The house smelled of lemon cleaner, the furniture, save for one brown recliner, appeared unused, the pillows perfectly arranged in the corners, no bodily indentation's to insinuate someone had sat there. Where little trinkets used to adorn windowsills and shelves, there was nothing. Nothing was out of place, although there wasn't much to be out of place. The house looked as though no one lived there anymore. Proof that my family lived in this house for fifty years was nowhere to be seen. I walked through the rooms, trying to relearn the house’s nooks and crannies. I ran my fingers down the walls, tracing the flowered wallpaper in the guest room. I used to sleep there as a child, but all that remained in the room was a desk with bills stacked neatly on top. I thought I smelled Grandma’s perfume, like a phantom smell. I closed my eyes and tried to remember it. It had smelled like exotic blooming flowers. It was a smell that instantly drew my lips up into a smile and calmed me but the overwhelming scent of lemon was penetrating my nostrils, erasing the memories of her smell. When I arrived, Grumps greeted me with a “Hey, what are you doin’ here?" living up to the nickname my cousins bestowed upon him years before I was born. I perpetuated the tradition of calling him “Grumps,” and I definitely didn’t disagree with the name. “The proper and acceptable greeting is ‘Good afternoon.’ Would you like to try it?” I said, as I made my way to the kitchen with groceries. “Good afternoon….what are you doin’ here?” He grimaced. “Well, I have a surprise for you.” “I don’t like surprises.” “You don’t like anything. You’ll like this, though,” I lied. “You know how you don’t like anyone the agency sends over?“ “Yea, I don’t know why they don’t listen to me.” Grumps had sent away a variety of caregivers. First he wasn’t happy with Sue, said she was too old. Then he wasn’t happy with Marcia, said she was too young, then Nicole was “too blonde,” Leah too tall. The last straw was when he berated the agency for sending a “colored” person—by which he meant a black person---to care for him. Karla was Puerto Rican, but I never had the energy to correct him. “I said no colored people and that one girl was so young, she wouldn’t know how to boil water.” His usual sophisticated tone was interrupted by a bit of southern twang as he tried to get his point across. I rolled my eyes, holding a torrent of comments in my throat. I transferred my frustration into putting away the groceries. “Anyway,” I continued, “You won’t have to deal with them anymore,” I swung my arms in the air for dramatic effect, hoping he would get excited. “Well, good.” He crossed his arms on his chest, as though he’d won an epic battle. “I’m going to take care of you! Just going to come in the afternoons, fix you some supper and make sure you’re okay,” I smiled the biggest, most fake smile I could muster. I hoped my over-exuberance might psychologically pump him up but I knew instantly my childish tricks weren’t going to work on this grumpy old man. As I held my smile, he turned, arms crossed, and walked away into his study. While he sulked, I cooked. I noticed he had packed up all the cookware except bare essentials: one skillet, one large pot, one small pot and one 9 x 13 baking dish. Grandma owned innumerable cookware, cooking utensils, and so on. He must have packed them away with her trinkets. I unpacked my groceries and began making lasagna. I pulled a drawer below the sink to throw away the empty noodle bag and saw several paper plates, apparently from the last several days perfectly stacked sideways in the trash. They were thoroughly rinsed and placed one behind the other--it looked as though he threw a stack of new paper plates in the trash. Just as I was examining the organization of the trash can, Grumps silently walked into the kitchen to take his afternoon pills. "Let me put that in the trash," he said quickly grabbing the plastic bag from my hands.He delicately placed the bag in the trash can, pushed it down slightly and cocked his head to the side, staring intently at the absurdly clean trash can. He clapped his hands in approval. "See," he said pointing at the trash can and looking at me. "See how much space I save. It'll save me tons of money on trash bags." Grumps took four pills five times a day, due to an irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure and other old age ailments. He glared at me as he took his pills, taking huge swigs of water. His eyes seemed to say, ‘See, I can take care of myself. See how I’m taking my pills,’ although he failed to realize I had set his variety of pills out on a paper towel for him, as I had previously noticed he hadn’t been taking the proper dosage. “I’ll have lasagna ready at five o’clock,” I told him, as he popped his fourth afternoon pill in his mouth. He ignored me but was promptly seated at the dining room table at five till.
I watched Grumps closely as he ate his lasagna. I realized I hadn't seen Grumps close up in a long time. After grandma died six months ago, he had stayed hidden in his house, apparently re-decorating so it didn't look anything like it had when Grandma was alive. He didn’t compliment my dish but the occasional “mmmm’s” satisfied me.
After dinner, he said “goodnight” and I decided to take that as my cue to leave. I brought some fresh flowers in the next day, to liven the place up, but before I could get the onions sautéed, Grumps picked up the flowers and headed to the garage, dripping water throughout the kitchen. He put them in the large trash bin in the garage, explaining they attract ants. I watched him open-mouthed but did not say a word. It just seemed pointless. “Where are all of Grandma’s things?” I asked while the garlic and onions sizzled in the pan. “Gone,” he answered without looking up from his Reader’s Digest. “What do ya mean, gone?” “I mean, they are no longer around,” he looked up at me, piercing me with his clear blue eyes. “Well, what did you do with them?” “I got rid of them.” “Why would you do something like that?” “Because she died, so they became my things and I didn’t want them.” “Maybe someone else would have wanted them.” “What for? They were just silly little things. Your Grandma thought she needed to buy everything she saw.” “You have no right, ya know…to do something like that.” I started crying at the prospect of all of my Grandma’s things shipped off to Goodwill, or worse, in a dumpster. “Stop whimpering. You are so emotional,” he said. I threw down the spatula and grabbed my purse, preparing to leave. “You’re gonna leave all that on the stove?” I turned back to him, “You’re right. I can’t leave it like that.” I walked back to the stove, turned the burner off, threw the pan in the sink, grabbed a jar of peanut butter from the cabinet and said, “Here, Grumps. Make yourself a sandwich.” On the familiar drive home, I wondered if this was worth it. When the family asked if I would consider taking care of him, I felt a strange obligation as the only grandchild. Without Grandma, I realized how distant my relationship with Grumps was. I couldn’t remember hugging him or telling him I loved him. It’s as though I didn’t realize he was there until she was gone, and although he was capable of making me feel like scum in only two days, it became my personal mission to mend the relationship, or at the very least, create one. Night three was pork tenderloin with potatoes and carrots. I thought maybe I could win Grumps over with good food, something that would surely remind him of Grandma, maybe something that would make him happy. Grumps’ eyes widened as I cut the meat for him. Neither of us mentioned what happened the night before. “You don’t get to have too much of this at one time, so I’m going to put some away and you can use it to make sandwiches, okay?” “Yea, yea, I know,” he said, swatting his right hand at me. We ate in silence and I left directly after dinner was over. Night four---stir fry, silence, goodnight. Night five---hamburgers, baked beans, goodnight. Night six---macaroni and cheese, chicken, salad, goodnight On night seven, after slurping up his French onion soup, Grumps said he wanted to show me something. He led me to the garage and pulled on a string, which unfolded a ladder leading into the attic. “Go on up there and look to the right. There’s a blue box I want you to bring me.” At the top, I pulled another string connected to a lone light bulb. Once lit, I could see that the attic was cramped with dozens of boxes, ranging in size and shape. I found the box Grumps mentioned and held it in both my hands while carefully descending the ladder. Once back in the kitchen, Grumps opened it. On top was a gold picture frame with a picture of Grandma and Grumps on their wedding day. The photographer snapped the perfect moment. Hand in hand, they were exiting the church, walking down the stairs with family and friends lining the sidewalk, shouting and throwing rice. Grumps wiped the dust from the glass of the frame. “It’s a beautiful picture,” I said. “I know. It was a beautiful day. March 8, 1952.” Grumps sighed heavily then continued speaking while looking at the picture. “I feel like I’m losing her. Everyday, I lose a little bit more of her. I couldn’t stand looking at all her things and not remembering where something came from or why she loved it so much, so I packed everything up and put it in the attic. Sometimes, the only thing I can remember is our wedding day. March 8, 1952.” “I’m not going to pretend to know how hurt you are, but this picture brings you such good memories. Let’s put it back where it belongs—in the house where the two of you started your marriage, where you started a family,” I said. Grumps looked at me and his eyes were dewy. He nodded his head yes and gave me the picture, as though he might be too scared to do it himself. I walked into the living room and centered the photograph on top of the bare mantle. I stepped back and asked him what he thought. “Looks good,” he said. Day eight---Grandma’s candlesticks and table runner were returned to the formal dining room. Day nine---a handful of trinkets now adorned the windowsills in the sunroom. Day ten---three paintings were put back on the walls When I arrived on day eleven, Grumps was standing next to the dining room table, which was adorned with a glass vase and a bouquet of flowers. I smiled at him in approval. I walked to the table, closed my eyes and took a big whiff of them. The scent of Grandma filled my nose and brain and I saw an image of her in my mind. I opened my eyes and looked at Grumps. “Maybe it’s about time we start calling you something else,” I said.
© 2010 Moronic Ox Literary Journal - Escape Media Publishers / Open Books
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About the author:
Andrea Hinds is a graduate student in Nashville, TN studying creative writing. She enjoys writing short stories and book reviews. Like many writers, she lives a double life: By day, she is an administrative assistant and by night, she is an avid writer and reader.
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