5. ‘Twenty Questions’ day
The sky is—?
The grass is—?
How many days are there in a week?
The son laughs in attempt to lighten the mood, gangling arms scratching coarse hair that is faded and gray. “Sunday doesn’t count, apparently.” The daughter does not smile as she looks at the muted television, which has been on the same five minute loop for who knows how long.
There is no day of rest for the sick.
…sitting in her chair, well it’s not really hers, but the way her left ankle, embraced by an over fluffed cotton sock, flirts with the poorly waxed front left post and her creamy right leg, somehow finding a way to glisten and glow like the sparkles of a setting sun on the Atlantic despite lying underneath cheaply manufactured and cheaply installed florescent lights, caresses the ill-sanded front rim of the seat as her right heel, peek-a-booing between the heel of her sandal and the strap confining her ankle, toys seductively with the hardened gum and dried snot many failed to noticed and few left behind, …
When we say, “Bet your bottom dollar,” we mean we’re sure of a thing, so much so that we’d risk losing all we had. But I have never been that financially fragile, so strapped I’m clutching the last coins in my pocket and wondering where my next meal might come from. Even when I’ve lost a bet, my risk was marginal. But if I were living a life of such desperation, would I take such a gamble? Have I ever been that sure of anything?
Here are the things I’m sure of:
My grandfather believed money made the best gift, and from every holiday and birthday card a crisp and bemused Franklin stared out from an envelope. My grandfather was a teenager during the Depression and showed a willingness to work a strange array of jobs throughout his life, a vocational wanderlust he came by naturally. He dispensed condoms to sailors during the buildup to war. He worked at a state mental hospital keeping the inmates from “buggering one another,” as he once described it to my brother. He was a Fuller Brush man, a county clerk who billed so many delinquent Republicans for their back taxes one of them tried to shoot him with a pistol.…
“See this knife? Maybe I’m going to stab you,” Sylvia’s mother said as she set the table for dinner. Then her mother swallowed a whole bottle of pills and the ambulance took her upstate to the mental hospital. They called it The Nervous Breakdown.
Sylvia’s father kept her home from school and drove them in the ancient Studebaker to visit Mom. He swore at the other drivers, words Sylvia had never heard before. “That guy’s tailgating me,” he hissed and stomped on the brakes in the middle of the freeway.
The hospital looked like a castle with patients calling to her in witchy voices, “Come here, little girl, come on.” Her father got her mother and they walked on brittle leaves golden, deep orange, red. They sat at an empty picnic table. Her parents kissed.…
I saw Sibyl with my own two eyes, and when I said to her, “Sibyl, what do you want?” she replied, “I want to forget.”
I want everything that makes me different from the half-remembered snapshots in the attic stripped from my bones. I want to be born old and die a baby, as I forget, day by day, my entire life. I want the coroner to hold my hand. I want to ask a question and be amazed by the answer. That is what she meant.…