Dame Edna

“You didn’t wash your car,” she declares as I pull up to the curb where she is waiting, tapping her cane. Given the milky white centres of her eyes, I’m not sure how she can discern this. Despite being 98, the only thing diminished about this woman is her physical size.

“Nice to see you, Edna,” I reply, trying to keep the sarcasm to a minimum.

After helping maneuver her into the car, I skirt around the back and settle myself in beside her. I hadn’t yet buckled in when she barks, “I’m cold.” A statement meant to serve as a bitter reminder that I had, yet again, failed to anticipate her every need. 

“Why don’t you choose a radio station,” I respond, hoping the distraction will assuage her. As a woman who routinely wears more jewelry than clothes, she often opts for fashion over function, Mother Nature be damned.

“Where to today, Edna?” I query, despite already knowing the answer. We have the same routine each week, yet I have ceased making assumptions.

“The usual,” she responds, finally settling on a radio station: pop music. Edna’s hand taps to the beat on the arm rest.

I have called her Edna for as long as I can remember. Even as a child it never felt appropriate to call her ‘grandma’ and she has never corrected me, so it stuck. This likely relates to her overall lack of maternal instinct. Or so my mother tells me. Both late bloomers to motherhood, it was one of the few things they had in common.

Edna moved to the care home about fifteen years ago, when her vision started to become problematic. She had been living with my mom and I for a while, but then things became too much so off she went. She hates it there and never misses a chance to remind anyone within earshot of this.much so off she went. She hates it there and never misses a chance to remind anyone within earshot of this.

I stop by every Saturday, though lately I have been preoccupied by finishing my thesis. Edna doesn’t understand why I would want to go to university when I could just get married instead. “Marry rich,” was the soundtrack to my youth. It worked for her (four times). She has never worked one day in her life unless you count delivering unsolicited advice as work.

We stop in front of Kenny’s Korner, the local smoke and whiskey shop. Though it would be much easier if I just ran in to buy her weekly supply of wine gums and brandy, she insists on doing it herself. I stop next to the curb, angling the car as close as possible to mitigate any possible criticism. 

Pulling down the visor mirror, she makes a production of reapplying her lipstick. It ends up looking a bit like fuchsia-colored butter on her lips, but I don’t dare say anything. Smacking her lips in a moue of satisfaction, she adjusts her hat over the barely-there hair and hoists herself out of the car. A waft of the not-too-unpleasant scent of baby powder and Polident trails behind her.

“We’re late,” she informs me, her jewelry swishing side to side as she walks. She is faster than she looks, the brass tip of her cane punctuating every step with a sharp tap, tap, tap. Nothing about Edna is ever still. Or quiet.

The bell above the door jangles as we enter the suffocating warmth of the small shop. “Dame Edna!” Kenny calls from behind the counter, a smile widening across his face. “I was wondering when you two would arrive.” 

“My granddaughter has yet to embrace the merits of punctuality,” she pronounces crisply, standing slightly taller at being called “Dame.” Kenny has been calling her this for as long as I can

remember. I once asked him why when I was a kid, and he claimed it was because “She is one of the few great ladies left.” Even without a British accent, her imperious demeanor, sense of superiority, and critical nature do indeed remind me of the aristocracy. Over the years, this veneer has lost a bit of its shine, though she has retained the ability to make those around her feel the need to snap to attention when in her presence.

“Oh, Edna, leave the girl alone. She’s only 25! Kids that age have other things to worry about!” Kenny jokes with her.

To my knowledge, Kenny is the only one that can talk to her this way. Anyone else would wilt like a thirsty flower under her unflinching gaze. One does not joke with Edna.

Harumph!” She grumbles, despite the smile tickling the edges of her mouth. “The usual, if you please Kenny.”

Pulling a bag out from behind the counter, he smiles again, “Whaddaya know! I already have it ready for you!” 

Clearly charmed, she smiles in delight as I mouth “Thank you” over the counter to Kenny. He winks in return. Nothing ever seems to bother Kenny. Not even Edna. “Everything’s on sale today too, Dame Edna. Give me twenty and we’ll call it even.”

“See Katherine?” Edna turns her sightless gaze towards me, “You should be taking notes, dear,” she croons with saccharine sweetness. It’s times like these I am reminded why I wear a bite guard to bed at night. Handing him the requisite number of bills, she starts walking away, clearly expecting me to carry the bag. 

“See you next week, girls,” Kenny waves as we exit the store, the bell clanging again.

I notice her slightly stooped frame as she struts impatiently towards the car. I don’t know how she is able to navigate the world so well with such poor vision. The reverse-extrication procedure to get her back into the car is surprisingly uneventful and we drive in silence for a bit, the moving car a physical manifestation of a truce. Or so I thought.

“Have you found yourself a gentleman friend yet?” Edna asks as I cringe inwardly. The question meant to remind me of my unfulfilled duties as a female member of society. “When I was your age-” she starts, but I quickly interrupt, if only to stave her off for another week. “Yes, yes, I know, you had married your first husband by then.” I try to reason with her by adding, “I need to finish school first.”

“I suppose,” she clucks, her disappointment clear.

We pull up alongside a pickup truck stopped at a red light. Music blaring, the truck has all the fixings: lifted chassis, wheel extenders, oversized knobby tires, chrome accents, flames blazoned across the side, muffler rumbling. Arching her eyebrow, Edna deadpans, “You have to wonder what a man who drives a vehicle like that is trying to compensate for.” As if in response, the driver waggles his eyebrows at us.

Not sure whether to laugh or cry, I respond, “Yes, Edna, I suppose one does have to wonder about that.”

The light changes to green and the truck roars off as if this were the NASCAR starting line. Letting the fumes disperse before driving off, I say, “Off we go, Edna.”

“Off we go,” she replies, opening the bag of wine gums and popping one into her mouth. I can hear her dentures clacking as she chews loudly. Her small arm stretches out the open window, as if trying to capture the air in her open palm. I peek out of the corner of my eye and see her smiling to herself. Her hand, soft and mottled with age and liver spots, fingers gnarled with arthritis, floats weightlessly. A queen with a paper crown.

Ashley Holloway gets bored easily, so she lives her life according to an ‘&.’ She teaches healthcare leadership in Calgary, AB, and is a nurse with a Master of Public Health, a graduate diploma in Global Leadership, with further studies in intercultural communication and international development. She writes in a variety of genres, including short fiction, book reviews, poetry, essays, academic works, and creative non-fiction. Her work has appeared across Canada and the US, and she has co-authored three books. Ashley reads manuscripts and is an editor for Unleash Press. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She also really loves punctuation.