International Writers Magazine: The Golden Age - From Our Archives
been hoarding the chocolate bars again because granddads crazy
and he thinks his Vietnamese girlfriend is still alive. She spoke
French. He puts all his chocolate bars on top of his bureau where
they sit until I put them back into the pantry so he can steal them
again. I like to think of it as a game he likes to play. I kind
of need to think of it as a game due to his being off his rocker.
Hes a little
demented and hes hard to talk to and his figure is ungainly now
like the corpse of a bird you might find on the sidewalk during the
summer: a couple of dusty feathers and bones, a beak, no eyes. Hes
like a ghost the way he likes to wear his old Vietnamese girlfriends
dressing gown. Sometimes Ill hear a sound and Ill be awake
and there he is hovering over me. Hell have this fantastic grin
on his face and his dressing gown will be billowing around him blue-white
and pleasant as a dream in the darkness of our room.
Sometimes I wish he was strong like he used to be and that hell
take his hands and wrap them around my throat and strangle me while
I sleep so Im almost dead by the time I come to and find his fingers
wrapped around my neck. Grandad has these huge hands despite his being
so thin and forlorn. He used to be an amateur boxer and his nose is
still crooked and gauged.
Grandads got a hard on for masculinity. At least he used to but
I dont think his bits and pieces work anymore. Not that I asked
its just a hunch.
Mom used to look over grandad but I guess his hoarding was worse than
he is with me. I guess he had more energy then or mom fed him more than
tuna and bread like I do. But I cant really afford anything more
than tuna and bread because Ive got alcoholism and laziness and
if those arent deal breakers for lack of success, well I dont
know what. It nearly breaks me to keep the apartment filled with chocolate
bars. And it has to be name brand chocolate. Hersheys or Mars.
Nothing generic. His Vietnamese girlfriend got a flavor for American
chocolate and that was the end of it. He also told me she got a flavor
for American men. Whenever hed tell me about the men hed
wink at me and grin like when he leans over me in the night.
Anyhow mom got tired of him and grandad got the heave-ho. I dont
think he really noticed but hed drop subtle hints: He started
demanding chocolate bars and I thought, Oh boy. The first night he was
here I went down to the 7-11 for beers and got us a couple of turkey
and cheese sandwiches. I even splurged and bought a couple of boxes
of oatmeal cream pies. I offered grandad a beer which he accepted and
stared at while he nibbled on his sandwich. He and I never talked much
so I thought Id ask him how he was.
"Not too bad," he said. His voice sounded so young. It was
high and piercing like a teenage girls. I liked how his face looked.
How it was still whiskery. I imagined him, as I chewed on the stale
bread and meat and cheese, working with his single-bladed safety razor.
I could see him dipping his razor into the warm water in the sink basin
and bringing it back, slowly, to his chin and cheeks and then lifting
his chin just so and scraping the whiskers. He still used Barbasol shaving
cream and splashed plain rubbing alcohol on his face instead of aftershave.
"How do you like the place," I asked and opened another beer
and sucked on it, sputtered in the process and wondered, happily, at
how they got it so bubbly, so cold and right.
"I killed a man with my hands."
"I think youll find my old bed nice enough, grandad. Its
just me thats slept on it but dont worry, mom sent some
sheets over along with your things."
It made me sad thinking about his things. It was just some button-up
shirts and a couple of pairs of blue slacks, a couple of pictures of
mom and uncle Grey, his bathroom stuff and medicines (a few white bottles
of generic aspirin Id come to learn that grandad hated
medicine and doctors and the two together was like two men loving each
other), and some pens and crinkly sheets of blank paper. It kind of
made me sad that there werent any pictures of me. Im his
only grandson but with age comes well, hell, age.
I finished my beer and had another and another and he nibbled on his
sandwich and looked at the TeeVee and didnt say much else to me.
When it was time for lights out I directed him to my bedroom and he
sat on the bed and looked at me and blinked. I had another beer and
fell into the couch, the tears welling in my eyes as I thought of my
family and my wife and grandad resting in my bed down the hall. I didnt
think of our oatmeal cream pies. I had another beer and fell asleep.
I tried to convince grandad, once, that he was a dog and that chocolate
was bad for dogs that it could make him nauseous and give him
the squirts and the racking intestinal pains and if he had too much
hed probably keel over and die because of it. I think I got him
going for awhile and hed even howl or grumble every now and then.
He drooled enough on his own so it wasnt too far of a stretch
but I found a little bit of my humanity when I found him kneeling in
front of the pisser spooning water into his mouth. He was doing the
best he could at least. He was soaked from head-to-toe and there was
water all over the linoleum. Id bet he was there for a good while
and whenever the toilet got low on water hed flush it so itd
fill up again. I never said grandad wasnt clever or anything.
He swears he killed a man once in a boxing match. Its something
he keeps telling me over and over again. Hit him so hard that he died
before hitting the canvas. Says he put pennies and nickels and bunches
of gravel in his boxing gloves before the match. Says he did it because
this man, this son of a bitch, stole his girl right out from under him
so he made up his mind to kill him. I swear its bullshit but you
should see how his cloudy eyes glisten and his giant hands creak to
a close to make knotty ninety year old fists. Its gorgeous. Its
beautiful. Its like rock formations in Utah.
We like going for walks. Just around the block for a little air. Its
so I can talk to him for awhile and tell him of the predestined chaos
Id finally run into. What with the apartment being what it is
and him, and mom bailing on him and my wife getting thin and beautiful
after being giant and fat, the bills, and the unemployment checks running
out, his social security checks being a scant couple of rat turds and
our general lack of routine or hope gets me into the mood for taking
him by his feather-light elbow and talking a little bit like men.
The neighborhoods not bad. There are trees and a sidewalk. The
mailman comes everyday. The mailmans a woman, actually. You should
see her legs and nothing else because once you hit her hips, her midsection,
its like a different half of a body thats not exactly becoming
but fully feminine with the soft rolls of fat and a smell like a gossip
magazines perfume inserts. Her legs are strong as the legs on
a draft horse and they are copper and tanned and shine even if the sky
is overcast with clouds.
The neighborhoods not bad except that its not much of a
neighborhood. I live where all the college kids live because the rent
is cheap and I can sit next to the pool with a coke bottle half-full
of bourbon and no one gives me any trouble. Im the older guy who
looks young enough to be in school still. Like I just got done with
a stint in the National Guard or decided after getting my CDL license
and sitting behind the wheel of a rig for a year and a half that Id
take a stab at educating myself.
Its usually me who talks when grandad and I are walking. Its
more that he totters beside me and I hold his elbow or I put my arm
around his waist and then I know what its like to hold onto nothing.
Whats going on in there, I wonder? I like to talk about anything
but when he and I talk its not conversation.
"Got to get some chocolate bars," he said, once. "Got
to be big ones. Tasty, too."
I got to know about his Vietnamese girlfriend through a picture he drew.
I guess he drew it since I dont draw and Id seen his couple
of pens and blank white paper. It was a picture. It was of a girl with
slits for eyes and she had a body the shape of a railroad tie and about
the same color. She had a towel or a sheet wrapped around her and a
mass of scribbles that was her hair. Next to her body were the words,
"Get me some candy bars."
Itd probably serve me well to talk about grandad and his girlfriend.
Shes dead. She used to take care of him. They were in love. She
was older than grandad, somehow, yet, she was Asian and Asians, according
to him, dont age. Thats not true, she died. She died a couple
of months ago. She was ironing shirts or making spaghetti, something,
when she keeled over. Grandad wanted to fly her back to Vietnam and
bury her with his bare hands. I dont doubt that he could do it,
given his hands, but it was a no-go.
I guess they met when he was in Vietnam. He wasnt a soldier. He
was in the vacuum manufacturing business and he was looking for labor.
She was solid as a brick and when she was sewing vacuum bags in the
production shed, my grandad took an eye to her. She had such efficient
movements. The way she passed the heavy fabric through the sewing machine
with her sinewy arms; the way her foot pumped the sewing machines
pedal; how she chewed, constantly, on a spare sewing needle flipping
it end-over-end in between her lips and developing a hardened callous
on her top and bottom lips, right in the middle of her kiss, like a
tiny, raised strawberry.
Grandad took her off the line and put his huge hands around her thick
waist. He told her hed killed a man for scorn and for love and
she shook her head and he kissed her mouth right on the hard skin in
the middle of her lips. He grinned and listened to the sounds of the
vacuums being assembled and felt something good inside of him.
Its only been a week but with old people, I guess, time is moving
faster than ever. Grandad doesnt talk. Grandad can barely hold
his razor. I shave him when I think to. He doesnt struggle. Hes
like a baby or a child who when I was a kid, at least
would be called touched or special. Hes like a retard with an
engine for a heart.
When we go for our strolls I have to lace his shoes extra tight. I learned
this after the first time we went his shoes kept coming off at
the heels. Seems his shoes are more for show than for anything. Hes
stopped his boxing routine. No more rounds with the heavy bag and tossing
medicine balls around. He cant eat eggs anymore on account of
his internal constitution. I fed him an egg once and days later, his
face as red as overripe mulberries, Id gotten the message and
had to go to the store for prunes and brandy. The routine with the shoes
is this: an extra pair of socks and I double lace the knots of his laces.
I have a beer and feed him some aspirins and off we go.
Nobody smiles at us or engages us. Cars go by and I can hear the sounds
of music throbbing through the composite paneling. I drove a huge car,
once. I liked metal, the heaviness of metal, so I drove an El Camino.
It was beige and I loved it. Then I crashed it and that was that. Grandad
keeps his head level and his eyes stare out ahead of him. I look for
the mail lady man or anything that I can steal a look at. Clandestine
is the word. Dont let them know youre looking.
People give us strange looks sometimes. Its not like grandad
is cute like a puppy or one of those friendly-looking golden retrievers.
Hes doubled over from age and a life of negligence and futility.
His daughter didnt even want him anymore and hes stuck with
me. And his Vietnamese girlfriend dying on him when shed guaranteed
him that shed live longer than he would. Its too bad and
I feel for him. I feel for him in the way that pity reaches out its
sticking tendrils and asks for more and more. When we decide to pack
it in I beg off a headache and head into the bathroom to draw a shower.
I want to wash the memory of her skin off of mine. My wife was big at
one time but I loved her and she knew it but I think, Im coming
to think, that shed always had a sassier, skinnier woman living
inside of her. And she saw, after time, the loser that shed married
when she was young and I was young. Id never thought of doing
much with my life and that was okay by her at the time. It didnt
matter if one season had me hanging sheetrock and the next had me tarring
school blacktops as long as I brought home enough money for hotdogs
and beers, as long as I kissed her fully and with meaning, that was
enough. And then she started to exercise and to watch her diet and to
realize, seemingly by day, that she was caught in a relationship that
was going nowhere and would go no further than our two bedroom ranch
house which wed been renting from her parents. We didnt
have kids either, not one, not even the scare of one as Id been
unrelenting in my opinion that a kid would be like a cancer to our carefree
existence of hotdogs and beers and late nights in front of the TeeVee
only semi-clothed. And that I was scared to death of them.
But now that I had grandad to think of and to look after I think that
maybe having kids, maybe having had a little more drive any drive
at all, actually wouldve been a good thing. Because grandad
is a bit like having a kid and a pet at the same time. A really little
kid at that. And Ive learned to put up with his candy hoarding
and his fickle diet and his sleeplessness.
I know Im kidding myself and the shower wont help anything.
When I go to sleep tonight it will be with a sour mouth and beer in
my gut and bladder. When I wake in the middle of the night grandad
will be there as always, hovering above the couch and his bed untouched.
Hell be wearing his dead Vietnamese girlfriends old dressing
gown and it will be opened, the drawstrings curled on the floor next
to his pigeon feet, his chest bare and tiny and his huge hands slack
at his sides. The only thing that matters, that keeps me together these
days, is the huge grin plastered on his face. The smile is unmoving
and it has a luminosity of its own and it showers the room with light.
As usual I mumble something about heaven or being tried or that the
chocolates next to the tuna in the cupboard and even though I
know he cant really hear me hell turn to the kitchen for
his booty to be stored and kept for his one true love.
© Edmund Sandoval - December 2008
Life moments in Dreamscapes
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