Arriving at the home of an 85 year old man is like playing Russian Roulette. When you put the key in the lock you take a deep breath. The odds are in favor of some sort of minor to great disaster surprising you on the other side the dysfunctional wooden door that refuses to lock properly. If you aren’t greeted upon arrival, if it’s even the slightest bit too quiet, if there is just one thing out of place, your heart stops. You move slow, regret coming, bite your nails, throw open doors, all the while calling out as loudly as possible in order to fill the silence with sounds of life. Anything to smudge out the eerie feeling that comes with hoping it’s not the exact opposite.
When I got to Grandpa’s this morning it was the kind of quiet that follows a loud bang. My ears felt like they were ringing and all the lights were turned down low. I slid along the door frame into the family room, peeking through one eye at the couch and hoping to see my Grandpa reading the newspaper. The TV was on, but it was muted and the couch was empty. After moving from the family room, to the bathroom, to the back porch, and then nervously calling up the stairs I checked the garage. I let out a long sigh that sounded more like a grunt as it echoed through the empty garage. He had gone somewhere. He wasn’t wounded or sick. He wasn’t lost or dead. He was probably shopping or getting his car looked at or trying to go to bridge even though they are closed on Sundays.
I surveyed the scene. There were muddy footprints zig-zagging around the kitchen floor like the blue prints for a choreographed dance routine, a broken glass in the trashcan on top of three sliced but uneaten oranges, last weeks crumpled newspaper with coffee stains on it and the remote control in the drying rack of the kitchen sink. I pulled the remote out to let it drip dry and scooped up some coffee grinds to brew him a new pot.
I threw my hair back and looked around the kitchen. “CHECK THE CALENDAR BEFORE LEAVING THE HOUSE” stared at me from the kitchen door. “DID YOU TAKE YOUR PILLS?” was taped firmly to the cabinet. “FEELING DIZZY? SIT DOWN. EAT A SNACK.” was peeling at the edges, but still held firm on the refrigerator door. I checked inside, hoping to find a bottle of Listerine or a VCR, anything to make me laugh. All that greeted me was a slue of more labels, gently reminding my grandpa how to stay alive. It’s not unlike when Alice steps into Wonderland and is immediately greeted by demanding and direct instructions. “EAT ME.” “DRINK ME.” “REMOVE PLASTIC AND HEAT FOR 1 MINUTE IN THE MICROWAVE.” I threw away the container labeled “FRIDAY LUNCH”, for two reasons. One because it was fish, and more importantly two, because it was Sunday. He’s forgetting to eat sometimes, which worked for Twiggy but does little for my grandpa’s figure or modeling career.
On the countertop were my grandpa’s scribbles. Three or four notebooks at a time, all with his notes and reminders to himself. Reading them is a challenge because they are both nonsensical and cryptic. “Four weeds and a bullet” was scrawled on the top of a yellow stenopad. “Call Lee, 3672917364538”, neatly printed below that. “Meryll Lynch, JP Morgan, high to brushes.”, “Sue, Robin, Patty, bridge.” The only riddle left un-riddled was “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” which I’m sure my Grandpa could find an answer to somewhere in his fictional world.
As I ran my finger over the last notation on the page and marveled at it’s vagueness, Gramps pulled into he driveway and busted through the doors carrying a jug of milk and three bottles of Drain-o MAX. I quickly helped him with his purchases to ensure the Drain-o didn’t end up on his cereal.
“I made you a sandwich Grandpa.”
He blinked at me. Nodded and sat down next to the roast beef and swiss, barely glancing at it.
“You eat yet? You hungry?” I asked, rubbing my hand on his back.
“Mmmmmm.” He replied. He’s been losing words sometimes, in a way that is very similar to losing your keys. One minute they are there, and the next they are gone. Only to be found after he wanders around the house looking for them.
He stood up and walked away from his sandwich, grabbing a cigar from the bread box on his way. I followed him out to his chair and sat on the porch to watch the traffic and smell the sweet, nasty stench of his cigar.
“You feeling ok Grandpa?”
“Mmmm.” He replied again, a bit shorter this time but with a chuckle as a follow up.
I left it at that and went back inside to mop. Thirty minutes later as I quickly erased the smear of footprints that followed him as he obliviously trudged through the freshly cleaned kitchen, he found his words again. Though, apparently, he found them in the wrong order.
“I think the deficit should really be congratulated on the symphony.” He mused, looking at me with expectation.
“Yea?” I asked.
“Of course. It’s the money that comes on the tray. You know the tray where I put my panure.”
“I suppose I do…” I responded, grasping to figure out what a “panure” might possibly be code for. Unfortunately, all I could focus on was that it was the only “word” that might ever rhyme with manure.
“In other words,” he continued, seemingly unaware of his discombobulation, “if you drag it to the crop duster, I’m sure the symphony would make it legal.”
I blinked. He often uses the wrong words but generally I am able to decipher at least the topic or something tangential to it. He returned my stare. We both blinked again, then he raised his eyebrows and laughed, grabbed the mustard off the table and squirted it into his water.
“Mustard? Don’t let’s be silly. Now, lemon, that’s different.”