The Everlasting StaircaseJeffrey McDanielWhen the call came, saying twenty-four hours to live,my first thought was: can't she postpone her exitfrom this planet for a week? I've got places to do,people to be. Then grief hit between the ribs,said disappear or reappear more fully. so I boardeda red eyeball and shot across America,hoping the nurses had enough quarters to keepthe jukebox of Grandma's heart playing. She grew uppoor in Appalachia. And while world war IIfunctioned like Prozac for the Great Depression,she believed poverty was a double feature,that the comfort of her adult years was merelyan intermission, that hunger would hobble back,hurl its prosthetic leg through her window,so she clipped, clipped, clipped -- became the JacquesCousteau of the bargain bin, her wetsuitstuffed with coupons. And now --pupils fixed, chindangling like the boots of a hanged man --I press my ear to her lampshade-thin chestand listen to that little soldier march toward whateverplateau, or simply exhaust his arsenal of beats.I hate when people ask if she even knew I was there.The point is I knew, holding the one-sidedconversation of her hand. Once I believed the heartwas like a bar of soap -- the more you use it,the smaller it gets; care too much and it'll snap offin your grasp. But when Grandma's last breathwaltzed from that room, my heart openedwide like a parachute, and I realized she didn't die.She simply found a silence she could call her own.