First edition | prose

First Edition features new original works by Northern California Jewish writers. Appearing the first issue of each month, it includes a poem and an excerpt from a novel or short story.

Even in Dreams, She Leaves Me Every Time

by hilary zaid

“Sorry, doll. I was just finishing my program.” My grandmother snaps off her TV set, which has been blaring “Let’s Make a Deal” at a volume for which hearing aids are not required. We’ve assumed our usual places in the set piece of her rent-controlled apartment, Grandmom curled into the pale blue La-Z-Boy my uncles bought her after her bypass, me perched on the 40-year-old, butt-punched couch cushions with the velveteen flowers I used to flick my fingertips across for the softness. The dusty olive carpet spools out between us, a sea of thumbprint-like whorls.

This is the good part.

illustration/audrey soffa

Grandmom has just tilted her wide, freckled face my way. The TV has swirled down to a single colored dot behind her head and her hazel eyes go big and bright as headlights trained on me behind glasses printed with the afterimage of her thumbs; I’ve just arrived here in her living room and I have not yet told my grandmother that she is dead.

But it’s coming. That part’s as sure a thing as my next breath. My grandmother died just before I was ready, this is my recurring dream, and this is the rule: I don’t get to see her face for more than a minute before I have to break the spell of reunion. It’s a bittersweet proximity, this teasing glance in which we are near enough to graze the soft fuzz of each other’s cheeks, but we cannot touch.

Grandmom leans forward, as if to pull the lever at the side of her chair, as if to launch her little, hunched body into the kitchen to find me food. I know there’s nothing in the fridge but half a tub of sour cream (full fat, even though she shouldn’t) and a blood-purple bottle of Manischewitz borscht. I know there’s a tin of mandelbrot she keeps specifically for me next to the containers marked Flour and Sugar.

This is a woman who woke from a coma when she heard me, standing by her hospital bed, utter the words “I’m hungry.” She could almost pull it off. Waking from the dead.

But I know she won’t make it into her Sav-On velour slippers. Before the dot on the TV has vaporized with its static hiss, a compulsion to enforce the rules of mortality will force my lips apart and I will kill the instant with The Truth. Every encounter I’ve had with Grandmom in the past 20 years proves my tenacity: I just can’t help myself.

Well, f—k that.

Sitting in my grandmother’s apartment — a rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica! That alone is worth staying on my grandmother’s couch for another 20 years! — it occurs to me that if I can get Grandmom hooked on something else, she won’t get out of her chair, and if she doesn’t get out of her chair, I won’t have to open my mouth, and if I don’t have to open my mouth, I can sit with her in her apartment and hear her breathe, and I won’t have to say goodbye to her again. My eyes dart from her freckles to the candy dish filled with Nips, then back to the guttering TV.

On Hulu, I remember, all the seasons of “The Amazing Race” are free.

Grandmom has never seen this show: Twelve teams, seven continents, a race around the world. It’s so addictive. Better than I could have hoped. Grandmom and I have made it to Season 17, the one with Nat and Kat — the slim, smiling young doctors who want to be the first female team to win the million-dollar prize. Nat is diabetic and terrified of heights; Kat is a 15-year vegetarian. When they make it to Fast Forward, the part where they can surge ahead of all of the other teams if they eat an entire goat’s head roasted on a platter, Kat scoops the greasy eyeballs up in her fingers and smacks her lips: “Tastes like money!” It’s impossible not to root for these girls, because they make it look so easy. Even when Nat is on the gondola up the Alps, tears streaming down her dewy face, her frown looks like a brilliant smile.

Reality TV didn’t exist when Grandmom was alive, unless you count “The Price is Right.” We have traveled to more countries in the last three hours than my grandmother ever visited in her life. Grandmom stays glued to her seat while I root through her kitchen for the tin of cookies. During the Hong Kong leg, we gobble all the mandel. Mandel bits pebble the couch. I knew that she would love this show, I congratulate myself. Maybe I’ll sleep through my own life. Maybe when I wake up from this dream, my little son will be a man.


Hilary Zaid is a writer in Oakland whose short fiction has appeared in various publications. The full version of this story originally appeared in Lilith magazine and can be found in Utne Reader. 


Works may be submitted to fiction editor Ilana DeBare at or poetry editor Joan Gelfand at Fiction excerpts may run up to 2,500 words, but only 800 words will appear in the print edition, with the rest appearing online. All prose and poetry published to date can be viewed at