the girl said. “I didn’t even know it had a name. No one does this anymore. I sure as hell wouldn’t do it to myself. Anyway, this thing’s obsolete. I doubt the metals inside are worth more—”

     “You can’t! The Liesmann Act. You have to turn ‘em in as is.” The rude stranger spoke firmly, swinging the tabernacle for emphasis. He clearly wanted it known he was running this operation.

     “Stupid. Gran Taylor should have done that long ago.”

     “Nope. Same law. You can’t surrender these things as long as there’s anyone still around who knew the original.”

“Well, Gran Taylor is worm farming now,” Orange Eyes said.

     “Ew. You’re disgusting,” Rude Stranger said in a tone that was all for show. Neither one of them was worth a damn, not like Taylor or her other beautiful grandchildren … all gone now.

     “So, we can turn in Gran Taylor’s—what, her grandmother?—turn her in for a surrender fee.”

     “We pay the fee.”

     “What? That’s…” The man threw the tabernacle roughly into a box and the two of them walked off, still arguing. Vile children. She wished she could curse. No, that was weak. She’d taught English for thirty years and knew how to communicate more effectively; if only she could do so now.

     Hours later, the movers came. There was some discussion about the tabernacle.

     “Respect flows out and comes back like ocean waves,” Meemaw said. She didn’t mean to repeat herself, but nothing else on the menu fit the moment.

     The men closed the lid over her. Terrifying. She wanted to be left in her home, among her precious belongings and the memories they held. In truth, she wanted her family. She wanted her husband Jimmy and the kids, back in the early days, when the children were loud and full of trouble, but small enough to pluck right out of their tracks, little feet still running, and haul them off to the bath. That was fun. The memories were there. They were all there, stored in a crystalline matrix, forever luminous as the first kiss of a special romance. (That kiss was from Jimmy.)

     “Age is a gift.” She was talking to the walls. Actually, she was talking sententious nonsense to the cardboard walls of a box. No big change there. It had been years since one of the little brats had figured out how to turn her volume so low no one could hear her menu vocalizations.

     Time passed. Meemaw knew exactly how much, to the nanosecond, but it mattered not at all. It gave her time to think, something she’d done far too much of throughout the long decades. Choices. The decision to copy herself into the tabernacle. It seemed like an ages old dream come true, to live on and on. The company promised she’d be able to interact with others by recording a list of statements she’d chosen. The tabernacle held her memories, but its ability to translate her thoughts to new speech was limited; a menu would have to do. The cancer cut her recording sessions short, so the menu was frustratingly short.

     For a time, there were two of her. Once the tabernacle had enough of her essence, there was a parallax view of sorts. Then, like someone throwing a switch, one set of eyes closed for good. She didn’t like to remember that part. There was a sadness there.

     Jimmy was supposed to join her. He vanished, never came to her. Accident? Lack of money? No one bothered to tell Meemaw. No one spoke to her directly at all. For a while, they treated her as they would a parrot, then a ghost, then they ignored her completely. Choices, theirs and hers had put her inside a tabernacle, inside a box, inside an uncaring world.

     At last, a pair of scraped and calloused hands opened the lid and gently pulled Meemaw’s tabernacle from the box.

     She was in a large space. The workers’ footfalls echoed into the air. They flipped her over; always a jarring experience. After adjusting something outside of her sensory awareness, they put her onto a Doric plinth.

     Reading from a screen that hovered above his sleeve, one worker said, “That’s it, Meemaw. Welcome to your new home. I hope you like it.” And with that, he walked off and shut the door.

     That was it. Another person had come into and out of her afterlife. They had taken her from her home of many decades and dumped her here, wherever this was. People were rotten. They just never got it, never honored their elders, never—

     “Hi. I’m Daryl.” It was a man’s voice. Gentle. Older perhaps.

     “Sarah Ann Cobb. Welcome, sweetie.” A woman’s voice. She spoke with a Southern lilt, ‘like magnolias and manure on a warm breeze,’ Jimmy would say. The voice snapped her back to the present. “The workers told us your name is Meemaw.”

     “Yes, that’s what my granddaughter, Taylor, used to call me. She was a bright one, an artist.” It took her a moment—not quite quantifiable with her digital senses—to realize that she’d just spoken two original sentences, the first since her original’s death. “I can speak!” What a delightfully silly thing to say. What a wonderful thing to feel!

     “It’s the upgrade. Expensive.” Daryl again. Her senses attuned to their new surroundings and she realized that her tabernacle was one of several hundred, positioned on plinths of various heights all around a starkly lit warehouse interior. Daryl spoke again. “One of your family must have decided to pony up the money.”

     Meemaw wondered which one of her great-great-grandchildren had made that choice.  

     “They could give us damn robot bodies so we could get up and move!”

     “That’s nonsense, Jamal. You hush!” Meemaw couldn’t tell who had just hushed Jamal, or for that matter who Jamal was.

     “Meemaw, you’re just in time for storytelling. We go round robin. Lord knows, we’ve got the time.” 

     “You are zee new kinder,” said a German-sounding voice. “I am Bettina, by zee way. Bitte, you do zee honors.”

     Around the large area, tabernacles muted their private conversations. Tally lights shone green with interest. Meemaw was not the only one. There were others like her. They were people, with lives and families, probably some relatives they liked, some they didn’t. Most important, they were listening to her!

     A story? Meemaw thought for a moment, then felt herself brighten. She began, “When Jimmy and I got married, we were dirt poor. Heck, dirt had more money. So, we said we’d wait a few years to start a family. Of course, Celia had other ideas…”