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.
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.…
I’ll come right to the point, since we have so little precious time left: I hate you with a passion. I want you dead. I can hardly forgive myself for coming here after all these years. But you’re the only remaining connection to my dead son, so here I am. On your doorstep. In the flesh. Pleased to make your acquaintance.
Flesh. Sins of the flesh. Thoughts of men coupling. I can hardly get myself around the mechanics of it.
My skin revolts. My gorge rises. My eyes go blind. This is not the purpose of a man’s body. This is not the reason I sired a son. I brought him on earth to cure cancer, to make me proud, to sire my grandsons, and because I didn’t know anything better to do and I wanted to sleep with his mother. …
The crowd hovering around the entrance to the Hospital for the Incurable seemed slight at first. The hospital was the cornerstone of the city of Le Frères du Plume. Many of its citizens derived their livelihood from being directly employed by, or providing needed services to, the one hundred-twenty year-old institution.
Placards posted along the street proclaimed the hanging of Old Grimes. I thought that impossible. Old Grimes had been hung a month ago. Wasn’t he dead and forgotten? But there it was, a rare rehanging, and I hadn’t noticed the announcements at all.…
If I’d put together that the wormy son of a bitch scarcely met Al’s description of the buyer, probably didn’t have a nickel to his name, and likely was, in truth, a vagrant junkie, maybe I wouldn’t have come to in the basement of an abandoned department store, ass going numb on cold linoleum, arms twisted and bound around a support beam. Maybe I wouldn’t have Louisville Slugger tattooed to my scalp, the sickening crack of wood against bone still thundering in my ears. And maybe things wouldn’t have turned into a total clusterfuck. Too many maybes, I know, I know, I conceded to her. Her silence belied her disappointment. Yeah, big surprise, I growled some more, another goddamned wrong turn. She remained cool, though, impassive. She’d heard this rant too many times already, possibly.…